Video for ELT, Episode 1: TED Talks

There are many engaging ways to use video and video creation projects in teaching English. There are also, of course, numerous videos online that can be useful in various English teaching contexts. Video streaming sites such as Vimeo and YouTube provide access to a seemingly endless supply of video content, but this can quickly result in the sensation of being overwhelmed and leave teachers uncertain of where to begin.

Fortunately, the most useful and valuable of these video collections are intentionally archived and curated for instructional purposes. These often benefit from inclusion of a focus on specific topics, lesson types, language levels, and teaching contexts. Increasingly, there are collections of such media accompanied by extensive documentation to support implementation or even teachers’ manuals and lesson plans. So many recent useful and impressive projects have focused on the use of TED Talks that I will focus on these for this first article. Next month, I’ll share thoughts about other video applications.

I’m confident that most readers will have experience with TED Talks, but they may not realize that the live origin of these talks began in 1984, when TED launched as an organization focused primarily on technology and design. In fact, TED Talks have become so ubiquitous that it’s likely many teachers aren’t familiar with the origin of the TED acronym (Technology, Entertainment and Design: Ideas worth spreading).

Topics have addressed issues of  greater breadth over the years, but they maintain a high level of quality and academic relevance. Talks represent an enormous, and ever-increasing, collection of videos about a diversity of very compelling subjects. Here are a few of the benefits of using TED Talks:

  • TED currently boasts 2,900+ talks that cover just about any topic of interest.
  • Talks range in length, complexity, and language difficulty.
  • They are also contextualized with extensive online discussions that frame the issues addressed.
  • They are available with captioning in many languages.
  • Transcripts in English and often many other languages are provided.

A teacher or learner can certainly navigate their own way through the TED Talk landscape, but why do that when you can take advantage of one of the many instructionally focused curated sites built around TED Talks? Following are some of these sites.


This site specifically uses the collection of TED Talks to address to the unique needs of English language learners (ELLs). There are numerous resources for language teachers. Talks are organized by level, goals, and themes. Each talk is accompanied by a lesson plan that focuses on how to address different language skills and how to encourage extended opportunities for student practice based on the topic. These include speaking and writing as well as debate activities.

Learn English with TED Talks

This paid site is also specifically designed for ELLs and their instructors. Cengage and National Geographic Learning have joined forces to create an impressive website around TED Talks. They have sequenced these materials for more effective instruction and included supporting materials, lesson plans, and opportunities for learners to practice. This project includes a very nice app with interactive transcripts as well as glossary and grammar support. They also include guidance for how to align the lessons with learning goals.

TEDEd Lessons

Though this site is curated to focus intentionally on the use of TED Talks for learning, it is not specifically designed for ELLS, so it may require a bit more work on the part of an instructor or it may be more appropriate for more advanced students. What I love about this site is the encouragement it presents for teachers and learners to contribute and curate their own content to share with others, essentially expanding the TED Talk domain into a crowdsourced opportunity for collaboration.

In fact, this site is not limited to TED Talks. It encourages teachers to create lessons around TED Talks, TED Ed animations, and YouTube videos. This inclusion should make it possible for an interested teacher to find a useful video for nearly any topic.

I think this kind of crowdsourced activity has the potential to completely transform education. The more we are involved in curating, creating, and contributing, the more we are all invested in the landscape of learning. If you’d like to learn more about how much I value this kind of activity, you could read this brief TESOL Journal article about the topic: “Teaching ESL/EFL in a World of Social Media, Mash‐Ups, and Hyper‐Collaboration

If you really want to know more, you could also read this much lengthier CALICO Journal article, “Collaborative Language Learning in Co-constructed Participatory Culture.”


Kessler, G. (2013). Collaborative language learning in co-constructed participatory culture. CALICO Journal, 30(3), 307–322.

Kessler, G. (2013). Teaching ESL/EFL in a world of social media, mash-ups and hyper-collaboration. TESOL Journal, 4(4), 615–632.

About Greg Kessler

Greg Kessler
Greg Kessler is professor of instructional technology in the Patton College of Education at Ohio University. He has written numerous books, articles, book chapters, and other publications. He has delivered keynote and featured talks around the world. His research addresses technology, learning, and language use with an emphasis on teacher preparation. He has held numerous leadership positions, including as Ohio TESOL president, CALICO president, and TESOL CALL IS chair. He is the editor of the CALICO book series, Advances in CALL Practice & Research, the Language Learning & Technology journal forum, Language Teaching & Technology, and many other comprehensive collections.
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