TED Talks in the EFL Classroom

TED is a conference where speakers present “ideas worth spreading,” and the vast majority of TED Talks are posted online for easy access by the masses. I have spent many hours listening to TED Talks myself, being an incorrigible geek, and I also used them often in my classes when I taught writing and argument at Kennesaw State. Now, I’ve found a new use for them, teaching English as a foreign language.

In three of my classes (two of which are group classes and one of which is with a private student), the students’ levels of English are  advanced. They still make mistakes from time to time, but they are able to engage in discussion with general fluidity while getting their points across as they wish. With these students I’ve found it an engaging challenge to help them continue to improve and move toward fluency in English.

I have found that I can use TED Talks in the EFL classroom to give the students listening practice and spark discussion afterward.

This is how I use them: I go to the TED website and click on the “Talks” link. There, I open the “Show by length” drop-down menu and select “3 minutes.” And there I have a selection of brief but engaging talks to choose from. Once I’ve selected a Talk, I copy the interactive transcript (available by clicking a link to the bottom-right of the video) and use it to create a gap-fill activity that students will complete as they listen. Then I download the Talk to iTunes and load it onto my iPod (I have a small portable speaker that I take with me to play the Talks for students. This isn’t always necessary as several of the classrooms I use have screens and to internet-connected computers, but when teaching in students’ offices or in less-equipped classrooms, the iPod/speaker method works nicely).

And voilà– a simple and effective listening activity for advanced English language-learners.

In the classroom, I generate students’ interest by starting a conversation on a topic related to the Talk, then pre-teach a bit of vocabulary as necessary. Next I hand out copies of the transcript, and the students read them and try to guess the missing words. We listen together, and the students check their guesses as they complete the activity. I always play Talks twice, allowing the students time to ask questions in between. Finally, we check the answers as a class and carry on a bit more discussion for speaking practice.

Below I’ll include the Cameron Sinclair’s Talk, “The Refugees of Boom-and-Bust,” which I’ll be using in my Advanced Business English class this afternoon. We’ve just been discussing similar issues as per the book, so it’s a perfect fit for this point in the class. Anyway, enjoy.


Activity: TED Talk — Cameron Sinclair, The Refugees of Boom-and-Bust — transcript with gaps

TED Talk: Cameron Sinclair: The Refugees of Boom-and-Bust


About Christine Ghattas

Christine Ghattas (Christine Bonnie Ghattas) is a teacher and artist from the United States. View all posts by Christine Ghattas

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