One of the biggest challenges for language trainers (especially in on-going courses) is to keep the interest of the learners. There are, of course, multiple ways of keeping your students interested. One way is to throw in a TED talk every once in a while. For those unaware, TED talks are 18 to 20 minute lectures filmed at annual TED conferences and its spin-off organizations. You can usually find a talk that is relevant to the unit or theme you and your learners are exploring. In fact, it doesn’t even always have to be relevant to what you’re working on. They are great to use if you just want to change things up a bit.
TED is a nonprofit organization with the slogan of “Ideas worth spreading.” Its invited speakers are interesting and want to share their visions of world change. TED’s mission is to spread and support the power of ideas around the world. From my experience, students from pre-intermediate levels and onward enjoy them as the themes and subjects are varied and important in a global sense.
In terms of ESL teaching, one of best features of TED talks (beyond the fact that talks don’t exceed 20 minutes) is that practically every talk can be downloaded with subtitles in dozens of languages, including English. You can choose to have your students watch them with or without subtitles which adds great flexibility in using particular talks for various class levels. Viewing and listening to TED talks is undoubtedly helpful in improving students’ listening comprehension. Furthermore, the class discussion that inevitably follows a talk is a wonderful tool to improve speaking skills. The talks are meant to be understood by all so they tend to not only be intelligent but also casual in tone. They combine technical and more advanced vocabulary with everyday language, challenging learners without scaring them off.
TED’s website also provides transcripts of most talks which further help learners to understand points they may have missed while viewing the video as well as allow them the opportunity to expand their vocabulary.