Published 6th April 2016

Using technology is a great way to bring some life into your EFL lessons. For your learners, using different media makes a welcome change from using the coursebook or paper-based activities. For teachers too, using video clips can help us bring fun, up-to-date, relevant material into our classrooms, and we enjoy seeing our learners so interested.

However, many people have a fear that using technology is a cop-out: how is watching a movie considered teaching? No doubt, this can be true (and no doubt it is true in some classrooms) if technology is abused by the teacher and used as a replacement for teaching, but if it is used correctly, the internet can provide a wealth of materials to be manipulated for an excellent EFL lesson. TED talks are just one example of great material that can be found on the internet and which could easily be used in the EFL classroom.

So, why should we use TED talks?

TED talks are short talks given by speakers on a wide range of subjects. TED events are held all over the world and involve a day or two of 20-minute talks on any given topic. TED talks are topical, relevant and interesting, and are usually poignant or motivational. Whatever the interests of your class, you are bound to be able to find a TED talk to suit their needs.

TED talks are great examples of authentic language, ready to be used in the classroom. Using authentic texts exposes the learner to genuine, natural language which hasn’t been manipulated to suit a particular language level, like the texts in coursebooks. What’s more, learners enjoy using authentic texts because at the end of the lesson they can appreciate they can fully understand a completely unaltered text and, more often than not, they’re more interesting than the coursebook.

Are there any drawbacks to using TED talks?

Of course there are a few considerations to bear in mind when using TED talks, as there are when using any authentic materials. Firstly, make sure the content is appropriate and relevant. Consider the learners in your class and make sure they won’t be offended or bored by the talk. Secondly, watch the talk first and consider whether the speaker is speaking too fast or has a difficult accent. Usually we would use TED talks with older learners and learners from Intermediate and upwards to take into account these issues because if it is too difficult, for whatever reason, it will prove demotivating for your learners.

How do we use TED talks?

Before you watch any TED talk, it’s necessary to do some preparation work with your learners. This can be as simple as asking the learners to predict the content of the talk, given the speaker’s name and the title and possibly also some keywords. While watching, learners could make note of any vocabulary they are unfamiliar with. During the talk, tell your learners to ask you to stop if they get lost and spend a few minutes discussing what was missed, or watching the clip again. Afterwards, learners can comment on or debate any issues which came up in the talk, critique the speaker or respond to it in a personal way. For homework, the transcript of the talk can be given for your learners to read at home.

All in all, TED talks are a great resource for the EFL classroom. If you find an appropriate talk and think about how it can contribute to language learning in your classroom, there is no reason why your learners won’t enjoy watching it in the classroom.