It’s a burning question that most of us had to answer from the time we entered school to the time we graduated. And when we tossed our caps into the air, we likely thought we’d never have to answer it again.
Then we got involved with S2C, and it started all over again.
“What am I going to write about?”
I think it’s safe to say that everyone knows lessons are akin to paper gold in the Spellerverse. And yet they seem so hard to come by.
When I started as an S2C Practitioner, I had a slight advantage over everyone else. I was a communication major in college. More specifically, I concentrated in journalism.
During my time in college, I was challenged to dig for stories to write. This trained my brain to look for them in places I had never considered. Then I worked in talk radio for a year and a half, which further challenged me to find a different angle to a story that everyone was already discussing.
The good news is that you can train your brain to do this, too. Like anything else, it’s a skill that takes time and patience to develop. But here’s the biggest piece of advice I’ll give to you.
Allow yourself to step away from trying to find lesson content.
A good amount of lesson ideas come to me when I’m not actively looking for them. I listen to podcasts, I watch TV and movies, as well as read. All of these experiences add up. I’m exposing myself to new ideas and all different kinds of content, which often allows me to explore an idea when one jumps out.
In the beginning, we’re told to “write what you know” or “write about what you love.” Well, I’m an information junkie. I love to learn about things. And, most of all, I love a good story.
That is what makes a good lesson topic. The human element.
In the beginning – and I’m just as guilty of this – we write lessons that sound like a school paper. They’re fact-driven. They don’t allow us to connect to the people in it, and they don’t allow us to really immerse ourselves into the story. And that’s to the detriment of the session.
All great stories have the same common elements. A protagonist and an antagonist. If you have those two things, you have conflict. And conflict is what helps drives a story.
An antagonist isn’t necessarily a villain either. An antagonist is simply something or someone that opposes the protagonist. If a student is studying to get an A+ on a test, that – when simplified – is conflict.
I wrote a lesson about a show called “Hot Ones.” The basic premise is that Sean Evans – the host – interviews a celebrity guest as the two eat progressively spicier chicken wings. The underlying antagonist is a question, “How does this show break the mold of the cookie-cutter interviews we see on late-night TV?”
I’ll list some places where, as well as how, I find the majority of my lesson content. Should you look into one of these sources or all of them, you’ll find the same human element to them. And if it doesn’t immediately jump out to you, let the story marinate in your brain a little bit. Ask yourself what made the creators choose this content to share.
I – personally – enjoy listening to good storytelling podcasts. If the suggestions below don’t appeal to you, that’s okay! Google “recommended storytelling podcasts,” see what the results yield, and then find what suits you!
TED ED: https://ed.ted.com/
- A good resource with digestible content. TED also has some interesting topics that are presented on their website.
Reddit – Today I Learned: https://www.reddit.com/r/todayilearned
- This can be hit or miss, but I’ve found some fun topics (e.g. the discovery of the Titanic as well as The Bridegroom’s Oak) on this page. There’s some fun nuggets that could potentially lead you down a rabbithole.
CBS Sunday Morning: https://www.cbsnews.com/sunday-morning/
- Back when I lived at home, my dad would have this on every Sunday. The reporters there find some good stories as well as a few heartwarming ones. They’re solid storytellers.
99% Invisible: https://99percentinvisible.org/
- This is a podcast about architecture and design, but don’t let those topics fool you. The reporters here are phenomenal storytellers who will have you on yearning for more information about neon lights.
Aaron Mahnke’s Cabinet of Curiosities: https://www.grimandmild.com/curiosities
- “Our world is full of the unexplainable, and if history is an open book, all of these amazing tales are right there on display just waiting for us to explore.” That’s the opening line for every episode. I listen to this podcast every Tuesday & Thursday morning on my way into the center. Some episodes may lead to a lesson for you while others give you fun anecdotes to share at cocktail hour.
“What ever happened to…” “How did/do they…”
- Sometimes I’ll find myself asking, “Whatever happened to ____.” Or “I wonder what ___ is doing with themselves today.” Or “How did/do they ____.” That’s how I wrote the Jurassic Voice lesson. I was watching the original movie, and it occurred to me that dinosaurs were millions of years gone by the time this film was released. How did the creators know what dinosaurs sounded like?
Revisionist History: https://www.pushkin.fm/podcasts/revisionist-history
- This podcast is hosted by Malcolm Gladwell. I’ve read almost all of his books, and he looks at the world in a unique way. He and his team are also great storytellers who find topics that often transform your thinking.
Good News Network: https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/
- Sometimes we just want a feel-good story. Look no further than here. You likely won’t get a full story out of here, but take the topic and put it into Google. There’s a good chance someone else has written a more in-depth feature.
BBC Travel: https://www.bbc.com/travel
- The reporters here earn their money because I’ve taken several articles and adapted them into lessons. This is a fun resource for “off-the-beaten-trail” stories.
Tom Foti is an S2C Practitioner and co-director at AALIVE’s Inside Voice Program. He worked in radio for about a year and a half before becoming a practitioner in 2017. When he’s not working, Tom is cheering on his beloved Philly sports teams, watching the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or cutting up the nearest dance floor. You can find Tom’s many lessons on SpellersLearn.com