Are you tired of hearing about the same old TED talks like The Danger of a Single Story? Do you find yourself searching for new and engaging TED talks for the classroom that will spark critical thinking and response?
This post will offer 28 lesser-known (but equally as awesome) TED talks you can use tomorrow as a stand-alone writing prompt, rhetorical analysis activity, or response or as a part of your planning for a larger unit or writing and speaking assignment.
Using TED Talks in the Classroom
I think that TED talks, along with podcasts, are a great way to bring nonfiction into your classroom. Most TED talks come with a ready-made transcript which you can have students read while they are listening. This also helps students as they respond to the talk because they can easily pull evidence without having to re-watch.
I have noticed students’ attention wanes after 10 minutes of listening. Therefore, it is critical to chunk the text. Maybe you want to pause for reflection and discussion during an especially long talk. Maybe you want to have students predict the speaker’s next points based on what they have heard so far. Maybe you want to show only a portion of the talk, the part that will spark the most discussion and thinking.
Also, it’s important to give students something to look for as they are listening, a prompt for response, something to do as a result of their listening.
What is the Outcome?
The truth is that sometimes students should be able to listen and appreciate a text purely for the sake of listening. And listening skills are important. Still, if you break it down, there is still an outcome for students, even in the simplest of listening assignments.
TED talks for the classroom are not superfluous texts. They are an untapped gold mine of nonfiction goodness.
➡️ My students listen to understand, to appreciate, to consider multiple perspectives.
➡️ They listen to apply, to extend, to connect, to reflect.
So, ask yourself these questions…
Why are students listening? What do you want students to know and be able to do as a result of their listening? What are they doing pre, during, and post-listening?
Pushing this further, consider the following outcomes…
➡️ Do you want students to identify the author’s overall message and main ideas?
➡️ Do you want students to debate a core issue focused on in the talk?
➡️ Use the talk as a springboard for research?
➡️ Have students identify rhetorical devices and appeals?
➡️ Make connections to another text they have read or an ongoing theme?
➡️ Respond on a personal level to the speaker’s ideas?
➡️ Write and share their own TED talks?
28 TED Talks for English Class
Here we go!
These are some of the best TED talks that will inspire and engage your students. I’ve taken care to include a variety of different speakers and subjects here, so I hope you’ll find a new text to love. 💜
Cognitive neuroscience meets stand-up comedy in this talk that will surely pique your students’ interest. Who doesn’t love to explore the topic of laughter, an “ancient behavior that helps us regulate how we feel and makes us feel better”?
This is spoken word in TED talk form that explores the blending of languages as representative of identity and culture.
Embracing failure is an important part of learning, one that we can reinforce with this TED talk. So, step outside of the need to be “right” or “perfect” and learn to embrace wonder with this simple phrase “Maybe I’m wrong”.
Be honest. Be brief. Be clear. Learn about 10 rules for better conversation, a must-use text for English teachers who are teaching the skills of listening and speaking.
This is one of my favorite texts to use during a research unit. If you are teaching about online source evaluation or digital citizenship, your students will be shocked by the author’s exploration of how “filter bubbles” control the flow of information in our online spaces.
This author explores her love for the written word, discussing how it was through reading she was able to think about her world in a new way.
This talk is a lesson in history and human behavior as the author explores why it is so hard for people to change their minds. Learn about how a “scout mindset,” not excellent rhetoric, logic, or even intelligence, is the key to improving our judgement as a society and seeing the world clearly.
Focusing on others is the key to true happiness, but this requires a paradigm shift in a culture that suggests the opposite.
Rather than seeking to teach children, adults should also be open to learning from them. Kids can have big dreams, too, says child author and speaker Adora Svitak.
An interesting talk to pair with one on happiness or technology, this hits home for teenagers and adults who spend increasing amounts of time on screens. Why do our screens make us less happy, and what can we do about it? Hear a psychologist explore the psychology of screen addiction and offer solutions.
In a personal (and comical) talk, comedian Maysoon Zayid explores how she lives her best life despite her limitations. Her ending line “If I can, you can” resonates with any listener.
In this talk, laugh as the speaker encourages us to explore our hidden biases surrounding the idea of “disability.”
Any student can benefit from the message of this TED talk which focuses on “turning yourself up” so that you can uncover what makes you unique and reach your fullest potential.
A creative young entrepreneur shares about her art and inspiration, including her passion for the planet, suggesting that action is only sparked when we do more than think, heart over head.
What will define the entertainment of the future? Kevin Alloca explores the three characteristics that contribute to a video going viral and the new culture formed by this new media.
This eye-opening talk discusses that we may be directing our concerns in the wrong place when it comes to artificial intelligence and control. The real enemy may be hidden and more widespread and more dangerous than we think…
Do students need mental health days to practice “mental hygiene”? Hailey Hardcastle talks about why the answer is yes.
Courage isn’t a magical unicorn that comes and goes. It is the “balance between fear and bravery” which is what Cara E. Yar Khan explores in this inspiring talk.
Your phone does not need to document everything. In fact, sometimes it is better and healthier to put it down so that you can fully live in the moment. Overall, this speaker encourages us to make photography a part of our memories, but not a hindrance to them.
Learn more about how actor and martial artist Bruce Lee’s philosophy for life centered on “self-actualization” can help us all grow and achieve our dreams.
In a noisy world, it is more important now than ever to slow down and let ourselves get lost in good stories. Author Jacqueline Woodson takes a reflective, storytelling journey in this TED talk about the power of storytelling.
This was one of the first TED talks for the classroom I used this year to help students reflect on identity and stereotypes. We were reading “label-defying stories” and chatting about Born a Crime, so this talk fit in perfectly and sparked some great conversations.
If you’ve ever come up with a really creative idea while doing something random around the house or when you’re “bored,” then you’ll resonate with this talk that explores the connection between boredom and creativity.
Winning arguments is about more than logic or rhetoric. It’s about making human connections, making “good” arguments that will reach beyond yourself and even the present moment.
Who doesn’t love a magic trick? This is the hook that allows Alice Pailhès, scientist and illusionist, to discuss how easy it is to influence people.
Instead of judging fangirls, we might consider the lessons they have to teach us, of commitment, dedication, and enthusiasm.
This is an interested talk about seeing “crazy ideas” as possibilities, about seeing “risks” as opportunities for connection and growth.
TED Talk Activities
Using TED talks in the classroom allows students to practice speaking and listening skills. These nonfiction texts (most of them with transcripts) are also visual texts, making them accessible to learners on more than one level.
Whether you are studying rhetoric and argumentation, discussing the author’s purpose, practicing summary writing skills, or preparing students for their own speaking assessment, TED talks are versatile enough to allow for the practice of multiple skills.
➡️ I hope you’ll stop by my TpT store to check out TED Talk activities that will help you to bring some of this magic into your classroom!
Hey, if you loved this post, I want to be sure you’ve had the chance to grab a FREE copy of my guide to streamlined grading. I know how hard it is to do all the things as an English teacher, so I’m over the moon to be able to share with you some of my best strategies for reducing the grading overwhelm.
Click on the link above or the image below to get started!