*Update: I added a fifth hilarious and interactive talk. Enjoy!
Ted Talks are increasingly popular with educators for use with the faculty as well as the students. However, it can be tricky to find just the right talk for the occasion since there are so many available.
There’s also the problem of occasional profanity or inappropriate subject matter. Some topics are perfectly fine for the adult audience you see at the conference, but the content and references are inappropriate or over the heads of your student audiences.
After years of testing out various talks in the classroom, I finally found a few that always go over well with my high school students. Of course, it has a lot to do with the talks being funny. Who doesn’t like to laugh? But there’s also a deeper meaning and positive message with each that resonates with the students. There is no particular order to this list. They each are awesome in their own right.
Personally, I like to keep my Ted Talks as an in-case-of-emergency backup plan. The day before a break when the students don’t want to do anything, I play a talk and trick them into learning. On days where we have shortened periods and none of my other lessons will fit quite right, I have a few different talks that will fit into almost any time slot I have. Once, a fellow teacher had to leave abruptly and I had to cover for them. We couldn’t find the worksheets they needed for the day and there weren’t any sub plans since the absence was immediate and unexpected. I whipped out the Ted Talk and behavior was (almost) immaculate as the students were engaged with the talks.
1. “Don’t eat the marshmallow!”
Just based off the title you know this will be a funny talk. It’s all about the marshmallow test done with a group of six-year-olds. They were given a marshmallow and told they would get another if they didn’t eat the first one. They had to resist temptation for fifteen minutes. Eternity for a small child. The descriptions of the coping methods used by the students is spot on and there’s video to accompany it.
Originally recorded in 2009, it’s one of the older talks. However, the message of learning and teaching delayed gratification is of course still relevant today. It might even be more relevant given our tech-dependent society.
I also like the brevity of this talk. Just under six minutes makes this a great talk to fill 10-20 minutes. Really, you can watch it and discuss in ten minutes, but I like to have a worksheet to go with it and students usually need an extra 5-10 minutes for the worksheet. Click here to watch it.
2. “What I learned from 100 days of rejection”
What student can’t relate to that? This more recent talk focuses on how people can overcome the fear of rejection by desensitizing themselves to it. The speaker engaged in 30 days of planned rejection (which of course are hysterical) and reveals what he learned about the fear of rejection, the power of embracing rejection, and how to decrease your chances of rejection.
This talk uses some visuals, but nothing that is absolutely essential to the talk. I print out a transcript of this talk and keep it as a nothing-is-working-today back-up lesson. I keep copies of the worksheet and transcript in a folder for those rare crazy days when my projector breaks or the power goes out but you still have 20 minutes to kill while administrators determine what they want to do about the rest of the school day.
As a talk, it’s 15 minutes long. The video and the worksheet usually take about 20-25 minutes depending on how often you stop to discuss. The students always like to discuss; isn’t that the purpose of most talks, to start discussion? This talk is perfect for extension activities like having the students create their own outline of what activities they would do to achieve 30 days of rejection. Click here to watch it.
3. “Inside the mind of a master procrastinator”
I love using this talk with my seniors, but again, it works with any middle or high school student. The opening of the talk is all about how he procrastinates writing a paper for school. Our students and most staff can relate to that.
The talk is funny from start to stop. The delivery is perfect and the visuals are simplistic while aiding in the comprehension. That will help keep the students’ attention, so they are sure to catch the important message of not procrastinating on what is important in your life.
It’s a long talk at 14 minutes, but it goes quickly and is enjoyable to watch. I use a worksheet with questions for the students to answer, but I’ve also seen teachers use this to help practice taking Cornell Notes. Click here to watch it.
4. “The shared experience of absurdity”
From the creator of Improv Everywhere, this talk is all about creating silliness and play in order to make strangers smile. It will definitely result in your students smiling – even the ones who think they’re too cool for school.
The speaker takes the audience through various harmless pranks he’s organized around New York City, including the famous No Pants Subway Ride. As he details his various pranks, he also comments on the importance of playing and having fun, especially as adults. The pranks are explained through the use of stills and videos since most pranks were recorded. That means this talk is not a good option unless you have access to some sort of technology that allows students to view the talk.
Warning this talk starts off a little slow. The details of the subway ride are plentiful and there is video footage to go with it. But stick with it, because it picks up and this is one of the talks that seems to inspire the students to want to mimic it. One of my favorite extensions with this talk is to have the students come up with their own harmless prank that would bring smiles and positive vibes to the school. Click here to watch it.
5. “The art of misdirection”
Thank you to Eric Rude who pointed this talk out to me in the comments! Robbins is possibly the best pick pocket in the world because of his mastery in attention and misdirection. He interacts with the audience as a whole which you can do with the students as well. For example, he asks what is the icon in the lower right hand corner of your phone. I know I got it wrong and I was shocked to see it’s one I use at least six times a day. Robbins breaks down through a simplistic visual how our attention works and how he manipulates it. Using an audience member he demonstrates his pick pocketing prowess in an amusing way.
The purpose? It becomes glaringly obvious how imperceptive we all are. My extension on this one is for students to consider the implication of this on a society that always has its face in a smart phone or that walks around with earbuds and music all day. I’m also thinking of using this to emphasize how students can’t look at their phone and still pay attention to what’s happening in class, and how they cannot listen to music and do work at the same time. To watch this awesome talk, click here.
What to do while watching Ted Talks
There are a few options. Click here for a set of worksheets from my TpT store with specific questions for each talk listed above. I also include the QR codes at the top of each worksheet so students can access the talks on their own or through class.
Some teachers use these talks as a way to teach note-taking skills. The topics are interesting and engaging, and it is a bit more true to a college lecture than what you would otherwise see in a high school classroom. Many will practice Cornell Note taking or whatever other method of note-taking taught in class.
Finally, I have seen some teachers use a standard Ted Talk worksheet. I’ve seen some online and I’ve seen some offered on Teachers Pay Teachers. Often, these worksheets will focus on the point/argument made by the speaker, the overall theme, evidence to support their opinion, etc.
How do you Ted Talk? Are there any exceptionally funny (but still appropriate) talks that I missed?
Everyone loves a funny Ted Talk, so I found five more (as well as one that is mildly amusing) that are quick, six minutes or less, and focus on leadership or building good character. Check out my worksheet and which talks made the cut by visiting my store.