Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

…For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL

The “Best” TED Talks (Well, Really, The Ones I Use With My Classes)


I’ve written several posts about TED Talks, the series of talks given by “big thinkers” that are available online. In fact, I’ve created The Best Teacher Resources For “TED Talks.”

Yesterday, I saw that Richard Byrne posted an excellent piece, 15 TED Talks for Teachers to Watch Before 2010. I’d strongly encourage you to visit that post and, in addition, subscribe to his blog if you haven’t done so already.

Richard’s post inspired me to make a post sharing the TED Talks that I use with my classes (though I may not necessarily show the entire talk in class) and how I use them. Some TED Talks are great for teachers, but not so helpful for students. And, though most of them are very stimulating, I think some of them can also be a bit boring.

Please share in the comments section which TED videos you actually use in the classroom.

Here are my choices for The “Best” TED Talks (Well, Really, The Ones I Use With My Classes):

I’ve had my Theory of Knowledge (TOK) students watch the Ted Talks  “The Raspyni Brothers juggle and jest” and Lennart Green does close-up card magic. I have them first identify how the jugglers and the card “magician” made what they did and the objects they used look “new” to viewers  and, secondly, discuss how mathematicians, historians, artists and scientists use those same techniques to study the world. Students share some brilliant stuff.

I’ve used Joachim de Posada says, Don’t eat the marshmallow yet with all my classes. It’s been a key part of the lessons on self-control I do with my mainstream ninth-grade English class and my Intermediate English class. You can read more about that lesson at “I Like This Lesson Because It Make Me Have a Longer Temper” (Part One). I use it with my Theory of Knowledge class as an example of the Human Sciences — how experiments are done to learn about human behavior.

Jay Walker on the world’s English mania is a short talk, but I only use small parts of it. He has portions showing how some people in China are learning it — huge classes repeating what the instructor says. I ask my students if that’s the way they would like to learn English, and, obviously, they all say no. I use it as a way to get them thinking and sharing about what strategies help them learn best (and why), and which ones help least (and why).

Mallika Sarabhai: Dance to change the world uses dance and art for social change. It’s a neat way to introduce a discussion with my TOK class on the different roles art can have in society.

Evelyn Glennie shows how to listen is a deaf percussionist. Her presentation and performance challenges my TOK students to reflect on how the different senses contribute to our appreciation and understanding of music.

Jonathan Haidt on the moral roots of liberals and conservatives has some good pieces that I’m using in my TOK class when we discuss morals and ethics.

Peter Donnelly shows how stats fool juries is useful to demonstrate how statistics and data can be manipulated. I use it in my TOK class when we discuss experiments in the Natural and Human sciences.

Ron Eglash on African fractals
is one I use with TOK when we are discussing…fractals.

I showed parts of “On The Surprising Science of Motivation,” Daniel Pink’s talk, to my mainstream ninth-grade English class after I eliminated the “points” system in our class.  I was able to do it within one week of the beginning of this school year after they showed me they had good self-control (you can read about how it used that classroom management plan last year in (Have You Ever Taught A Class That Got “Out Of Control”?). Pink basically says that extrinsic rewards do work — for mechanical work that doesn’t require much higher-order thinking. But he says research says that it will not work for anything that requires higher-order thinking skills and creativity. It helped students understand why we were moving off the points system and, I believe, helped them feel more positive about their learning. I’ll write a future post that describes this lesson in more detail.

Beau Lotto: Optical illusions show how we see and Al Seckel on are good ones to use when teaching that we can’t always believe what our eyes are “telling us.” These are good for our exploration of Perception in my TOK class.

Kary Mullis celebrates the experiment is, I think, not one of the better TED Talks, but he tells a couple of short stories that are useful in helping students understand the scientific method.

When we study the Natural Sciences in my TOK class, I do a unit on the science of love. Helen Fisher studies the brain in love is a good video for students to watch as part of that study.

David Hanson: Robots that “show emotion” is useful in our TOK units on emotions and on science.

Feedback is always welcome.

If you found this post useful, you might want to consider subscribing to this blog for free.

You might also want to explore the 400 other “The Best…” lists I’ve compiled.

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. Hey Larry,

    Have you tried Sugata Mitra’s presentation about “The Hole in the Wall” experiment? I guess he’s a dry presenter but kids would enjoy the whole concept and the parts where he shows the kids there learning with just one computer stuck in a wall…

    It would make a great discussion. Ask them – can you teach yourself? Nothing BIGGER we can ever confront and push our students towards.

    PS. you asked about amazing educators before – he’s another. The guy should get 2 nobels!

  2. Larry,
    Thank you for the shout-out. I’ve also used “Don’t Eat the Marshmallow” in my classroom.

  3. Thanks for sharing your ideas on using specific TED talks. I watched Dance to Change the World and thought how right Mallika is about the transformative power of art. The clip on purifying water was most informative. I wonder if the Carter Center uses art/dance/songs in a similar way to get its messages across in the African projects it sponsors. I’m going to inquire.

  4. ….and that’s why you got my vote for best resource sharing blog! Thanks for the tips; I needed help sorting through all the TED talks.

  5. Dear Larry:
    Congratulations on your blog and how you are sharing with other teachers what works for you. Thank you for including my TED talk about Don’t Eat the Marshmallow in your classes. My book with the same title has great lessons for kids, you might want to get it or your library probably has it. If we could teach our children the marshmallow principle, we would change society and we wouldn’t have the biggest deficit in history in our country. I wish there were more teachers like you in our system.

    • Joachim,

      Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment on my blog. And thanks for letting me know about your book — I had no idea you had published one and will definitely pick it up.

      Most importantly, thanks for your research and for presenting them in such an accessible way for teachers and students!

      Larry Ferlazzo

  6. That’s really interesting. I use a lot of TED talks in my classes as well, but my list is almost completely different! The only one of yours that I also use is the Dan Pink talk. However, I’m teaching MBA classes in innovation management, so you and I are probably trying to make different points with the videos!

    In any case, they are a fantastic resource. The feedback that I have gotten from students regarding them is uniformly positive (and often very enthusiastic).

    • And just for the record, the ones that I use are:

      Malcolm Gladwell (spaghetti sauce)
      Clay Shirky’s first one (organising without organisations)
      Seth Godin’s first (sliced bread)
      Charles Leadbeater (innovation)
      Jeff Bezos (analogies for ecommerce)

      and this semester I’m adding in
      Dan Pink (motivation)
      Itay Talgam (lead like the great conductors)

  7. Hi Larry,

    I REALLY want to use TED Talks in my new acquired middle school language arts class but after a week of thinking about it haven’t come up with a solid purpose. I am brand new to middles school, moving from third grade and want to put some spark back into a languishing LA class. Any thoughts. Also, I came across this and thought you might like it. I am considering this as well:

    Thanks for all you do to inspire teachers.

    Terri Reh

  8. Dear Larry,

    Thank you so much for all of your excellent resources! I am a current Elementary Education major (K-6) in Tennessee and am writing an annotated resource folder about English Language Learners. Although I have seen Ted Talks before, I have never considered using them in the classroom. ELL students can also benefit from some of these episodes. I have found several great resources on your blog and look forward to implementing them into my classroom later down the road. I will most definitely be bookmarking your site!

    Thanks again,

  9. what about schools hosting their own TEDx events? has anyone out there tried – or even considered – doing this? would it work at your school, or is it best just in a classroom setting?

  10. You might also be interested in a growing collection of TED Talks for Kids at College by Kids – where kids are the teachers. The unique thing about the collection is that all of TED Talks are actually delivered by kids.

  11. Hi Larry! Enjoyed your post. Was curious how you pull off this one that you mention:
    I’ve had my Theory of Knowledge (TOK) students watch the Ted Talks “The Raspyni Brothers juggle and jest” and Lennart Green does close-up card magic. I have them first identify how the jugglers and the card “magician” made what they did and the objects they used look “new” to viewers and, secondly, discuss how mathematicians, historians, artists and scientists use those same techniques to study the world. Students share some brilliant stuff.

    I watched the Ted Talks, but didn’t immediately see a connection to what mathematicians, historians, artists, etc. But I’m intrigued by the idea. How do you see the connections, and how do you get students to see it, too?

    • Somewhere on my blog I believe I have the form I had students complete while watching it. If you search the titles of the videos in my blog’s search box, you should be able to find it.

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *.

Skip to toolbar