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5 TED TALKS to transform your English class

It’s no secret that TED talks are all the rage in the English classroom. So, why write a teaching tips post about them if everyone uses them anyway? Well, I really believe that it’s not just about turning on Youtube or TED and letting your students listen.

It’s the activities they do that make or break the lesson.

LOVE speaking activities. No surprise there – that’s what my PhD research is on!  In fact, I used TED talks a ton in my University of Barcelona class last year to engage my first year uni students. Now, that’s a bit of a difficult task since the level of English young people have varies so much in Spain.

So, how do you do it right then, you ask?  Well, listen up!

3 Tips for Teaching TED


1. Create Controversy!


Controversy in my English class? You bet! In case you missed my post on How to Get Your English Class to Speak Up, I love using controversial debates in the classroom.  Split the class into two sides after they’ve viewed the talk, and have them try to understand and justify each side of the argument.

You’ll be surprised by the passion some students (even teenagers) have for certain topics! Teach ESL? Cultural differences make for very different perspectives and it is so much fun to see students analyze a topic differently.


2. Make It Personally Relevant


Personal relevance is especially important in teaching TED talks in private tutoring lessons! Trust me on this one. The worst lessons are ones in which the video you show has no relevance for the person viewing it.  You do not want your students getting bored! A video is not an excuse to stop teaching. You should be taking notes as you both watch, prepared to ask your student questions.

Make sure you consider your students’ ages to ensure it is personally relevant for them. (Try TED Talk Teen for younger students! There are so many teens out there that are changing the world. They really make you think twice about your actions!)


3. Prepare A Written & Spoken Activity Guide


What’s that, you say? It’s more than a worksheet.  It’s an organized plan to keep your students engaged while they watch.

Not sure how to create one? Don’t worry and be sure to stay tuned!

I have an example coming up for you in December Printables Package, which will be out shortly! All you have to do is sign up at the end of the post to access motivational posters, teaching resources and organizational printables that will always be FREE! December’s theme is Speaking, so a free TED Talk lesson is in the works and will be posted within the next week!


Free Printables Library

Now, the inspiring part! Drumroll please…

5 Inspiring TED Talks 


1. Why You Should Talk to Strangers

Kio Stark’s short talk is truly a different perspective on the word stranger.  As kids, at least in North America, we are coached to avoid strangers, to be aware of stranger danger.  Really, though, are all strangers bad? Do we have our faces stuck in our mobile phones too much these days to even notice the common threads we have with people around us?

Kio Stark thinks so. She explains her perspective on talking to strangers and how she encourages her four-year-old daughter (and you, too) to do so!


2. Want to Be An Activist? Start With Your Toys


McKenna Pope’s five minute TED Talk can start a half hour discussion you’ll love to have with your students, no matter what age they are. This teenager is truly inspirational. When her younger brother wants to play with an Easy-Bake Oven and is embarrassed because cooking is “too girly”, McKenna (aged 13 at the time) petitions Hasbro to make “gender-neutral” coloured kitchen toys. Wow, did that petition take off!  It’s a great way to start a discussion on a modern topic in your classroom.


3. Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are


Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk brings tears to my eyes every single time I watch it. She shares her personal story a tragic car accident that caused her to have brain damage and go from an Ivy-league, genius level student to one who was told she would never complete university. She did complete university. Completed grad school. Became a Harvard professor. Through perseverance and dedication, Amy Cuddy shows us that just about anything is possible.

To be completely honest, I wasn’t sure how my first year university English/ESL class would react to her ideas about body language, but it sparked the biggest discussion in my class yet!


4. I Am The Son of A Terrorist. Here’s How I Chose Peace.

Wow. That’s the first word that comes to mind when you watch this jaw-dropping talk. Zak Ebrahim tells his incredible story in a TED TALK that will make your students think twice about the word “terrorist”. His father is a terrorist, but he grows up choosing peace. He shows us that we do not have to be influenced by negativity around us. Just watch this one, and be prepared for an intense discussion in your class.

You can grab a copy of Zak Ebrahim’s book on his experiences here. If you’re in the UK or Europe, please click here instead.



5. Can You Really Tell If A Kid is Lying?

Kang Lee’s research is fascinating and guaranteed to get your class laughing. Can you tell if a kid is lying?  What does lying behaviour tell us about children, and humans in general? Lee’s TED talk uses the latest technologies to unveil some truly shocking truths. Don’t miss this one!

Can’t get enough of TED? Want to use compelling documentaries to kickstart a discussion in your English or ESL class, too? I’m currently considering writing an e-book that will have 25 documentaries and TED Talks that your students will love (and activity guides to use them).

Would you be interested in this resource? Please let me know in the comments below!

Update (April 2, 2017): 25 TED Talk Lesson Plans for Your English Class is here! Click the banner below or head straight here to grab your copy!

25 TED Talks Sales Banner




Happy Teaching!


P.S.  For those of you who are curious, I took the photo for today’s post in 2012 in London. It’s a statue of Robert Clive, a controversial British military officer.

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