TED Talks


TED Talks is an online platform which main goal is to spread ideas through powerful short videos (called talks) that last 18 minutes or less. Talks can be found on almost any subject from technology to business including global issues and entertainment. TED Talks has also recently launched an educational platform, TED-Ed, which allows teachers to create a customized lesson around an educational video from the TED’s library or from any other website (e.g., YouTube). Here is a quick tutorial about how to use TED Ed:

One of the main aspect in which TED Talks can be used in an ESL classroom (or in any other course) is to start a discussion. As said by Olivia Cucinotta, “talks work best when teachers use them to give perspective and to generate discussion around difficult topics. It gets the students thinking about the subject and they form their own ideas and opinions. Teachers can use it to start a debate, dividing the class in two or three, depending on the different positions that students have. TED-Ed can also allow this kind of discussion, as shared by Leah Levy: “Using these tools, you can provide a deeper context for the talk, encourage students to engage rather than just watching passively, and spark deeper discussion both online and in the classroom.” Therefore, TED Talks and its educational alternative are great in engaging the students in interacting with each others, which is one of the most important aspect of an ESL classroom. Tara Arntsen also adds that the talks could be used in class or at home to improve the students’ strategies for notetaking and listening, as well as for discussion. Her colleague suggests that exploring and listening to different talks that they are interested in could be given as homework. During class, teachers could then ask different students to share or explain a video they watched, which once again could lead to discussions among students. Furthermore, the fact that TED Talks provide English subtitles to their videos could be used by students has a pronunciation tool as well as a spelling support.

TED-Ed is also a great tool for teachers who want to flip their classrooms. When creating their lessons around a video, they can add a context to give more information to the students, questionnaires with open and multiple choice questions to check the students’ comprehension, and link other resources (e.g., articles on the subject).

Emilia Carrillo shared some ideas as to the use of TED-Ed in the classroom. For example, she suggest that teachers could give as homework resources videos about the grammar points seen in class (don’t forget that videos can be taken from TED Talk as well as from YouTube). Another suggestion is that teachers could use this tool for paperless exams. Since teachers can keep track of the students’ work, they can always decide to choose one activity and to grade it.

In my opinion, TED Talks would be harder to implement in lower level classrooms, since most of the talks’ subjects are quite complex and the language can be harder to understand. However, TED-Ed has an elementary/primary section in which teachers could most probably find videos that would fit their groups’ levels. Nevertheless, TED Talks and TED-Ed could be easily used with higher level students. For example, the ESL teacher I had in Cégep used some talks during the semester. He chose videos that he knew would be accessible to the students and would fit with the curriculum, and used them to grade their oral comprehension. I also agree with Emilia Carrillo when she says that the videos could be used as a way to help students with more difficulties to have access to extra explanations about the subject, or to deep more in the topic than what is allowed within the time constraints of the classroom.


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