Teaching the Impact of Trade Using TED-ED in a Social Studies Classroom for 6th Graders

 Silk Road

The Context for this Lesson

This fall I will be doing my student teaching at Apple Valley Middle School in a sixth grade social studies classroom. As a life-long resident of Henderson County, I based this lesson upon what I know about the students at Apple Valley. The school consists of young adolescents who live in the rural area of the county. Although many are native to Henderson County, some students are English Language Learners who speak Spanish as their first language.

Before students begin this lesson on the impact of trade in the ancient world, they will have been in the sixth grade social studies classroom for about a month. During this time they will have learned about humans before recorded history and the move of humans into civilizations. They will have studied the growth of several civilizations including those in the Middle East and China. This knowledge of early history will help them better understand how the increased trade via Silk Road impacted these regions.

After this lesson, students will continue to connect the impact of trade on the growth and decline of societies as they focus on the history of the Greek and Roman worlds. For the rest of the sixth grade year, they will connect the ideas learned in this lesson to various societies that emerged through the start of the age of exploration. When students transition to seventh grade, they will also be able to make connections from this lesson to their continued study of world history from the age of exploration to modern day.

Since this is the first major study of world history for these students and many will likely never have traveled outside of the United States, this lesson and previous lessons in this class will include a focus on developing a world view. This means helping students understand that people from other regions and cultures have similarities to and differences from our own culture. They will learn to respect the differences and recognize the universal connections.

Students should have background knowledge of some terms in this lesson including: trade, supply and demand, and resources. They will have learned about these terms during their elementary school study of the United States and North Carolina. This current lesson will help them use these past terms in a new context. I will draw on this background information as I discuss reasons for trade between regions, e.g., scarcity or abundance of resources.

To help meet the needs of this diverse classroom, I will use TED-Ed for most of the content delivery in this lesson. TED-Ed will help visual learners by providing images for them to connect to the lesson concepts. This media will also provide opportunities for self-pacing, as students will be able to rewind and listen to the video again. This will be particularly helpful for English Language Learner who may need more time to absorb the academic language associated with this topic.

The Standard this Lesson Meets

This lesson on the impact of trade in the ancient world will help students understand how geographic factors influenced the interactions of ancient civilizations with a particular focus on civilizations along the ancient Silk Road (NCES.SS-Geography.6.G.1.). After learning about the Silk Road and connecting it to current day trade efforts and modern technology, students will be able to explain why people trade goods and ideas and  how that has affected past and present societies (NCES.SS-Geography.6.G.1.2).

Here is is the standard and clarifying objective this lesson will meet:

  • NCES.SS-Geography.6.G.1. Understand geographic factors that influenced the emergence, expansion and decline of civilizations, societies and regions (i.e. Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas) over time.
  • NCES.SS-Geography.6.G.1.2 Explain the factors that influenced the movement of people, goods and ideas and the effects of that movement on societies and regions over time (e.g., scarcity of resources, conquests, desire for wealth, disease and trade).

TED-Ed will allow students to meet this standard and clarifying object by helping them understand that trade and migration in the past and present have several possible reasons including: survival, economic advantages, desire for wealth, and scarcity of resources. Trade and migration also have several possible impacts such as changes in cultural or religious beliefs, conflict over resources, and changes in economic structures. Students must also understand that trade or lack of trade can even even cause the growth or decline of a region.

The TED-Ed video focuses in particular on the Silk Road and emphasizes that regions along the Silk Road were impacted in a variety of ways. This lesson also seeks to help students compare changes in ancient civilizations in response to trade and connect that to changes we experience in our modern day world as a result of trade. For example, many poor nations of today struggle because they lack valuable resources or they lack the ability to effectively trade their resources with other nations. The World Bank website included in my TED-Ed lesson shows that efforts to increase trade may bring countries out of poverty, and the comparison to the Silk Road shows that trade has affected the poverty and wealth of societies for a very long time. Students will also use this lesson to recognize that the Internet is an avenue of trade for ideas, values, cultures, and information.

The Media or Technology I Am Integrating

Here is the link to my TED-Ed lesson:  https://ed.ted.com/on/8GN8jC8n

TED-Ed is a website that allows educators to create lessons based around a TED Talk, YouTube Video, or TEDEd Original. Lessons on TED-Ed include a video and may also include additional sections that allow users to answer questions about the chosen video, dig deeper by reading materials linked from other websites, and interact in a discussion with classmates about the overall lesson. TED-Ed lessons create an interactive online experience for learners and allow educators to pull together online resources about a particular subject.

In my TED-Ed lesson, I included a short video titled “The Silk Road.” I found this video on the TEDEd YouTube Channel.  This animated video is only five minutes long, but provides students with a concise overview of the purpose of the Silk Road and the effects of this famous trade route. The video also compares trade on the Silk Road to the trade of ideas and culture via the Internet. Students will first view the video about the Silk Road, then they will work individually to answer three questions about the video:

  • Think about the comparison in the video between the Silk Road and the Internet. Do you think this comparison is a valid one? Why or why not?
  • How was the Silk Road beneficial?
  • Why do you think conflict existed along the Silk Road?  What was one way mentioned in the video that conflict was handled or avoided?

These questions are included to help students think about the video they have just watched and to also begin using the lesson vocabulary as they think about how their initial conceptions about international trade relate to the video.

Next students will work on the Dig Deeper section of the TEDEd lesson. This section contains a link to the World Bank website: http://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/trade/overview. This link provides a page with an overview of the World Bank’s position on how an increase in trade could end poverty for some nations. Before students read the webpage, the instructions on this TEDEd page will direct them to consider how the idea of ending poverty through trade connects to the Silk Road video. This will help them begin to prepare for the discussion question in the next section. This article will also help them to think more about their essential questions as they consider the goal of ending poverty in the context of the pros and cons of trading.

After reading the World Bank webpage, students will move on to the discussion page where they will answer the following question: How does increased trade benefit poverty stricken countries today, and how might that connect to reasons for trade on the Silk Road? What cons might come from increased trade? Then they will respond to two peers answers.

The purpose of this discussion is to allow me, as the teacher, to assess what students have taken away from the TEDEd lesson, and to evaluate if I need to focus more on the main concept of how trade impacts societies. This discussion also offers students a chance to see what their classmates have learned from the video and article. The traditional classroom discussion model might only allow a few students to share their ideas. The goal of this online discussion is to foster a sense of community in the classroom and allow every student to share their ideas. By considering a variety of ideas, they will begin to prepare for the goal of creating a graphic organizer which will help them complete a homework essay.

The Rationale for Integrating the Media or Technology into this Lesson

The primary reason I chose to integrate TED-Ed into this lesson is that videos stimulate visual learning. According to Larry Ferlazzo (2012), “Using video with English Language Learners …can be a very effective tool, but it has to be used as an active one.” The interactive nature of a TED-Ed lesson allows for an active learning experience where students answer questions, read more information related to the video topic, and participate in an online class discussion.

Visual learning experiences such as TED-Ed lessons also benefit many students, especially male students. According to Gurian and Henley (2001), “Both girls and boys like pictures, but boys often rely on them in their learning-mainly because they stimulate the right hemisphere, which is where many boys are more developed” (p.49). With at least half of my students benefiting from the use of visual learning, this TED-Ed lessons offers a classroom experience intended to meet varied learning styles and needs.

The use of TED-Ed lessons as an integrated part of the classroom also allows learners to review important concepts as needed. In the TED Talk “Let’s Use Video to Re-invent Education” Salman Khan, the founder of Khan Academy, espouses the benefits of videos for learning purposes. Khan (2011) notes that learners benefit from videos because they can review and re-watch them to better understand vital concepts. This interactive feature allows for a self-paced environment not addressed in direct instruction where students who need more time may experience a learning gap as a lesson moves forward before the student fully understands a necessary concept.

Another helpful aspect of TED-Ed is the discussion feature that allows a class-wide discussion where every student has a chance to answer and to read every classmate’s response. While researching the connection between the use of technology in the social studies classroom, Fairis (2016) stated “[Technology] has also provided a social and human infrastructure for teachers and students to improve collaboration, interaction, and participation in their learning activities”(p.16). When students participate in the TED-Ed discussion they will have an opportunity to synthesize what they have learned from the the video and article included in this lesson. The discussion will also provide them with collaboration and interact with the intention of helping them learn from their classmates as much as from the materials provided.

The Integration of the Media or Technology into the Lesson

As this lesson begins, students will enter the classroom to find two essential questions on the SmartBoard:

  • Why do countries or societies trade with one another?
  • What are the positive and negative  impacts of international trade?

Students will take a few minutes to write a short response to each of these question by drawing upon their background knowledge. After students have had a chance to respond to these questions in their social studies journals, I will ask them to share their thoughts with a neighbor and then pick one idea to share with the class.

Next, I will display the following terms and definitions on the board: international trade, scarcity of resources, abundance of resources, and global market. I will go over these terms and ask students to record them in their social studies journals and use the terms in our classroom and homework activities.

After students have thought about the provided essential questions in relation to their background knowledge and after they have thought about the important vocabulary for this lesson, they will use a computer or tablet to access an email sent to them with the TEDEd lesson link.

The TED-Ed lesson includes a video that explains what the Silk Road was and compares it to the modern day Internet. This video was chosen because it directly relates to the technology many students use everyday. Students will work individually to answer questions about the video and then move on to a webpage about the World Bank’s efforts to end poverty by encouraging trade. Students will then use both the video and the webpage to answer a discussion question. TEDEd is used in this lesson to offer a chance for visual learning and to stimulate a whole class online discussion.

After students have finished the TEDEd lesson , they will begin working on a graphic organizer where they will place the impacts of trade into pros and cons categories. Then they will use this graphic organizer in a homework essay. Students will choose one of two prompts for their homework essay:

  • Do you think the World Bank’s plan to end poverty by increasing trade will work? If not, what might work instead? How do the pros and cons of trade that you have identified support your thesis?
  • How do the pros and cons of trade that you have identified apply to the Internet as a type of Silk Road? What additional pros and cons can you identify that relate specifically to the Internet as a source of trade?

Before students leave the classroom for the day, they will write a three sentence answer to the following exit ticket prompt: Pretend you are a traveler on the Silk Road. Why are you on the Silk Road and what have you seen that has surprised you? Students who have finished their work early will have the chance to begin working on their homework essay.

My Evaluation of the Media or Technology Integration

I found the TED-Ed lesson platform to be easy to maneuver both when I completed a lesson in this technology and when I created my own lesson. One major benefit of this technology is that students can easily access the lesson through a link emailed to them by the teacher. Students can use this single link to connect them to all of the necessary resources included within the lesson. In the first step of the lesson, I had a small area to write instructions so students would know exactly how to navigate the lesson and what they should think about as they do so. This concise presentation reduces the chance that students will wander onto other internet sites and get off task. Another benefit, is that absent students can complete the lesson from home.

An advantage of this format is that it does not require a large amount of time to teach students how to use the technology. In this modern age when technology is hyper-prevalent, many students will come into the middle school classroom already knowing how to navigate computers and the internet. This prior knowledge should be enough to help them navigate this lesson.

There are two possible issues that could arise during the use of TED-Ed in the classroom. First, students who are not in class may have difficulty completing the lesson at home if they do not have internet access or technology capabilities. Second, if there are any students who are not technology literate, I would need to take additional time to help them prepare to access the lesson in order to complete it. However, it is my hope that the ease of use of the TED-Ed lesson website will work even for students with limited technology experience.


Association for Middle Level Education (2010). This we believe: Keys to educating young adolescents. Westerville, Ohio: Association for Middle Level Education.

Castelo, S. H. (n.d.). The silk road. YouTube. Retrieved from: https://youtu.be/vn3e37VWc0k

Fairis, M.I. (2016). Developing the 21st century social studies skills through technology integration. Turkish online journal of distance education, 17(1), 16-30. Retrieved from http://0-eds.a.ebscohost.com.wncln.wncln.org/eds/detail/detail?vid=3&sid=5ecfe82a-e69c-4e5c-8ed4-a3efd6fd513d%40sessionmgr4008&hid=4103&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWRzLWxpdmU%3d#AN=112217809&db=eue

Ferlazzo, L. (2012). Eight ways to use videos with English-language learners. Edutopia. Retrieved from: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/ell-engagement-using-video-larry-ferlazzo-katie-hull-sypnieski

Khan, S. (2011). Let’s use video to reinvent education. TED. Retrieved from: http://www.ted.com/talks/salman_khan_let_s_use_video_to_reinvent_education?language=en#

Gurian, M. and Henley, P. (2001) How brain based differences affect boys and girls. In Boys and girls learn differently: A guide for teachers and parents.  (43-68)San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

North Carolina Essential Standards. Social Studies Standards. Geography. Grade 6. Standard NCES.SS-Geography.6.G.1. Retrieved from:http://www.dpi.state.nc.us/docs/acre/standards/new-standards/social-studies/6.pdf

North Carolina Essential Standards. Social Studies Standards. Geography. Grade 6. Standard NCES.SS-Geography.6.G.1.2. Retrieved from: http://www.dpi.state.nc.us/docs/acre/standards/new-standards/social-studies/6.pdf

Smithsonian Institute. (2002). Picture of two camels. Photos for class. Retrieved from: https://farm3.staticflickr.com/2341/2548101015_c784fdc8d5.jpg

TEDEd. (2016). TEDEd: Lessons worth sharing. Retrieved from: http://ed.ted.com/

World Bank. (2016). Overview. The World Bank: Working for a world free of poverty. Retrieved from: http://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/trade/overview






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