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Using Videos in Class

Category: Methodology

Lately I've been thinking about using videos (audio-visual material) in class. In fact I used to do this all the time, but lately the pendulum seems to have swung in the other direction. I tend to be that way, I really get into something for a while, then drift away from it, then back again. So let's get  back into videos!

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Why use videos?

So why should we use videos? Well, for a change of pace and a change of focus, to add variety to the class, and because the language is fairly 'authentic'. They also focus on listening comprehension. What's more, they're probably easier for students to understand than coursebook listenings or other listenings involving disimbodied voices. With videos, students get more contextual information, they see body language, facial expressions, lip movement; all of which aid comprehension.

The purpose of the video

Videos are often used because they're related to the topic you're focusing on. For example, if in class you're looking at language for job interviews, you can easily find sample job interviews on youtube. If the topic is technology and computers, a video involving computer nerds might be fun.

Another common purpose is to focus on the language that comes up. It could be anything from language for job interviews to a specific grammar point, such as conditionals or modal verbs. I have a video activity prepared for a documentary about the possibility of the earth being hit by a meteor, and some really good conditional come up. So I do the video activity, highlight the conditionals, then go into a more traditional presentations of conditionals.

Types of videos

DVDs are nice because after doing the activity, you can “give them the answers” by showing it again with English subtitles. If you have access to a computer and the internet, there are a huge number of things you can do, such as songs. You can find the lyrics online, then make a gapfill. Of course you can find pretty much anything online, for example TV series and film trailers, the latter being nice because they don't go on for too long.

Selecting a video

The last point leads nicely to the next one: selecting a video. A rule of thumb: the longer the video, the higher the level the students need. This is because if it lasts 15 minutes, you'll probably only play it once, so students will just have one chance to get it. And longer also means more language to  process. But there's something to be said for extensive listenings, but you also have to wonder if it's the best way to spend valuable class time, especially nowadays when students can easily watch videos at home.

I tend to favor shorter videos when possible, by which I mean two to five minutes. This way you can play it several times, thus making the listening more intensive, and it's more likely you can use it for lower levels.

Finally, videos should be as 'authentic' as possible, by this I mean use practical, everyday language, so sitcoms are pretty good. Perhaps it's better to avoid too much news.

Pre-viewing activities

This is similar to ordinary coursebook-type listenings. You need to set the scene or activate the students' knowledge. For example, if you're going to show a clip from a film, ask the students if they've seen it. Those who have say what they remember about it; those who haven't ask questions.

It may also be necessary to pre-teach lexis to aid comprehension. This may involve creating a worksheet where students match lexis to meanings, or maybe it could be done on the white board.

During activities

In my book, the first viewing should be for gist, which can often be some variation of, 'What happens?' Or if they have previously predicted what's going to happen, they see if they were right. But having some sort of task when they're watching is important because it forces them to make more of an effort and listen more carefully.

I remember when I first started doing videos I would sometimes have them do gapfills and such on the first listening, but I noticed that instead of watching the video, they were looking down at the worksheet, which kind of defeats the purpose of showing the video. So for the first listening I want them to have their eyes on the video and hopefully to enjoy it.

The second listening can be for detail: multiple choice, gap fills, ordering sentences or phrases, though that may mean additional preparation for the teacher. An easier option is to have them take notes on what happens, then work in pairs and compare them and retell.

After viewing

These are pretty much the same as an ordinary listening. If there was a specific language focus, you could go into that. Depending what the video was, it could lead to a discussion, debate or roleplay. An even easier option is just to ask them what their reaction was, which is especially effective if it was a bit controversial.

Practical ideas

BBC Five minute interviews

In 'BBC five minute interviews', someone is interviewed for exactly five minutes. This can be quite demanding but doable, especially for higher level students. Above is a link to an interview with Australian supermodel Elle Macpherson.

This could be related to topics like models, fashion, business (she's now a businesswoman). For the pre-viewing activity you could ask the students to tell you (or each other) everything they know about her. If you have a computer you can even check their answers on Wikipedia. Then ask them to write down the questions they'd like to ask her if they could interview her. Also, it might help things along to pre-teach some vocabulary such as 'entrepreneur, lingerie, a nose for business, raise children, a single mum, to wind down'.

For the first viewing I ask them to listen to see if any on the questions were the same, in the second to take notes on the interview. Then I have them retell what she said. For the after viewing they can role play the interview, or answer some of the questions themselves, i.e. Do you have a nose for business? What is your biggest achievement'? Is it harder being a women in business? What do you find attractive in a man/woman? What do you do to wind down?

By the way, another idea with the BBC is One-minute World News.

The IT Crowd

The IT Crowd


Here's a fun video with a comedy/business/tecnology/nerd angle. By the way, I'd like to thank fellow teachers at madridteacher for sharing this with me and giving me ideas. Although 12 minutes long, this video relies heavily on Mr-Bean-style physical comedy, which helps comprehension. In fact, even if the students don't understand anything they say I suppose they could still just enjoy their antics.

In any case, for the pre-viewing you could ask them if they've heard of or watched this series, if not explain it's a comedy set in an office. You might also ask them if they like Mr-Bean style comedy. Depending on their level I would pre-teach some or all of the following lexis, 'size them up with a long hard stare, getting to grips, IT, nerds, glowing, turn it on, I TOLD her, hit it off, get out of the lift, head of this department, wicked, pretend conversation, weird, oddball'.

While they're watching they can listen for the lexis and try and remember who said it. For the after viewing students can discuss other comedies or sitcoms they've enjoyed, or problems they've heard of involving office politics.

Lost in Translation

Movie trailers


Another great idea for video activities is movie trailers: the one above is Lost in Translation and could be a great lead-in to the topic of traveling and language difficulties when dealing with a foreign language.

To start off you could ask the students if they've seen the film and discuss it. Did they like it? Why? Why not? Likewise you could discuss the stars, Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson. Comprehension could be aided by pre-teaching lexis, 'Rat Pack, lip (rip) my stocking, endorse a whisky, a prision break, Are you in or out?, midlife crisis, Porsche, You'll figure that out'. By the way, because it's short and you've pre-taught vocabulary, you could probably show this to lower levels, even pre-intermediate.

While they're watching they could listen for the lexis and who says it. Afterwards those who haven't seen the film could say if they'd like to see it. This could then be followed by students talking about their travel experiences and language problems while abroad.

By the way, if you're ever on the subject of languages and accents, here's Amy Walker's 21 accents, which is really good for making students aware that there isn't just One English. For example, they're often surprised how many different accents there are in England.

21 Accents


A word of caution

Students find videos interesting and motivating, but they aren't without their perils, and the biggest one is not pitching correctly. That is, the video is too difficult so they end up feeling demotivated and frustrated. To be honest that's happened to me more than once. But overall students really love  them. So enjoy!

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