Using TED Talks in the EFL Classroom

In April, I had the privilege of taking part in my first IATEFL Conference in Glasgow, together with about 2,500 other teachers of English from around the globe. I attended i.a. two workshops on using TED talks in the EFL classroom. Lots of teachers already use them with their learners. Those workshops have convinced me of their effectiveness, hence this blog post. If you have never used TED talks, you might do so after reading it; if you have already spiced up your English lessons with them, you could get inspired to try new things.

TED is short for Technology, Entertainment, Design; TED talks are video presentations of 3 to 18 minutes about a number of subjects. The talks can be found on Because of the excellent speakers and/or the interesting topics, these clips really appeal to the learners. Moreover most talks can be viewed with subtitles, either in English or in the mother tongue.

When you are thinking of using a TED talk in the lesson, it is very important to choose the “proper” video for your learners. You might consider its topic (maybe with a link to the current one in the course book), the language level or the duration; with stronger and/or older students you might want to look for a talk that makes them think critically about the subject. A fine example was used by the Russian Svitlana Kurochkina in her workshop at the IATEFL Conference: a talk by fire fighter Mark Bezos. A TED talk lesson has the various step stones of an ordinary video lesson, with pre-watching, while-watching en post-watching activities. You could also use the ideas on with nearly a quarter of a million (!) ready-made lessons.

If you want to tackle things in a different way, these suggestions might be helpful. You could e.g. download the TED talk’s transcript. With a short talk you could do this at home and cut up the text into short excerpts. After a short introductory conversation about the subject, you then ask the learners in small groups of two or three to try and reconstruct the transcript. When finished, they watch the video and check if they were right. Very strong language students could be asked to watch a TED talk with subtitles in their mother tongue. You could then ask them if they think the translation is accurate and/or what they would like to change about it. A challenging task!

Anyway, in my opinion, TED talks are an excellent way to develop and practise watching and listening skills in a motivating and authentic way.