TED Talks for English Language Teaching

A little while back, I wrote about the site News in Levels and how perfect it was for listening practice, especially for mixed level classes. While I have used it with students in the past, in the intensive English program that I am a part of now, I’ve found that TED Talks are even better, so I wanted to share that site with you just in case you missed Alexandra Lowe’s TED Talks post last year.

If you have never watched a TED Talk before, you really need to. You can find them on just about every topic and they often challenge you to think in a different way. They are usually fairly short with the ones I have used ranging from 5 to 15 minutes. This length makes them perfect for use in the classroom or even as homework assignments.

Personally, I use TED Talks more than News in Levels now because of the program I am in. The students here are learning academic English and preparing to enter the university as degree-seeking students. It is imperative that they be able to handle a certain language level and learn how to take notes from which to study. I have found many TED Talks at the appropriate level for these students and many others that are, in my opinion, far too challenging simply because of the complex nature of the topics.

For our listening and speaking courses, we use a series called Contemporary Topics from Pearson Longman. In level one of that series, there is a unit on genetically modified food, and I used the TED Talk by Birke Baehr as an extension activity. I love this video because it is of a young speaker flawlessly delivering a powerful message on that topic. I used this video to continue our discussion about the topic introduced in our textbook and also to help students prepare to give their own presentations about various topics.

That is just one example. If you are looking for more, Alexandra shared some of her experiences with TED Talks on the TESOL blog too. She highlighted two other talks that worked with lower level students, so they really are not just for your advanced students and are truly exceptional for authentic listening practice.

With the variety of TED Talks out there, you are bound to find something related to a topic relevant to your course and/or students and between the free videos and transcripts, there is a lot to work with. You can have students improve their note-taking, listening, and discussion strategies or focus in on just one of those skills. If you have never considered TED Talks before, think about it now and see what you can find.

About Tara Arntsen

Tara Arntsen
Tara Arntsen recently completed her Master's degree in Teaching-TESOL at the University of Southern California. She currently teaches in the Intensive English Program at Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota. She has taught ESOL in China, Japan, and Cambodia as well as online. Her primary interests are communicative teaching methods and the use of technology in education.
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8 Responses to TED Talks for English Language Teaching

  1. Chaeli Chambers says:

    I enjoyed reading your post about TED talks. I’ve been using them as supplemental material in my advanced listening and speaking class, but haven’t successfully integrated them into the curriculum yet. I really like the idea of assigning them as homework and then having the students share in class! I might use that this summer. My program at Mississippi College also uses Contemporary Topics, so I was wondering if you have found other talks that work well with Contemporary Topics 3, and if so, would you share your list? Thanks!!!

  2. Amy Tate says:

    Thanks for the suggestions. I teach in a similar program at Rice University in Houston. In addition to using TED talks in class, I find them great for homework. With my high intermediate students, I assign a Weekly Listening Report, which requires a brief summary of a TED talk. Students can chose any topic that interest them. I encourage them to listen twice without subtitles to practice their listening and note-taking skills, and then a third time with the subtitles or transcript.. If we have time on Mondays, they discuss what they listened to. I really enjoy reading these summaries because I have been introduced to a lot of great talks and I get to find out about my students’ interests.

    There is also a great TED talk app.

    Best, Amy Tate

    • Tara Arntsen Tara Arntsen says:

      Thank you for sharing your Weekly Listening Report, Amy! I think that is an excellent way to use TED talks. Like you mentioned, you get to find out what students are interested in and learn about a wide variety of talks too. Do you know if your students have used the TED talk app? It looks like a great way for students to access that material on different devices. I will have to try it out. Thanks again!

  3. Alexandra Lowe Alexandra Lowe says:

    Thanks for the shout-out, Tara. I continue to include TED Talks in virtually all my courses. Just yesterday, I showed the first 6 minutes of Deb Roy’s TED Talk, “Birth of a Word” which features fascinating time-lapsed footage of his infant son learning to make the transition from the sound “gaga” to the word “water.” Lots of fascinating parallels to learning English as a Second Language to discuss and debate in class.

    • Tara Arntsen Tara Arntsen says:

      Anytime, Alexandra. I was excited to see TED Talks featured in a couple places at the TESOL Convention this year and heard that National Geographic/Cengage might be forming some sort of partnership with TED. It will be interesting to see how that develops. I love using TED Talks in my classes too! I’ll check out the one you mentioned as I am searching for another good one to show to my students in a couple weeks. Thanks for the comment!

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