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9 Thought-Provoking Ted Talks for your ELA Classroom

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There are a multitude of thought-provoking Ted talks out there just waiting to inspire our students.

They can provide perspective on a world issue that comes up in literature, inspire student interest in working on a trait like grit or growth mindset, give information on a topic you’re exploring in class, provide role models for a careers unit, and much more.

You might use Ted Talks to launch a debate or socratic seminar, or to provide a prompt for students to write opinion papers or letters to the local newspaper editor on the topic shared in the talk.

Another way to use Ted talks is to show some of your favorites and then have kids write and deliver their own. You could collaborate within your department to host a Ted-inspired event made up of student talks at your school, or even work with your students on a TedX event in your community, inviting both student and local speakers.

In today’s post, I’m sharing nine thought-provoking Ted Talks for your classroom.

#1 The Danger of a Single Story
This talk is POWERFUL. Adichie talks about how we are shaped by what we read, and how important it is not to limit our reading about others who might be different from us to one single story. This would be a great way to start the year in any literature class.

#2 Tim Urban: Inside the Mind of a Master Procastinator
This talk is hilarious. Students can relate easily to Tim Urban and his wonderful way of describing procrastination. This is a great talk to show in any unit focusing on life or career skills, but it also makes a great little break if you and your students need one in the middle of some other content.

#3 Alex Honnold: How I Climbed a 3,000-Foot Vertical Cliff – Without Ropes
Alex Honnold is so single-mindedly determined in pursuing his goals. His climb of El Capitan as a free soloist shattered every climbing record and drew international press and acclaim. This talk could inspire conversation on pursuing goals or on following your dream regardless of what others say. It could also be a good one for a unit on growth mindset and life skills – Alex’s commitment to his pursuit is unbelievable.

By the way, one way to keep students on task as they watch a Ted Talk would be to use these free sketchnotes templates, pictured below. You can download them here. 

#4 Shane Koyczan: To this Day… For the Bullied and the Beautiful 
Though there is a little bit of adult language (a little after the six and a half minute mark) in this Ted Talk, Shane Koyczan has a powerful message to share to confront bullying. I would love to see this Ted Talk played in every high school, and its message discussed and responded to in writing. Perhaps it could even provide the inspiration for your students to launch an anti-bullying campaign in your community, featuring a public showing of this talk along with talks by students on similar themes. Or for your students to launch an anti-bullying social media campaign.

#5 Sir Ken Robinson: Do Schools Kill Creativity? 
This talk has been viewed more than fifty-seven million times. Wow! It would be a great way to introduce a project centered around students proposing new programs or courses at your school. It would also be a nice springboard for a debate around whether it’s more important to cover content or teach 21st century skills like creativity, collaboration, and growth mindset in school. It could also help you explain to students why you’ll be doing more open-ended and creative work in your classroom, if you want to help them understand why you’re not willing to just stand at the front and lecture to them every day.

#6 Brene Brown: The Power of Vulnerability
This Ted Talk has become so famous. Brene Brown is one of the few research professors in the world who writes directly to the public, rather than to other academics. This was a breakthrough talk for her, about why it’s important to be real and connect to other people.

Another option for keeping kids on track through their listening of a Ted talk would be to do a Ted response one-pager, giving kids a list of requirements for what you’d like them to showcase in the one-pager (key quotations, themes, connections to their own life, reactions, opinions, etc.) and a connected template with places for these requirements to land in words and imagery. You can find my version of this activity (pictured below) here. 

#7 Robert Waldinger: What Makes a Good Life? Lessons from the Longest Study on Happiness
This talk could make a good starting point for a research unit on positive psychology. Robert Waldinger shares the results of a seventy-five year long study of hundreds of men (and eventually women) and reports some surprising findings. Money, fame, and achievement don’t lead to health and happiness in old age, healthy relationships do. Waldinger suggests leaning into relationships, spending time with family and friends, and replacing screen time with people time if you want to find happiness.


#8 Adora Svitak: What Adults can Learn from Kids
This is an intriguing talk, largely because it’s given by such a young girl. It provides a lot of good fodder for discussion about how seriously we take young people’s ideas, and why. Svitak suggests it’s time to throw out the word “childish” and embrace the unlimited thinking and creativity of children.


#9 Andrew McAfee: What will Future Jobs look like?
Again, this is an interesting talk for a unit on careers, but also just an intriguing springboard for writing and discussion. McAfee talks about the oncoming age of machines, and what types of skills and work will and won’t be relevant in the very near future. He also challenges society to consider how to support all people through the transition into the machine age.


What are your favorite Ted talks to show in class? Let’s keep the conversation going! Please share your ideas in the comments below.

Looking for more creative ideas for your classroom? 

hey there!

I'm Betsy

I’ll help you find the creative ELA strategies that will light up your classroom. Get ready for joyful teaching!







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  • Betsy, This is a great list, thank you. I'm adding several to my plans for next year. Cami

  • So awesome! In my 7th/8th class we are watching Shane Koyczan's video next week. And I bought the Ted Talk response one pager, thank you so much.

    • That makes me soooo happy! It's such a powerful message, and delivered so beautifully. I'd love to hear how it goes!

  • I teach ASL (American Sign Language) and have been adding to my collection of deaf-related TedTalks. I plan to do a lot this summer and want to use the One Pager idea for them. Thanks so much for this!!! (I use a 4-Square idea already so this would just be an extension for my students.)

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