Sunday, 20 September 2009

Ideas for using videos in the classroom

As teachers, we have to be innovative,  to keep up with the times, so to speak. The days of teaching with a book, chalk and blackboard are long gone now. Every year, more and more schools are installing digital boards, more classes are having projectors and white boards, if not a screen, and it won't be long before every class will be equipped with a complete audiovisual system, computer included; and, we might even get to see, in the not too distant future, a computer on every desk.

Those who know me are aware that I am an advocate for the use of IT in the classroom, as I strongly believe that most children love the dynamism of sound and image and it's a far more effective way of capturing their attention than the traditional board; and those who have been following this blog would have seen many activities which have been designed to be used interactively, and would have read about the different ideas for practising the skills involved in learning a language. Hopefully, they have been of some use.

In this post, I'll try to put across some ideas on how to make the most of using videos in the class. Students, both young and old, love watching images fluttering on the screen, but we'd need to tap into that. Showing a movie for the duration of the class, or even two classes, while you sit and mark your exams, or prepare for the next lesson, is not taking advantage of the potential of video teaching.

Even though I write with teaching English in mind, the same ideas can be used for teaching other subjects. Don't show the whole film, unless it's a very short one. Generally, showing 5-15 min segments are more useful.

You can use films, trailers, extras found in dvds, youtube or teachertube videos, music clips, etc. By all means, show subtitles, but only English, never with their native language subtitles because they will be reading and not listening, while with English subtitles, they will be both listening and reading.

Encourage students and parents to watch films in the original language, preferably with English subtitles rather than with their native language. In fact, every few months, you can assign a film to be watched at home, or you can have a selection, and let the students swap them among each other.

They then talk about it in class, and can also be requested to submit a written report such as a review or a discussion question set by you, for example.

For class viewing, choose a segment which is appropriate to the level of your students.

Here is a selection of activities you can use:

Turn volume and subtitles off. Show a short segment. Ask students to imagine what the actors are saying. Ask them to imagine the situation before and after. Even if they have seen the video before, it doesn't matter. The main objective is for them to speak. You can also do this activity in groups or have different groups where some work on the situation before the scene while others work on what happens after the scene. Then they get together and each group tells the class its version.

Alternatively, don't show the video, but instead, let them listen first. Based on this, they imagine the setting, the characters (maybe they can guess the actors), etc. Depending on the segment you have chosen, you may be able to get them to do the previous exercise, too (imagining the situations before and after the scene). Tell them to listen not only to the dialogue, but also to the noises (crashes, gunshots, howling wind, etc) and the soundtrack. Listen to the silence, too, if any, as silence can work wonders on the imagination. All these may give important clues to the nature of the scene.

Have activities for different stages. For example, before watching: discussion questions and vocabulary activities; while watching: listening exercises such as gap filling; after watching: discussion questions.

Discussions need not be restricted to the film's content only. For example, the wedding scene in The Godfather can be used as a springboard for a discussion on wedding celebrations of different cultures; or any film can be used to start a conversation on cinema etiquettes, introducing or revising language such as 'Do you mind...' 'Could you please...', 'fancy', 'care for', and 'Would you like...' See also my post on Invitation to the cinema.

Next time you watch a film, program your chip to teacher mode. Watch out for scenes you could make the most of in listening activities. Examples are dialogue situations we often use in class such as airport announcements, checking into a hotel, restaurant scenes, etc.

As for vocabulary, don't restrict yourself to the same techniques. Vary them. There are many ways of learning vocabulary such as scrabble, crosswords, jumbled characters, mind maps, gapfill, etc. I'll do an 'Ideas for vocabulary activity' article some time in the future, so make sure you've subscribed here!

If the film has been adapted from a book, you can ask students to read the book first (or the part which you will be showing). Then, show the segment. Discuss the differences (in dialogue, settings, characters, etc) between the book and the film.

Alternatively, have them read the film script (or role-play it). Ask if they know the title of the film, the cast, the scene, etc.

If you like Wordle as I do, create one with part of the script and see if they can guess where it comes from. Discuss as above.

From a cLiL to cLiMB
Google the Internet for websites specialising in film scripts. Here are a few links:

Recipes are very useful for teaching imperatives, sequence words, and food & kitchen vocabulary. Videojug has a wonderful collection of recipes from all over the world, explained clearly and concisely.

If you have the dvd of Kung Fu Panda, you may have the special feature on the art of noodle making. I've used this with my students and they loved it.

Another fun movie activity is Watch and Tell. Form the students in pairs. They sit with their backs facing each other. The one facing the screen watches the film, and while watching it, he relates all he can to his partner, who, in turn, tries to write down everything his partner is telling him. After a few minutes, they swap their positions, and repeat the process. When you stop the screening, they try to piece the story together, and relate it to the class.

Try to choose a film with little or no dialogue. Something like Mr Bean or Wallace & Gromit work well. Alternatively, turn the volume off - the disadvantage here is that they can't hear the music and other noises, which are what make films exciting. If you like, you can always choose a certain grammatical aspect to concentrate on. You can ask them to write in present simple or present continuous or relate in the simple past, for example.

Special thanks go to Claudio, who has a wonderful site with grammar activities for a wide range of films. Check it out here.

For video clips, apart from dvds obviously, have a look at TeacherTube.

For lesson plans based on video clips, you light like TEFLclips.

If you have any more ideas to add to these, please share them in the comments section below.



  1. What a great list of ideas! Definitely many useful suggestions!

    Just to expand on YouTube, I recommend checking out TeachHUB for ideas for YouTube writing prompts. They choose to feature one video every week and create recommended writing prompts for grades K-12. It's definitely a great place to get ideas and inspiration! Check it out:

  2. Thanks for the link, EK. I'll take a look.

  3. What a great list of ideas! Definitely many useful suggestions!

    Just to expand on YouTube, I recommend checking out TeachHUB for ideas for YouTube writing prompts. They choose to feature one video every week and create recommended writing prompts for grades K-12. It's definitely a great place to get ideas and inspiration! Check it out:


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