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Boost Student Confidence With TED-Ed Student Talks in ELT

by Sasha Rudenko |

What image do you conjure when someone mentions “TED Talks”? You may think of a stage with the big red circle on the floor. Or those red TED letters in the background. Or maybe you think of some talks that changed your way of thinking: Lera Boroditsky: How language shapes the way we think or Rita Pierson: Every kids needs a champion. Possibly you think, “TED Talk…what’s a TED Talk?” (If this is you, watch those two videos!) However, for most of you, you have probably sat down and been transported into the world of TED, quite possibly for hours on end. In doing so, you have probably learned something new. You have probably mentioned this new idea to a friend or colleague. You may have even thought, “Hey! I can use this in my lesson plan.” The purpose of this article is to take you one step further into the TED universe with TED-Ed Student Talks.

What Is the TED-Ed Student Talks Program?

Since 2014, TED-Ed has invited teachers to create opportunities for their students to transform their ideas into a “TED-style” talk. These opportunities usually take place in a classroom or as an extracurricular activity after school. Teachers are supported with a robust Leader Guidebook complete with timelines, lesson plans, and ways to plan the culminating student showcase. In addition, teachers have access to the customized virtual learning platform where they can follow a step-by-step guide on how to prepare for and run the TED-Ed Student Talks activities with their students. Within the platform they are also able to connect with TED-Ed staff and fellow educators from around the world.

TED-Ed Student Talks activities have been developed for students ages 6–18. Currently, students participate from more than 100 countries. Through these activities, students will be able to:

    • Identify elements of a great idea
    • Think curiously and critically of ideas they learn about
    • Research, develop, and craft their ideas into compelling, spoken narratives
    • Gain confidence to share ideas with their peers and community
    • Give and receive meaningful feedback on each other’s ideas
      (TED-Ed, n.d.)

Using TED-Ed Student Talks to Provide Language Growth for Multilingual Learners of English

Looking at the 100+ countries using the TED-Ed Student Talks activities, it is safe to assume the majority of the students participating in this program are multilingual learners of English (MLEs). As with most off-the-shelf curricula, English language teaching (ELT) professionals usually have to make some modifications. Although the TED-Ed Student Talks materials are written in English, several ELT colleagues have found the benefit of implementing the activities and the ease of adapting them. Even with students at a variety of proficiency levels, a trained ELT professional can scaffold the TED-Ed activities. With a heterogenous group of MLEs, students build a strong sense of collaboration and community. This solidarity creates an environment where students lower affective filters and take risks. Moreover, in modifying prompts and providing additional support, students overcome language hurdles in all four primary language skills (reading, writing, speaking, and listening), plus grammar and pronunciation.

Although it may be challenging at the start to adapt activities for a group of MLEs with diverse language backgrounds, each Exploration step helps keep everyone on track. Similar to project-based learning, this holistic approach to language learning puts the four primary language skills at the center of the presentation. Once students choose a topic to focus on, they truly take ownership of the entire process. The Exploration process gives a clear roadmap that enables students to reach out when they need help, engage with a community of TED speakers, and most of all, have fun. Preview TED-Ed’s guided activities here (PDF).

Other Benefits

The TED-Ed Student Talks activities give students an opportunity to build those soft-skills that are usually not measured in government-mandated and regulated standardized tests. This program helps our MLEs build the confidence they need to speak more English. Basic language learning concepts are quickly transformed from memory retention and recitation to high-functioning use and original production.

In addition, students find a new sense of maturity they did not know they had. As teachers, we get to watch this next generation of thinkers move into adulthood just as they start to really figure out who they are. Teachers find MLEs who participate in TED-Ed Student Talks volunteer more in their non-English classes. Once students understand that learning English is more than just “passing an exam,” a whole new world opens up. When implemented correctly, TED-Ed Student Talks activities can be an integral part of our MLEs becoming lifelong learners.

But don’t take it from me. Our voices in the field say it best:

Lucimara A. Andriani from Brazil: “Our students are really motivated by interaction. They really enjoy feedback moments…They felt as if they are philosophers, by the simple fact they have to consider appropriate word and emotional vocabulary to come up with a single sentence. They build confidence when defending their point of view and become good listeners in the process.”

Ilker Ozbaş from Turkey: When facilitating this program, “I did not teach grammar or linguistic issues to my students. I motivated [them] via online meetings and brainstorm sessions…The most favorite moment is sharing students’ videos on YouTube. They feel really happy about the process and TED-Ed Student Talks give students self-confidence.”

Participating in TED-Ed Student Talks increases student confidence. (©TED Ed CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED)

Additional Stories From the Field

Two years ago, our TED-Ed Club teamed up with another club in Kazakhstan for a joint project. When I first pitched it to my students, some had only vaguely heard of the country, and few knew anything about it. Some were apprehensive about interacting with a culture so different from their own and not one they were familiar with through media like they are the United States, Japan, or the UK. Even some of our staff were uncertain how this would work. 

Our topic was mental health. As the nervous students on both sides of the camera started sharing their research, and then their personal stories and desire for the kind of support they wanted and needed, this amazing comradery blossomed right in front of my eyes. The Korean students and the Kazakhstani students started recognizing other identities within each other - like “human,” and especially, “human teenagers.” Even I found myself transported back to that age and remembering the struggles I had as an adolescent in my own culture.

The transformation from uncertainty, to empathy, to compatriot in a quest for a better, kinder world happened right there so fast. We still work with this school every year and we get to see this transformation over and over. I’m convinced lifelong friendships are forming out of it. This is an incredible thing as an [English language] teacher because I really think the best gift we can give is not just the ability to talk to and do business with English speaking countries but to use the language as a meeting ground for interacting with people all over the world.

–Richard T. Cox, South Korea

One notable improvement I observed in my students during TED-Ed Student Talks activities was a significant boost in their confidence levels while speaking in English. The structured approach and supportive environment empowered them to articulate their thoughts in English more fluently. For example, there is a student who came into the program with a strong fear of public speaking. I told her that this was a space to improve, but that it was not necessary for her to present her talk in front of a large audience to be part of the club. This took the pressure off, and she was very consistent with the program and improved progressively. In the end, she decided to present her talk, about the transformative power of facing our fears, in front of our school community, and the results were astounding. She spoke loudly, clearly, and with a confidence that was definitely not there at the beginning of the TED experience.

–Andrea Prudencio, Bolivia

ELT professionals have found success in using this program. With a little curriculum adjustment, TED-Ed Student Talks can be an additional resource to help MLEs gain confidence in using English. To learn more about TED-Ed Student Talks and apply to access the resources, please visit the TED-Ed Student Talks website.


TED-Ed. (n.d.). TED-Ed Student Talks.

About the author

Sasha Rudenko

Sasha Rudenko is an associate programs manager at TED-Ed, where she oversees the community experience of the TED-Ed Student Talks program. Her favorite part of her job is getting to connect with all the incredible educators who implement the TED-Ed Student Talks activities with their students and helping them figure out the best ways to uncover their students' big ideas, build their confidence, and engage them overall. With more than 10 years of prior event production, operations, and marketing experience, Sasha brings a lot of creativity and organization to the work that she does at TED.

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