Ted talks for ESL classes

TED Talks are great comprehension practice for higher-level students, but with over 3,000 talks to choose from it can take time to select the right one. This is a curated list of TED talks recommended by tutors. They are all under 18 minutes long with a clearly-spoken speaker, talking at a medium pace.

We’ll be updating this list on an ongoing basis so please keep sharing your favourite TED Talks on the Slack group #sharingmaterials.

Thank you Talene, Andrea, Nicki, Charlotte, Karla and Richard N for their contributions.

*Update* TED Talks for 2020

Here are some new TED Talks for this incredible year that we are living through.

The new science for personalised vaccines

Duration: 11 minutes

Link: https://www.ted.com/talks/ofer_levy_the_new_science_of_personalized_vaccines

A new approach to immunisations through tailoring to the person’s gender, age and race.

How racism makes us sick

Duration: 17 minutes

Link: https://www.ted.com/talks/david_r_williams_how_racism_makes_us_sick?referrer=playlist-the_link_between_health_and_racism#t-6800

A shocking and thought-provoking talk about how African Americans with a college degree die earlier than white high school graduates. This phenomenon has been linked to the daily stress and strain of racism and micro-aggressions that black Americans face in the USA. *Highly recommended*

How to deconstruct racism one headline at a time

Duration: 16 minutes

Link: https://www.ted.com/talks/baratunde_thurston_how_to_deconstruct_racism_one_headline_at_a_time?utm_campaign=tedspread&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=tedcomshare

This funny but thought-provoking talk explores phenomenon of white Americans calling the police on black Americans who have committed the crimes of … eating, walking or generally “living while black.”

We need to talk about an injustice

Duration: 22 minutes

Link: https://www.ted.com/talks/bryan_stevenson_we_need_to_talk_about_an_injustice?language=en

An engaging and passionate talk about a human rights lawyer’s experiences working in the American justice system. *Highly recommended*.

Inside the bizarre world of internet trolls and propagandists

Duration: 14 minutes

Link: https://www.ted.com/talks/andrew_marantz_inside_the_bizarre_world_of_internet_trolls_and_propagandists

A fascinating talk about internet trolls spread their ideas and the people who get sucked into their ideology.


How to turn off work thoughts in your free time

Duration: 15 minutes

Link: https://www.ted.com/talks/guy_winch_how_to_turn_off_work_thoughts_during_your_free_time

A thoughtful Talk about the problem of ruminating over work problems in your free time and how to liberate yourself from them.

This is what makes employees happy at work

Duration: 4 minutes

Link: https://www.ted.com/talks/michael_c_bush_this_is_what_makes_employees_happy_at_work

A short Talk about what fulfils people in the workplace.

Looking for a job? Highlight your abilities and not your experience

Duration: 6 minutes

Link: https://www.ted.com/talks/jason_shen_looking_for_a_job_highlight_your_ability_not_your_experience

A great TED Talk for anyone looking to find their first job or change career. It includes useful tips to make you stand out from other candidates.

8 secrets of success

Link: https://www.ted.com/talks/richard_st_john_8_secrets_of_success?language=en

Analyst Richard St. John condenses years of interviews into a 3-minute slideshow on the real secrets of success.


5 dangerous things you should let your kids do

Duration: 9 minutes

Link: https://www.ted.com/talks/gever_tulley_5_dangerous_things_you_should_let_your_kids_do

A funny and insightful TED Talk which argues for more freedom for children to work things out for themselves in our age of over-parenting.

How co-housing can make us happier and live longer

Duration: 10 minutes

Link: https://www.ted.com/talks/grace_kim_how_cohousing_can_make_us_happier_and_live_longer

Personal growth

The brain-changing benefit of exercise

Duration: 14 minutes

Link: https://www.ted.com/talks/wendy_suzuki_the_brain_changing_benefits_of_exercise

A funny and interesting talk about how exercise transforms your brain and mood.

How to let go of being a ‘good’ person and become a better person

Duration: 11 minutes

Link: https://www.ted.com/talks/dolly_chugh_how_to_let_go_of_being_a_good_person_and_become_a_better_person

How thinking your a good person can help you ignore your personal biases and stunt your emotional growth.

What Bruce Lee can teach us about living fully

Duration: 11 minutes

Link: https://www.ted.com/talks/shannon_lee_what_bruce_lee_can_teach_us_about_living_fully

Bruce Lee wasn’t just a martial artist, he was also a philosopher with some good ideas on how to live a full life.

The little risks you can take to increase your luck

Duration: 11 minutes

Link: https://www.ted.com/talks/tina_seelig_the_little_risks_you_can_take_to_increase_your_luck

Speaker Tina Seelig tells us about how she got her best-selling book published through taking a series of small social risks.

What makes a good life?

Duration: 12 minutes

Link: https://www.ted.com/talks/robert_waldinger_what_makes_a_good_life_lessons_from_the_longest_study_on_happiness

A group of men were studied for their entire lives. The experiences reveal some interesting insights on what makes us happy.

Try something new for 30 days

Duration: 3 minutes

Link: https://www.ted.com/talks/matt_cutts_try_something_new_for_30_days

A short talk on the importance of leaving your comfort zone.

My year of saying yes to everything

Duration: 18 minutes

Link: https://www.ted.com/talks/shonda_rhimes_my_year_of_saying_yes_to_everything

Shonda Rhimes re-energised herself by stopping work and making time for other things in her life.

Why we all need to practice emotional first aid

Duration: 17 minutes

Link: https://www.ted.com/talks/guy_winch_why_we_all_need_to_practice_emotional_first_aid

In his other excellent TED Talk Guy Winch talks about how dealing with emotional pain is just as important as dealing with physical pain.

Less stuff more happiness

Duration: 5 minutes

Link: https://www.ted.com/talks/graham_hill_less_stuff_more_happiness

Writer Graham Hill talks about how having less stuff helps you to concentrate on the important things in life.

3 things I learned while my plane crashed

Duration: 5 minutes

Link: https://www.ted.com/talks/ric_elias_3_things_i_learned_while_my_plane_crashed?language=en

Ric Elias talks about his experience when his plane crash-landed in the Hudson River in New York in January 2009.

Free time

Does photographing the moment steal the experience from you?

Duration: 8 minutes

Link: https://www.ted.com/talks/erin_sullivan_does_photographing_a_moment_steal_the_experience_from_you

In our world of smartphones and Instagram, this thoughtful talk explores whether it’s better, when you see something beautiful, to admire the view without taking a photo at all.

Are athletes really getting faster, better, stronger?

Duration: 14 minutes

Link: https://www.ted.com/talks/david_epstein_are_athletes_really_getting_faster_better_stronger

A talk about how advances in sports equipment artificially improve the performance of athletes.


How language shapes the way we think

Duration: 14 minutes

Link: https://www.ted.com/talks/lera_boroditsky_how_language_shapes_the_way_we_think

A study of how words affect the way we understand the world.

Go ahead, make up new words

Duration: 7 minutes

Link: https://www.ted.com/talks/erin_mckean_go_ahead_make_up_new_words

A great TED talk for anyone with a student feeling overwhelmed with the amount of vocabulary that English has.

Society and big ideas

What explains the rise of humans?

Duration: 17 minutes

Link: https://www.ted.com/talks/yuval_noah_harari_what_explains_the_rise_of_humans/discussion

The brilliant Yuval Harari talks about how humans have come to dominate the planet and the belief systems we all have to follow (either conscientiously or unconscientiously) to make it work.

The next global agricultural revolution

Duration: 5 minutes

Link: https://www.ted.com/talks/bruce_friedrich_the_next_global_agricultural_revolution

Food innovator Bruce Friedrich talks about the plant- and cell-based products that could soon transform the global meat industry.

Are indoor farms the future of agriculture?

Duration: 9 minutes

Link: https://www.ted.com/talks/stuart_oda_are_indoor_vertical_farms_the_future_of_agriculture

A talk on how we’re going to feed our growing population through farming vertically.

How climate change affects our mental health

Duration: 7 minutes

Link: https://www.ted.com/talks/britt_wray_how_climate_change_affects_your_mental_health

A talk about how the climate crisis is affecting our mental health, particularly in the young who will live more of their lives experiencing environmental catastrophes.


What great TED Talks have we missed? Tell us about them on Slack #sharingmaterials or in the comments section below. Happy Teaching!

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