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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:

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:

About

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 runs an on-line course “How to Teach With TED: A Practical Course for English Teachers” on TEFL Equity Academy. He lives in York, UK. For more information, see lewislansford.com

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