9 Aweome TED Talks for ESL Students Every Teacher Should Use

Have you been feeling stuck in a rut with lesson planning lately?

Are you having trouble coming up with interesting ESL activities?

Do your students seem bored and uninterested in your lessons?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, don’t worry—we’ve got you covered!

Learner fatigue is a real thing. Over time, language students get tired of studying the same scripted dialogues and grammar rules. They want content that’s fun, exciting, and most important of all, something they can relate to.

With that in mind, let me ask you a final question: Have you ever used TED Talks in your ESL classroom

If you answered yes then you’re in luck, because we’ve got some exciting new resources for your upcoming lessons. If you answered no, get ready to learn how to use one of the greatest language-learning tools of all time: TED Talks.

Why’s TED Talks Such a Big Deal?

Well, for starters, TED Talks is an incredible teaching tool that gives students a healthy dose of general knowledge alongside authentic English conversations (well, more like monologues).

These short presentations give ESL students a chance to engage with new ideas while practicing language learning skills in a fun, innovative way. What’s more, TED Talks is easy to use in the classroom. There are hundreds of free videos to choose from on hundreds of different topics, all presented by leading experts in their given field. The whole goal of this lecture series is to spread information around the world, helping to educate people and open minds to new ideas.

More specifically, TED Talks can be used in the ESL classroom to:

  • Enhance students’ listening comprehension skills by listening to different native-English speakers on a variety of topics.
  • Teach vocabulary by highlighting key words and expressions from each talk.
  • Give students a chance to practice their own English-speaking skills in discussion and presentations.
  • Encourage students to think creatively by having them create their own presentation.
  • Introduce students to different cultures, ideas and information from around the world.


You can take that authenticity even further by adding FluentU to your lessons.

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.

With FluentU, students get to learn those subtle nuances about the English language through clips from popular movies and TV shows, songs, documentaries, news articles and more. Not only does this make learning English more fun, it also helps students gain deeper insight into North American and British culture, helping them learn how to speak more naturally.

Inspire Your Learners with These 9 TED Talks for ESL Students

Now for the moment you’ve all been waiting for, our list of perfect TED Talks videos to play for your ESL students.

For each video, I recommend preparing a set of short-answer questions or discussion questions. Pass these questions out before you play the video. That way, you ensure your students are actively listening and engaging with the material as they watch the presentation.

What about activities?

At the end of the video, you can either have students conduct discussions in small groups and answer the questions more fully, or discuss the video and go over the answers as a whole class.

Ready to get started? Check out my favorite TED Talk presentations to teach with. And as a bonus, I’ve provided a list of possible questions for each of the following links. Feel free to use these questions word for word or adapt them based on the level of your ESL students.

1. 10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation

This talk is about 12 minutes long, which makes it a good option for a short class period. The speaker explores the importance of face to face communication and teaches the audience how to excel at speaking. Every ESL student can benefit from this video.

Follow-up questions to ask your students

  • What does a conversation require?
  • How many texts do teenagers send a day?
  • What do you think “interpersonal skills” means?
  • Should you nod and repeat back what someone says to show you’re listening?
  • What are the 10 ways to have a better conversation?

2. How to Talk so People Want to Listen

This is another presentation that’s centered on communication. Here, the speaker focuses on making sure people listen. This speech is just under 10 minutes, making it ideal for a short lesson. It also includes some vocal exercises that could be quite fun for your ESL students!

Follow-up questions to ask your students

  • What are the “seven deadly” sins of speaking?
  • What are the four “cornerstones” of powerful speaking and what does “HAIL” stand for?
  • Do you think it’s possible to wish someone well and judge them at the same time?
  • What do you want to improve about your speaking?
  • Why is it important to speak clearly?

3. How Languages Shape the Way We Think

The video is about 14 minutes long and is a little more scientific. It explores how we speak and communicate and the role language plays in the way we think. This talk is more suitable for higher level language classes, where you can dive into fun topics like perceptions and stereotypes.

Follow-up questions to ask your students

  • Do you agree or disagree that language shapes the way we think? Why?
  • What was the most interesting thing you learned from this speech?
  • What are some differences between your native language and English?
  • Does everyone in the world count the same way or think of color in the same way?
  • Does English have gendered words?

4. What Makes a Good Life?

Get your students thinking about living and how to live a healthy and happy life. This video is about 12 minutes and offers advice on how to live your best life. It covers a decade-long study that looked at what makes people happy. Your students are sure to be interested in this topic and the ensuing conversation.

Follow-up questions to ask your students

  • Do you have a good life?
  • What would you change about your life?
  • What are the two major life goals young adults have? What’s your life goal?
  • So, what really makes and keeps people happy?
  • Do you feel like you have a good balance between screen time and people time?

5. How to Find Work You Love

This 18-minute talk is especially useful for ESL learners who are in high school and university. The speaker tells the audience that it’s okay to do work you love and in fact, it leads to a more fulfilling life.

Follow-up questions to ask your students

  • What do you like to do?
  • What are your unique strengths?
  • What are your values?
  • What is your dream job? Why?
  • What is success?

6. Want to Be More Creative? Go for a Walk 

This is a short five-minute talk that explores the idea of creativity and how to brainstorm more effectively. It may appeal specifically to business English language learners or any students who need to keep their minds sharp and fresh.

Follow-up questions to ask your students

  • What does “brainstorming” mean?
  • Are you creative? In what way?
  • How many more creative ideas did the “treadmill group” come up with than the “sitting groups?”
  • What are the five tips the speaker recommends for brainstorming?
  • Do you think this method of brainstorming would work for you? Would you try it?

7. Where Did English Come From?

This is a fascinating video on the origin of English. It’s about five minutes and offers a brief history of the language, which is interesting for ESL learners perpetually confused by English’s inconsistent rules and exceptions.

Follow-up questions to ask your students

  • Where did English come from?
  • What language family did “Old English” belong to?
  • Did the Vikings add any words to English?
  • What’s your favorite word in English?
  • Does your native language use any English words? Give examples.

8. Where Do New Words Come From?

This six-minute, animated talk shows how new words are created and how English has adopted words from other languages. It’s a great video to go along with any lessons where you’re trying to relate English to your students’ first languages.

Follow-up questions to ask your students

  • How many new words are added to the dictionary every year?
  • How many words are currently in use in the English language?
  • Approximately how much of the English language has been borrowed from other languages?
  • What do you think “obsolete” means?
  • Try to create your own new word. What does it mean?

9. The Myth of Prometheus

This presentation is under five minutes and tells the story of Prometheus. It’s filled with short illustrated clips which are ideal for any ESL students interested in English literature.

Follow-up questions to ask your students

  • What does the name “Prometheus” mean?
  • What did Prometheus do to help humans?
  • How did Zeus punish Prometheus?
  • Do you think Prometheus was a trickster or a hero?
  • Do you have a favorite myth? Briefly describe it.

Piecing It All Together: Awesome TED Talks Lessons

In my experience, TED Talks work best when used in a three-part lesson format.

In the first lesson, watch one of the videos suggested above and discuss it using the questions provided. Then, as a follow-up assignment, inform students that they will be writing and performing their own short presentations.

In the second lesson, go over the guidelines for what makes a successful presentation and give them a chance to decide on a topic and start to brainstorm.

Here’s our suggested guidelines:

  • Pick something that interests you to share with the class.
  • Presentations should last for three to five minutes, and students can use notecards to help.
  • Include introduction, supporting facts, examples, anecdotes and a conclusion.

In the third lesson, students perform their presentations for their classmates.

Tip: If you teach several sections of ESL, take the unit a step further. Make the experience extra special and thrilling by selecting the top three TED Talks from each class and have a school-wide presentation night. Invite all the students, faculty and parents to come and listen to the best of the speeches.


As you can see, there are so many TED Talks presentations available online and many ways to incorporate them into your curriculum. They encourage fascinating conversations and can lead to interesting debates. You can focus on any topic under the sun and get your students thinking, listening and speaking in English.

Happy presenting!

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