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Video in the TEFL Classroom

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Choose carefully what to watch!

This article is on how to use Videos in the Classroom (or of course, movies or films in the classroom). It describes the basic technique so that you – and your students – make the most of this valuable resource. (Note that this also applies to DVDs, online clips, etc).

Choosing the right Video

This is important. Obviously it must fulfill the usual criteria for material given to a class in that it must be of the right learner level, the right subject matter and of interest, but also you need to consider length.

Giving students a full film-length video (ninety minutes or so) is like giving the class a full length book to read. It is tiring, the subject matter risks interesting only some of the students, and it is easy when watching to “switch off” and daydream at the back of the class.

Much better then is to give the class short videos. These can be of any length to be useful from just a minute or so to about ten minutes. YouTube has plenty of clips and do not forget sites like Vimeo where many professional and semi-professional filmmakers post work which is of a very high standard. On Vimeo you are likely to find engaging and provocative stories which will stimulate the class.

Before the Lesson

Make sure the video is set up in the right place and ready to roll. Make sure the equipment is set up and functioning properly. You don’t want to start the lesson then spend ten minutes to discover the plug doesn’t fit the socket.

If you are showing online videos from YouTube or a similar site then you could show it live if you have a decent connection or, better still, download it from YouTube to have a local copy. (To do this you can use Firefox with an appropriate add-on.)

Before you Start

Introduce the subject. Don’t just wade in with the video, but set the scene. This might mean a quick discussion on the subject or perhaps going over some vocabulary‏‎ the students are likely to encounter and have problems with.

One idea is to write up the words you encounter on the board and then use these with the class in trying to guess what will happen in the video. You can introduce the video in a similar way that you might a reading‏‎ passage.

Playing the Video

Don’t turn on the video and sit at the back of the classroom yawning. You should make the video as interactive as possible. That means stop and start it almost scene by scene: check for understanding and use prediction to find out what’s going to happen next.

Begin by getting the students to look for specific things in the video. For example, “What kind of shop does the man work in?” or, “How many people are in the car.” Then, when the video is playing, freeze frame it after each question could be answered and check that the students have understood what’s going on.

Stop the video at crucial story points in the action and check for understanding and then ask more open-ended questions about what might happen next and so on.

After the first viewing you can ask some general comprehension questions to see what else the students have understood.

Variations on a Theme

  • Try stopping the video after a pertinent piece of dialog and ask the students what they think will be said next.
  • Turn the sound down from the start and see if the students can work out some rough dialog.
  • Turn the picture off (cover the screen) and play the sound; students work out what the visuals are all about.
  • Dictation. Instead of you speaking and the students writing, the actor speaks and while you pause the video, the students write the dialog down.
  • Half the students watch the video with no sound. Half listen to the sound with no picture. They meet in the middle to piece together the whole thing.
  • Half the students watch the first half of the video and half the students watch the second half. They meet in the middle to piece together the whole thing.
  • Half the students listen to the video with their back to the screen. Each has a partner who explains to them what is happening (as the teacher pauses after each scene).

Finally, with the right class don’t neglect the idea of playing a short film for enjoyment and then simply discussing it afterwards. It’s a relaxing but useful way to end the week!

After the Event

  • Cloze Tests‏‎ using the dialog from the video.
  • Cartoon bubbles (if you can, from screen captures) which the students fill with dialog to match a particular moment from the video.
  • Interviews. Several students play the characters in the video and other students interview them. If it’s a well known video film students can also “play” the actors, e.g. “My name’s Brad Pitt and this is my latest movie,” while being interviewed about it.
  • Role Playing. The students can practice scenes from the video either using genuine dialog or their own version. In addition, you may also develop these into plays in the classroom‏‎.

Freer Discussion Topics

  • Was the video good? How was the acting? What about the settings and locations?
  • Was the plot believable? What happened to the characters after the end of the video? Why did a character behave in a certain way?
  • Which character do the students identify with? What would the students have done in a similar situation?

Useful Links

ESLdrama – from a series written and produced especially for learners of English

Movie Trailers in Class‏‎ – a simple video activity using movie trailers.

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