10 Speaking English Activities using TED.com

Many English Language teachers, when deciding to work with a video clip in their classrooms, make a false assumption that for an activity to be considered as really teaching, then prior to showing it, they'd better sit down for a few hours, prepare an extensive worksheet filled with vocabulary and grammar questions and what-not...in order to turn it into a good pedagogical exercise, you know to ensure it's really not just glorified babysitting.  ;-)

Personally, I don't agree and I really don't think that extensive worksheets provide a particularly authentic experience - such a thing mainly just erodes the power of the message within the video, takes away the inherent pleasure in learning from TED speakers.   

I'm fond of using TED with my adult language learners (+ similar sites - see here for a list of others) for the ingenuity and its realistic relevance and because I know that whenever I visit TED I'll always find short, topical talks which can be used to kick-off real discussions within my classroom: stuff my adult students want to know and talk more about... speeches that will either captivate their interest or through understanding, even with lower students at only 50%, will encourage them to feel a greater motivation about where their English is going.

Here are a few simple activities you can do with the video clip you're about to show/ are showing/ have shown to your students without designing a full worksheet :

1. Prediction:  what's the video going to be about?
Using the search bar function on TED, choose an interesting video (possibly related to the industry your students are currently working in) and then tell your students that they are going to watch a video with xyz talking about abc.  

Ask them what they think the speaker will be discussing and why they think this.   Do they have any pre-formed opinions on the subject matter?  After watching, get them to talk about whether or not the video met their expectations.  Why, why not?


2. Vocabulary Collection
Give students a piece of paper with the numbers 1 - 10 written on it.   While watching, any video you've chosen, ask them to write ten words they found most interesting / or ten words they didn't understand / or ten words which they think would summarize the story.  

After watching, encourage students to share the words they've collected and to tell each other why these words were the ones they recorded.

Best with short TED videos: (see here)

3. Debate
While browsing TED, look for a video which the community has marked as persuasive.  Show the video and ask your students what the main points discussed in the video were.  Ask them to choose sides on these - to take an opposing view from others in the classroom and to debate it.


4. Post-speech interview
Ask students to pretend that they are journalists at a TED talk.   

Watch one of videos marked as informative and get them to write down questions while-watching and post-viewing.   Get one student to pretend to be the TED speaker, and encourage him/her to sit in the center of the classroom (aim to pick a student who's most likely to know about the ESP subject matter) and then get the other students to read out and ask their questions.

Works with any informative TED video, examples:

5a. Critique Presentation Style
Give students a piece of paper and divide it to 2 parts:  
+ / -

Tell students to analyze a 3- 6 minute speech: to think about the presenter's style of delivery and ask them to write pluses and minuses, things like: she spoke too quickly; she flaps her hands about; she loves her subject material; she used good slides.


5b. Compare body-language
Choose two very short videos on similar subjects less than 4 minutes (or use the first few minutes of a longer video) and turn these on without using sound.  

Ask your students to pay attention to the speakers' body language and facial expressions while giving their talks and to compare these.   How many times do they move around the stage?   How do they stand, where do they keep their hands?   Who looks more convinced and thus convincing?  

After this discussion, play the videos again with sound, do they still think the same way?  What role does body language play in the audience's reception of the content of a talk?

6. Wh-
Write on the board/flipchart the wh-questions: 

Show the video you've (or one of your students') chosen and tell them they shouldn't write anything down while they're watching. After the video is finished, ask students to sit in groups and discuss what they watched, who was the presenter, why did she make this speech, how effective was it: encourage them to ask each other questions and share opinions.

Works with any TED video.

7. Critical Thinking  - Who's the target audience?
Take one of the videos marked as most-emailed and watch it with your students.    

Show or tell them that out of the thousands of videos on the site, this was one of the most-shared with others via email and social networks.  Ask them to think about what sort of people found this video so interesting they sent it on to family members/ friends/ co-workers/ members of their online communities.   Was the speech designed to go viral?

Will they send it on too?  Why or why not?
Get them to practice writing a "FB status update or a Tweet" summarizing the video in less that 140 characters!


8. Will this idea fly?
Choose a video marked as ingenious, in a subject matter your students have expressed a clear interest in or is connected to their work.  

Watch the video with them and then ask them to discuss in groups whether or not they think the idea has merit; if they've already heard of something similar or if they disagree with its potentiality.


9. In his/her shoes...
Review the videos marked as courageous and try to choose a video outside the scope of your students' normal interests and responsibilities.   Encourage a group discussion on whether or not, they could have done what was shown in the presentation; how they may have done things differently; who they know in their own lives/ read about who has done something like this?


10. Rank my TED video!
Encourage students to find a TED video based on something they are personally interested in.
It doesn't need to be about work, it can be a poem/song - it can be about glowing underwater fish! 
Whatever they like and while they watch -  possibly as homework (using the interactive transcripts in their own language if they need to) they can take brief notes about the subject matter.

In the next lesson, get students to share with each other what they watched.   Encourage them to    "rank" each person's suggestion in order of interest and at the end of the session, as a group watch the one that sounded the most fascinating.

11. What else?   
Have you got any zero-preparation/ great tips to share with fellow English Language Teachers on using TED in the classroom?  Do let me know your favorite videos, how you use them or any other ideas and experiences.


THIS POST IS A RE-POSTING OF AN ACCIDENTALLY DELETED ARTICLE DATED BACK TO JANUARY 2011 (the first lot of comments below are copies of those posted between 26 Jan and ...) 
update 050911: actually, it looks like Blogger/Blogspot has been losing posts (in general, not just my own :( ... re the link to other sites which is also no longer here - will repost these up as well!)

24 Responses to “10 Speaking English Activities using TED.com”

    September 04, 2011

    Comments from the original post:

    This is great Karenne. Have passed on to my colleagues. Thanks.

    I was one of the colleagues who Glennie passed it on to. Will certainly be trying it out - a great way of being cutting edge and language-based. Thanks!

    Excellent post. This article inspires me to teach my freshman English class differently in the next semester with regard to developing speaking skill. Thanks!

    Thanks Karenne for these practical suggestions. I too am a huge fan of TED, for my own personal development and inspiration apart from anything else :)

    It's always great to have more ideas. I might have a think about your post from an exam perspective also as I'm teaching some CAE classes. Often the material is just so dull. I think that some work with such videos, with tasks which produce a similar focus as the text books will definately be appreciated by my students!

    Great ideas. I already use it as a point of discussion - and even as an opening activity - or closing activity - students love to hear the voices of well-honed discussions by amazing speakers.

    Thanks for the tips, Karenne. TED videos, though fantastic for Higher Ed, are often overwhelming to sift through. I once found a site that categorised them nicely, but have since lost that site.

    One point I find very hard for students, no matter how high, is related to your vocabulary point. Finding 10 words to summarise is incredibly challenging, even for me. On the plus side, it can be a great exercise in attempting to write down unknown words based on what they sound like and the context in which they were said. This can be very helpful for students who try to ask about a concept they didn't catch.

    September 04, 2011

    Glennie, Jonathon, Tseng, Emma, Rheto, Tyson - hope it's cool to reprint these while reposting the original post. Thanks again for your comments!

  • Eduardo Santos (@eltbakery) says:
    September 05, 2011

    Brilliant ideas!!!

    I'm working on a lesson based on Angela Maier's TED Talk: You Matter. I'll let you know when I get it done.

    Well done, excellent ideas!


  • Ronaldo Lima Jr. says:
    September 05, 2011

    Excellent compilation of ideas, Karenne, as usual.


  • Ann says:
    September 05, 2011

    Hi Karenne,

    Just posted a link to this on the TeachingEnglish facebook page if you'd like to check for comments.



  • Leahn says:
    September 06, 2011

    Hi Karenne,

    I love your comment about teachers not having to spend hours preparing gap fill exercises and stuff. It is so TRUE. Less is often more. I've used a couple of TTED talks recently in class which went down well. One was in relation to the topic of immigration and the other was related to literature. I chose an interview with Isabelle Allende and a refugee talking about his and escape from Cambodia. Both were very powerful and there were no gap fill type worksheets involved, we watchedthem and then chatted about what we understood from them and then we went on to talk about both topics.
    As a springboard.
    Listening and enjoying.
    Glorified babysitting maybe or maybe not!



  • bella says:
    September 19, 2011

    I never seen like this clear ideas!!!
    I like your suggestion a lot, because I, one of the English learners, never liked the English classes with video clips. Videos always were boring and never let me rethink or actively attend the class.
    I hope every language teachers should see your posting.
    Very clear and very well-organized posting!

    September 19, 2011

    Thanks Bella, that's lovely of you to let me know :D

  • TeachingItRealinFukushima says:
    November 13, 2011

    Brilliant. Technically though, you did do some prep. you had to weed through the videos to find the ones that worked best for the task. And that took some time, right? Great lessons do NOT fall from the sky. So, thank you for sharing the fruits of your labor with us.

    November 13, 2011

    Lol, thanks for keeping-it-real, teachingitreal, you're right!

  • Leo says:
    December 20, 2011

    I wanted to use Becky Blanton's "The year I was homeless" because I felt it tied in with the topic of unemployment we've been exploring in class but I didn't know what to do with it. Thanks to suggestion #9 I didn't go to the trouble of designing a worksheet and just asked my students to watch and decide what they would have done differently if they had been in her shoes. Because students didn't quite understand why she sort of forced homelessness on herself they did not really identify with the speaker but they enjoyed the listening ("she speaks very clearly, she's very articulate") and a lively discussion ensued. On a personal note, a few slides would have brought the talk to life a little don't you think? They got #10 for homework - so let's see what they bring to class next week. Cheers!

  • Vicki says:
    December 29, 2011

    Thanks for the great ideas. I used a TED video at the beginning of the semester on Richard St. John's the 8 Secrets of Success. We divided into 8 groups to discuss each of the 8 secrets. For homework, they had to respond using a personal life example for 2 of the 8 secrets of success in a Voicethread I created."http://voicethread.com/share/2199600/"


  • AyuinBALI says:
    January 17, 2012

    What a great blog!Thanks, very useful.
    Ayu in Bali,Indonesia

  • Natalie Gorohova says:
    February 03, 2012

    Amazing resource, thanks so much, Karenne!

  • Unknown says:
    February 05, 2012

    Great post!

    As somebody who has used TED talks for over three years in advanced and high intermediate oral skills (ESL) classes for graduate students, your post provided a number of new ideas. I'll be borrowing and testing the role-play the speaker idea.

    Usually, I have students select their own short (5-10 minutes) TED talks to present and review in class. Students also post their concise reviews - with a 1-5 star ranking - on the class website. Students are required to watch and briefly comment on three of their classmates videos.

    Then I have students select and analyze - vocabulary, techniques, transition words, accents, etc - a second, longer (10-20 minute) Ted Talk. Students, sitting around small tables for four, rotate between groups and summarize the second TED talk and take questions. After reading your post, they will also be required to anticipate and answer five questions.

    These TED talks assignments help prepare students to give their own 8-10 minute problem-solution presentations that are videotaped.

    Here's the simple worksheet I use to evaluate their first TED review. http://www.compellingconversations.com/worksheets/ted-video-summary-and-commentary.pdf It's simple, easy, and fairly flexible. Use or lose.

    Thank you, again, for the outstanding tips on speaking activities for TED.com (And a new list of TED talks to watch!)

    February 05, 2012

    Thanks for sharing this easy resource, Eric!


  • Christina Chang says:
    March 04, 2012

    Wonderful suggestions for using Ted. Would like to share one way I use TED.

    I often use TED to help students see that many people in the world use English and we don't need to have perfect English to use the language.

    See an example.

    Watch this young man from Venezuela speak English.

    He said:

    We can only speak with music.

    His English is good enough when his passion for music speaks loud and clear.

    Never mind your accent. You learn English with a clear purpose and allow English to help you achieve your goal.

    Focus on what you love and make your dream come true.

    more of his conducting , sharing beauty with people,

    see the man behind the system that helps kids in Venezuela perform music(at the end the man spoke some English)

    Christina Chang from Taiwan (I wrote the poem "Oh, Teacher, You got it all wrong"  Thanks for sharing my poem)

  • Anonymous says:
    August 12, 2013

    hi and thank you for your ideas which are similar to lessons i have already used. your ideas helped me to improve my lesson structure and goal and to think through them more carefully. i completely agree with this sort of lesson as opposed to the gapfill vocabulary/grammar focused traditional type exercises. however, just because i don't use those, i absolutely do not feel the lessons you describe are anywhere near "glorified babysitting", rather, they are examples of task-based, pragmatic learning and they emulate real life applications. when they do these tasks they are practicing in a safe and somewhat controlled environment what they would be doing with the language if they were exploring it on the internet on their own. the best thing is that these tasks prepare them for using and learning the language independently

  • Anonymous says:
    August 12, 2013

    "Have you got any zero-preparation/ great tips to share with fellow English Language Teachers on using TED in the classroom? Do let me know your favorite videos, how you use them or any other ideas and experiences."
    Well for academic english i like to show ken robinson's changing education paradigms rsa animate version which i think is a must for my 17-19 year old secondary students to see. following the 5-paragraph essay requirements, i have them identify the thesis, the main ideas and the main supporting details. they really like this video and the animation really helps their comprehension and because of it i've found they are more willing to avoid looking at the transcript in their native language

  • Rina Dee says:
    October 19, 2013

    Great list! I love TED! I've used TED in my speaking classes. I've used Body Language talk of Amy Cuddy. It's really good!

  • sheen says:
    May 02, 2014

    This is a great article, and it gave me a lot of ideas

  • Anonymous says:
    September 10, 2017

    Thank you. I used it with my grade five pupils with success!!!!!

  • Anne Hodgson says:
    March 23, 2018

    Still great after all these years. Hugs!

    March 24, 2018

    Thanks, Anne ! It's been a while since I blogged and got to have a chat with you! xx


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