As English language teachers, we’re always looking for authentic sources of language that are relevant to our learners and their goals. A lot of us turn to YouTube, podcasts, popular movies and series, along with various forms of social media to engage our learners and demonstrate our ability to keep up with the trends.
But keeping up with the trends doesn’t always translate into effective pedagogy—often these sources of inspiration leave something to be desired. Enter TED Talks.
In case TED Talks is a new resource for you, TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design, and is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that started as a conference in 1984. TED.com offers an array of curated, digestible material that fascinates, inspires, and informs across a broad spectrum of disciplines. TED Talks vary in length and complexity, landing you anywhere between two minutes and an hour, providing superficial overviews of a topic to more in-depth coverage.
Since its inception, TED has expanded its reach to offer local TEDx events, a spin-off blog, an audio collective housing various podcasts, and TED-Ed, where educators can easily build and share lessons that incorporate TED Talks.
In case you’re wondering, TED is not paying us to rant and rave about its offerings—we just really believe in the work that the organization does (though we’d be happy to be sponsored, if you’re reading this, TED people!).
With the motto “Ideas worth spreading,” TED certainly delivers on its mission and makes it incredibly easy for teachers to facilitate that process with a website that is incredibly user-friendly. You can explore content using filters that narrow down your choices by topic, length, date of publication, and more, helping you find just what you need to support your teaching.
But our favorite feature is the transcript, which allows you and your students to dissect the language used in the talk. When you play a video, the transcript highlights spoken language in real-time, making it easy to locate challenging pieces of language or content and dive deeper. We find the transcript to be incredibly useful in unpacking grammar points and rhetorical structure, providing context-rich examples to analyze, interpret, and reproduce. We also love to use transcripts as aids to support in-class discussion (sometimes we even print out hard copies) asking students to recount salient points from the talk and highlighting vocabulary specific to themes we’re exploring.
The transcript serves as built-in scaffolding, arming students with the language they need to participate in the conversation.
And just when you thought it couldn't get any better, you realize the transcript is available in several languages. Not only does having the ability to read along increase accessibility substantially, but the presence of other languages reminds our students that speaking languages other than English is an asset, something to be celebrated.
TED talks also provide fertile ground for different types of analysis. Break down elements of story-telling and examine speakers’ decisions to use chronological order or order of importance to guide audience thinking. Brainstorm techniques for giving effective presentations and have students notice and comment on speakers’ body language and stage presence.
Take it a step further by having your students lead discussions about TED Talks that resonate with them, or even get them to do TED talks of their own! The possibilities for integrating TED Talks into classroom instruction are endless...
… as is the list of talks to choose from, which can be a bit overwhelming! We’ve compiled and categorized our favorite talks, the ones that continue to inspire us year after year. We hope they’ll do the same for you.
Intercultural Competence & Identity
The Danger of a Single Story, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (19 mins)
Don’t ask where I’m from, ask where I’m a local, Taiye Selasi (16 mins)
How language shapes the way we think, Lera Boroditsky (14 mins)
Weird or just different, Derek Sivers (3 mins)
On being wrong, Kathryn Schulz (18 mins)
Recipes for Success
10 ways to have a better conversation, Celeste Headlee (11 mins)
Grit: The power of passion and perseverance, Angela Lee Duckworth (6 mins)
Try something new for 30 days, Matt Cutts (3 mins)
Inside the mind of a master procrastinator, Tim Urban (14 mins)
Every kid needs a champion, Rita Pierson (8 mins)
Check out our recent episode to learn why these ten talks made our “favorites” list, and to hear more about our experiences using TED talks!