IATEFL – Anatomy of an iceberg: the hidden power of TED talks

IATEFL – Anatomy of an iceberg: the hidden power of TED talks

Nowadays English teachers have a lot of opportunities to empower their learners with skills that are necessary for communicating and acting as mindful citizens in the world. In this respect, TED talks can serve as a perfect tool to promote English learners’ awareness of global issues. But how to use TED talks in the classroom effectively? The speaker of the talk at IATEFL – Lewis Lansford, introduces examples from the program and gives tips on how to apply them  in the learning procedure. 

Who is Lewis Lansford?

He is an award-winning coursebook writer, materials developer and teacher trainer. Lewis is also a co-author of two coursebook series featuring TED Talks for National Geographic Learning: Perspectives (upper secondary) and Keynote (young adult and adult). 

Why is watching TED talks so significant?

TED talks, being an open forum for big ideas, have lately become a motivating source for English learners. Many ESL teachers tend to use some of the talks in their classroom, having hot discussions with their students. The fact that a video has two modes of information transfer – audio and visual, makes it a super powerful educational tool. Here are three reasons why videos, and of course TED talks, are so important in learning a foreign language: 

  1. Videos convey a lot of information very quickly because they have both sounds and images.
  2. Videos are cognitively less demanding than reading as watching most often happens quicker than reading.
  3. Videos can cause mirror neurons to activate emotions. Thus we can respond emotionally to the things are going on in the video. 

What can we do with TED talks?

The skill that we most obviously work on TED talks is listening. The latter is the tip of the iceberg. Before it we have visual context. However, many English teachers and learners assume that TED talks can be watched only by people with the intermediate language level and even higher. However, it is not the case. Some of the TED talks can be used in different classrooms irrespective of the English level. Here is an example of TED talks on the topic of magical houses made of bamboo. Watch the first two minutes and without any sound. 

The amazing thing about this video is that it can be applied in primary school for describing the rooms in the house and in the group of learners who are engineers paying their attention to the structure of the house, etc. This proves that video is full of language even without words and sounds. 

In fact, by watching all those pictures and the video without a sound, the viewers will automatically create in their heads the language used in the video. Here the teacher can curate students and guide them. When they watch the video again but with sounds, they will most probably understand more and the effect will be much greater. 

The same can be done with audio – that is to listen to the audio that does not have any words. The audio can be connected with weather, e.g. the sounds of the rain, with nature, e.g. beach, forest, singing birds. If you want to practise Present Continuous, you can ask your students to listen to the audio and tell what is happening. Possible answers can be: It is raining. The birds are singing. The children are playing at the beach. 

If you are interested in pursuing these ideas, you can take courses “How to teach with TED talks” launched by  Lewis Lansford. There you can also find some free modules. 

So, as you see, many TED talks can be used in the EFL classroom irrespective of the learner’s language level and can have a great positive impact on the learning procedure. 

You can watch the whole talk at the IATEFL here. 


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