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Using Video: Practice

By Sebastian Taylor

In my first article (in the last issue of the IH Journal), I looked at some important features of video material and summarised some of the research that has been done into its use within an EFL/ESL teaching context. I also offered a brief outline of some of the factors a language teacher might want to consider before using filmed material in the classroom, as well as putting forward a few of the functions that video material can perform within the classroom which other text types may not fulfil in quite the same manner.

With this follow-up article I’d like to shift the focus onto the more specific approaches a teacher could take to incorporate filmed material into a lesson. Clearly, video material can easily be substituted for another text type (written, audio) without any great change in purpose or desired outcome. As long as you have a relevant piece of material, you can easily exploit it in the same way that you would an article, email or audio extract. This is certainly the easiest way to begin the process of developing new approaches to make the most of the unique qualities of each type of material. A teacher’s experimentation with new materials and new methods of exploiting materials can be described as a three stage approach:

  • familiar methods with familiar materials/types of material
  • familiar methods with new materials/types of material
  • new approach with new materials/types of material

Examples of task types

As with any material used in the classroom, there are a variety of stages at which learners could be asked to carry out tasks and respond to input. We are all used to setting learners tasks before we introduce a written or audio text, possibly involving pre-teaching of vocabulary, personalization tasks or context setting exercises. We might follow these with tasks which require our learners to scan or skim through a text, or listen just once, to identify key information or outline the structure of the text. Maybe we ask them to listen out for lexical items (antonyms, synonyms, all the names of pieces of fruit mentioned, etc.). We might then finish off with exercises which ask our students to read or listen for detail, identify uses of target language or analyse the text in some other way. The same frameworks we use for other material are equally applicable to video material. The following are some ideas and variations of tried and trusted task types:

1. Predicting content

As with other texts, the learners can be given the title of the film clip, some still pictures from the film or a selection of keywords associated with the video clip and be set tasks involving content prediction and hypothesis generation. Watching the extract then allows the learners to confirm their ideas or identify differences between their predictions and the actual content. Predictions could involve clichés of the genre, visual content such as costumes and sets, audio content such as soundtrack style or tempo, etc. as well as the more usual prediction of topical content.

A variation on this – which is only possible with video – would be to play the clip without any audio and ask the learners to predict content based solely on what they have seen. Alternatively, turn off the TV or projector and play the audio without the visual information and do the same with questions such as “Where are they?”, “Who are they?”, “What’s happening?”, “What do you think happened previously?” etc. A further variation (possible with DVD) would be to play the clip at double speed or even faster and again ask the learners to react to and comment on the situation/content. Tasks such as these will encourage learners to speculate together based only on visual or audio clues, before more information is provided with a complete viewing.

Any of these activities would serve as an important activation stage, as with any other text type, and engage the student’s interest, elicit important language and focus the learner on the subject at hand.

2. Whilst watching

As with audio material, the teacher can give the learners a series of simple tasks to do whilst watching the clip. As any of us who have learned additional languages can testify, watching, listening and writing at the same time in a second language is not easy, so it’s important not too demand too much of learners!

Tasks could take the form of a table to complete with key information, a list of events, words or objects to be marked in the order in which they appear, the task of counting the number of times a certain word or phrase is used or a certain object appears, etc. The task could also be along the lines of “How many different ways do the people in the film have of saying X, Y or Z?”

3. Post-watching

There are a huge number of activities possible after watching the clip:

  • Summarising the clip.
  • Devising questions to accompany the clip.
  • Using the clip as a springboard for discussion or debate.
  • Discussing cultural or regional differences in response to the clip.
  • Isolating and analysing language points
  • Correcting mistakes in a summary or transcript.

Basically, anything you can do with a written text or a CD, you can do with a video clip. Many DVD players have repeat functions so that a specific segment can be re-watched and, with DVDs divided into chapters, it is relatively easy to skip forwards or backwards at will. Subtitles in a variety of languages are also normally included.

Unique Resources

Here are just a few examples of additional video resources available which are unlike anything in other media:

  • Live webcams – many cities have webcams at interesting sites which can be accessed live via the internet.
  • Short movies – the BBC offers a selection of one-minute movies and there’s even a competition for ten-second films.
  • Video cameras can be used in the classroom to enhance feedback and error correction, as well as to work on posture, body language and paralinguistic features with learners wanting to prepare for presentations, interviews or speeches. Learners can actually see and hear themselves, and review their performance together with their teacher and fellow learners.
  • Students can also be encouraged to develop their own short films, reports or interviews which can be recorded for analysis, discussion or just for posterity’s sake.
  • Software such as Camtasia allows teachers to record audio alongside live screen-capture (recording everything that happens on their computer screen) whilst working with normal office software. For example, a teacher can correct and suggest reformulations of a learner’s written text in Microsoft Word and turn this process into a short film with audio – a much more personalised way of giving feedback.
  • Every Friday the Guardian website produces a Viral Video Chart with links to the twenty most-watched viral videos of the week. These are normally either of topical interest (political, sport or social interest) or are simply amusing.

Sample lesson for IHWO level 6 and above

  • Language focus – third and mixed conditionals
  • Material – video of an appearance by Al Gore on Saturday Night Live which can easily be found on the internet. A full transcript is also available freely online. The video clip is a fictional (and satirical) Address to the Nation, given by Al Gore as if he had beaten George W. Bush in the 2000 American elections.
  • Procedure
  1. Before playing the clip, learners could be asked to think about major events in their lives, in their countries and on the world stage that happened between 2000 and 2008. Ideas could be collected in small groups and fed back in open class. It would probably be necessary to show pictures of George W. Bush and Al Gore and ask the students what they know about them and how their images of each may differ.
  2. Learners watch the video and are asked to identify where their recollections differ from this fictional world. It will probably be necessary for students to be given a few prompts so they know what kinds of things to watch/listen out for.
  3. Comparing this fictional reality with real events provides a great route into the language focus on conditionals, which can then be extended into more personalised tasks and practice activities.
  4. Practice could come in the form of learners being asked to look back over key decisions and events in their lives and draw up an alternative reality timeline where things happened differently. Each of the points on these timelines provides an opportunity for production of sentences using the target language “If I hadn’t … , I would/could/might have …”, or, “If I hadn’t … , I would …” conditional sentences.


Video is a very flexible resource which can be used to fulfil many classroom purposes, whether as an alternative source of input, to reinforce language previously learnt, to stimulate discussion, to bring variety into the classroom, to activate passive language or to analyses native-speaker models. There is no end to the content of video clips available, from short films to historical documentaries, training videos to situation comedies.

The only limiting factors are the teacher’s imagination and creativity!


BBC one-minute movies:


Ten-second films:

British Council Flash Grammar Movies:

Viral Video Chart:

Example of a vlog:

Author’s Bio:
Sebastian Taylor is Director of Studies for English at IH Berlin PROLOG. He started as a freelance teacher in Berlin at the beginning of 2002, following an enjoyable period teaching ESL and working in adult education in the UK. Having been fortunate to find a home at PROLOG, he enjoys his role as DoS, developing himself further professionally, working together with a great team of teachers and making the most of life in such a wonderful city. He is neither a technophile nor a technophobe, but does have a soft spot for the school’s interactive whiteboards.

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