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10 TED Talks to Empower Middle and High School Students

10 TED Talks to Empower Middle and High School Students

By Lesley Vos

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Overwhelmed with testing and homework, it’s easy for students to have a hard time coming up with new ideas, thinking creatively about tasks, and staying motivated all the time.

While apps, blogging and online homework can help keep them engaged, there’s one type of content that can kick boredom and inspire students at the same time: Ted Talks.

These motivational and educational speeches from the world’s most brilliant minds are a new staple in the learning sphere. As a teacher, you can choose TED talks that meet your curriculum and share them in the classroom.

We’re sharing 10 of the best Ted Talks for your classroom, which cover a wide variety of topics in inspiring and easy-to-understand ways. In the end, students are empowered, excited and motivated, infusing them a fresh burst of learning energy.

Some of the following talks are 5-10 minutes long, while others take 20-30 minutes to watch; so, plan your lessons accordingly and get ready for students to learn, laugh, and be inspired.

More: 10 Ways to Re-Energize Your Classroom With EdTech

1) “Try Something New for 30 Days” by Matt Cutts

Length: 3 min. 27 sec.

To motivate students and inspire them to discover variety, share Matt Cutts’ talk. He speaks about the experiment of trying something new for thirty days, which could be a great way to add diversity, creativity, and inspiration to your students’ lives or your classroom.

2) “How Do You Define Yourself?” by Lizzie Velasquez

Length: 13 min. 10 sec.

For young adults, self-definition is a topical issue: this is the age of looking for behavioral patterns and copying them in search of public approval. This powerful TED talk by Lizzie Velazquez will inspire your students and help them find a path: she describes a personal journey of acceptance, illness, and overcoming bullying to become a confident woman.

3) “The Power of Vulnerability” by Brené Brown

Length: 20 min. 50 sec.

We all feel vulnerable sometimes, and this feeling is far from pleasant. Yet, it’s a necessary part of self-definition and growth; and you can send this message to students with Brené Brown’s inspirational speech. As a researcher who studies human connection, she’s given one of the most famous TED talks highlighting reasons why we are vulnerable and what role this quality plays in people’s ability to achieve goals.

4) “The Nerd’s Guide to Learning Everything Online” by John Green

Length: 18 min. 10 sec.

Your students represent Gen Z, who have been tech-savvy from childhood. They don’t need any explanations on why the Internet is important and what role it plays in communication. That’s why John Green’s TED talk on why the web makes learning awesome; giving students a new perspective on the Internet.

5) “The Fringe Benefits of Failure” by J.K. Rowling

Length: 20 min. 58 sec.

The fear of failure may be one of top reasons why your students procrastinate and don’t to finish projects on time. Watch J.K. Rowling’s speech as the kick-off to a discussion about why failures matter and what roles they play in our future success. Chances are, your students know that story about 12 rejections Rowling got before publishing Harry Potter, and they’ll find her perspective fascinating.

6) “Weird, or Just Different?” by Derek Sivers

Length: 3 min. 12 sec.

This TED Talk helps students understand “there’s a flip side to everything,” and to push their limits and share ideas (even if they’re weird). Derek Sivers reminds students how stereotypes and preconceived notions of what’s “normal” shapes our thoughts and keeps our options closed. He encourages watchers to accept diversity and think outside the box for a better life and emotional intelligence.

7) “Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator” by Tim Urban

Length: 14 min. 03 sec.

The fact is, your students procrastinate. In a funny yet informative manner, Tim Urban explains the brain processes behind this phenomenon, describing what happens to our minds when a rational decision maker gives place to a gratification monkey.

8) “How to Succeed? Get More Sleep” by Arianna Huffington

Length: 4 min. 43 sec.

Many believe they need to do more to achieve more. Especially students, some of whom are motived by it and some of whom struggle because of it. Arianna Huffington makes it clear: one small change, such as an organized sleep schedule, can make you more successful than sacrificing health.

9) “5 Ways to Listen Better” by Julian Treasure

Length: 7 min. 50 sec.

Listening is an essential skill for success in everything we do. To help students develop it, play this video and then try the five exercises from Julian Treasure in the classroom. He claims “we’re losing our listening” in today’s loud world of content shock and black noise, which makes it more difficult for people to filter useful information. His TED talk is aimed at solving this exact problem.

10) “Where Good Ideas Come From” by Steven Johnson

Length: 18 min. 16 sec.

This talk explains how to get your brains into an environment where innovation happens. Considering creativity a state of mind, Johnson shares his hacks on recognizing “Eureka!” moments and turning them into a sustainable “basement” for original ideas, creative thinking, interesting projects, and motivation to discover this brave new world both in class and beyond.


Students do love TED talks! Here are nine talks recommended by young adults to share with students. Maybe these videos will inspire you as well as your students and inspire you to create new and innovative lessons and teaching opportunities in the classroom. Don’t forget to check out 15 Best Educational YouTube Channels and 12 Free Documentaries to Boost Engagement too!

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10 TED Talks to Empower Middle and High School Students

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