How to motivate and engage low-level learners using TED talks by Lewis Lansford

All too often, we think of authentic input such as a TED Talk as listening material that happens to have pictures – often just a person speaking. However, as a classroom resource, TED Talks offer so much more:

  • the fact that they have sound and images – often visually rich ones, beyond just the speaker – together makes them powerful tools for language learners
  • words that learners can’t understand just by listening become clearer when they’re supported by images
  • and often, learners can understand some of the main ideas in a TED Talk based on what they see, without having to understand the spoken word in detail.

If nothing else, the images themselves bring language into the classroom – something to talk about, to describe and to react to.

Lower-level language learners spend a lot of time in situations where they simply don’t know what’s going on, or where they’re struggling to keep up.

One way to improve in a second language is to get yourself into these situations as often as you can stand it, and to keep on trying to understand what’s going on, and to communicate – even when it’s really hard.

By bringing TED Talks into the classroom, we can:

  • give students some exposure to language that they probably won’t understand
  • help them to become more comfortable with this lack of complete understanding
  • and also help them to develop useful skills for gathering what information they can, and responding to it at their own level.

That’s why I prepared a worksheet that will help you engage and motivate low level learners using TED talks. You can download for FREE below:

 

How to use the worksheet

Use this worksheet in lower-level classrooms to support learners watching TED Talks, even when the talk may seem above their level of comprehension. It’s designed to work with a variety of talks.

The talks that it will work best with are shorter ones – under six minutes – with some kind of visual interest. You can choose talks that you like from TED.com. Here are four to get you started, all freely available:

Mark Bezos: A life lesson from a volunteer firefighter (4:01)
Camille Seaman – Haunting photos of polar ice (4:04)
Graham Hill: Less stuff, more happiness (5:49)
ShaoLan: Learn to read Chinese … with ease! (6:07)

After working with the talks in the classroom, if your students want to watch them at home with the subtitles – either English, or their own language – that’s no problem. But don’t worry too much about understanding every word in the classroom. You’ll find that there’s plenty to talk about at whatever level the students have comprehended the text.

Download the worksheet below:

 

Good luck, and enjoy teaching with TED Talks!

Lewis Lansford

Author, National Geographic Learning and Tutor, TEFL Equity Academy

Good news!

If you enjoyed using this worksheet, I’ve got good news. I’m working on a few others – and also on an entire online course about teaching with TED Talks. But before I tell you about that, let me tell you a bit more about myself and where I’m coming from.

Who I AM

I’m an award-winning coursebook writer materials developer and teacher trainer. I’ve co-written two course book series featuring TED Talks for National Geographic Learning: Perspectives (upper secondary) and Keynote (young adult and adult).

My ELT career started in Barcelona in 1989, shortly after I finished my BA in English literature in the States. After teaching for about six months, I decided that I loved the job but wanted to be better at it, so I went back to Arizona and did an MA in TESOL.

After that, I taught English at the University of Arizona and then at a manufacturing company in Japan. In 1995, I took an editorial job with a major publisher in Hong Kong, and in 1997 became a freelance editor, project manager and writer based in the UK.

I’ve worked on books, videos, tests, audio materials, worksheets, apps and online materials for learners of all ages across the world. I specialize in developing classroom materials using authentic input and have been lucky enough to work extensively with print material from The Financial Times and with video from Disney, the BBC, Discovery Channel, and TED.

I’ve delivered teacher training globally with Pearson Education, OUP and National Geographic Learning, and have taught a materials development module for Master’s students at the University of Durham.

How I got hooked on TED Talks

I became aware of TED Talks around 2010, when someone shared Derek Sivers’s talk Weird, or just different? on social media. After that, various talks were recommended by friends and colleagues:

and many others.

Though I could see that they might have use as teaching tools, my main interest in them was my own entertainment and engagement with fascinating ideas and great speakers. So when, in 2014, I was invited to join the team at National Geographic Learning to write for the Keynote series, I knew I was in for the most enjoyable and intellectually stimulating writing job of my life.

And it was.

One of my first tasks on the project was to watch dozens – if not hundreds – of TED Talks and choose which ones to include in the coursebook I was writing. Through this process, I began to develop some rules of thumb for what makes a TED Talk classroom ready:

  • the speaker’s pace and intelligibility
  • the length (not too long!)
  • the amount of visual support
  • the interest level of the topic.

I also began to think a lot about what teachers – and students – could do in the classroom to work with TED Talks. It was the most fun I’ve ever had writing a course. When the opportunity to write a second course – Perspectives – came along, I jumped at the chance, feeling happy to return to the process of searching through the TED archive and discovering hundreds of new talks that I hadn’t seen before.

How I got the idea of developing an online course

Through my work as an author, I’ve been given the opportunity to speak at a lot of conferences, and TED Talks have featured in varying degrees in many of the talks I’ve given. I’ve also written a series of posts for the National Geographic In Focus blog with practical ideas for using TED Talks.

Through talking with teachers all over the world, I’ve come to appreciate how much teachers love TED Talks but also that they often feel unsure how to use them.

I’ve also realized that after all the talks and blogging, I had enough material to put together an online course about how to teach with TED Talks. If you’d like to learn more about the course,  click here.

We’re also doing a pre-launch giveaway. 5 people will get FREE lifetime access to the course!

How can you win?

Sign up below and then share the course with your friends on social media. The more friends you refer, the higher your chances of winning.

Thanks again for your interest, and good luck teaching with TED Talks!

How to teach real English using TED talks by Lewis Lansford

For my whole career as a teacher, I’ve heard language learners talk about how they want to learn the ‘real’ language – not just stuff in books. And it makes sense. You want to learn language you can really use – maybe the language as it’s spoken in New York, London or Sydney.

Ask English teachers what ‘real’ English is, and you’ll get a variety of answers:

  • grammatically correct English
  • British English
  • any English that’s used for real communication
  • and others

In fact, all of the above are correct, in my view.

I’d say that anyone who’s actually using the language is speaking real English, including lower-level learners in your classrooms who are struggling – and succeeding – in sharing their own thoughts and ideas and answers to the questions you ask them.

Let’s take a look at what we know about how English is used in the world:

  • At least 25% of the world’s population speaks English
  • L2 (second language) speakers outnumber L1 (first language) English speakers by at least four to one
  • A majority of English language conversations in the world are between L2 speakers – that means they don’t include anyone who is an L1 (first language) English speaker

What we see is that an overwhelming majority of the English used in the world today is L2 English. So, what’s real English? It’s grammatically correct English, it’s British English, it’s English used for real communication, and it’s also:

  • Chinese English
  • German English
  • Mexican English
  • and the English spoken in every other country

A few thoughts about accent

This brings us to another question. What kind of accent do you expect your learners to have in English?

  • British?
  • American?
  • Some other nationality?
  • A comprehensible accent?

Everyone has some kind of accent in English – even people who speak English as their first language. And there are hundreds of different L1 English accents that vary from Scottish to South African, from standard American to British ‘received pronunciation,’ and from Texas to Jamaica and beyond. And we also know that very few people learning any language as an L2 achieve a perfect ‘native-like’ accent. So is it a reasonable – or even desirable – goal to ‘speak like a native’?

I’m not so sure it is. Your ‘foreign’ accent in English:

  • will never go away, most likely
  • says something about where you come from
  • can in some cases actually make you easier to understand than some L1 English speakers

To discuss this issue with your students using TED talks, I prepared a free worksheet Learn real English with TED talks, which you can download below:

In case the button above doesn’t work, follow this link and fill in your name and email address so I can send you the worksheet.

How to use the Learn real English with TED Talks worksheet

Use this worksheet in intermediate-level classrooms and above, to support learners watching TED Talks and get them thinking – and talking – about real English and accent. It’s designed to work with a variety of talks.

The talks that it will work best with are ones where the speaker has a noticeable L2 accent. You can choose talks that you like from TED.com. Here are two to get you started, all freely available:

Diébédo Francis Kéré: How to build with clay … and community
May El Khalil – Making peace is a marathon 

If possible, you could take the ‘flipped classroom’ approach and ask your students to watch the talks at home, before class, and come prepared to discuss them. But if that’s not possible, you can watch the talks together in class.

 

In case the button above doesn’t work, follow this link and fill in your name and email address so I can send you the worksheet.

Good luck, and enjoy teaching with TED Talks!

Lewis got his start teaching English in Barcelona in 1989. After getting an MA in TESOL, he taught at a US university and then a manufacturing company in Japan. In 1995, he took an editorial job with a major publisher in Hong Kong, and in 1997 became a freelance editor, project manager and writer. He has worked on books, videos, tests, audio materials, worksheets, apps and online materials for learners of all ages across the world. He has a strong interest in ESP – the language of getting things done – and has developed and written materials for aviation, oil and gas, and engineering. Lewis is especially interested in understanding the implications for materials development of research in English as a lingua franca. His most recent work includes National Geographic Learning’s Perspectives, an upper secondary course featuring TED Talks, and Keynote, a multi-award-winning adult course also featuring TED Talks. He lives in York, UK. For more information, see lewislansford.com