How to … exploit video in class

Copyright, Vimeo

Copyright, Vimeo

It should be a motivating experience, indeed you may even have conceived the activity as a prize, or an end of term treat, but too often the use of video in the classroom has the opposite effect. In this post we will look at some different ways to incorporate video in the classroom, in a fun and, hopefully, motivating way.

The first consideration when using video in class is what you want to achieve with the video. It can be very easy simply to put on a film for your students to watch and expect them to be motivated by it, but unless the students have a very high level of English, they will have difficulty following the dialogue, and so will become easily lost and unable to enjoy the film as entertainment. For this reason, always have a concrete activity to do while watching, which will give your students something to focus on during the film, and allow you to measure their success at the end of the session.

A second thing to bear in mind is the level of concentration necessary to do the activity on the part of your students, which is far more than a native speaker would need to watch the same clip. Because of this, I would suggest keeping the video itself short. If you want to watch a longer video, break it down into more manageable chunks, with a different activity for each part, checking comprehension before moving on to the next part. It can also be useful to watch the same part more than once, just as we would with a listening comprehension exercise, with a listening / watching for gist exercise the first time to lead the students into the scene, then a more detailed exercise the second time round.

Lead-ins

Any video activity needs a lead-in before you put on the video itself. This can be an exercise to pre-teach new vocabulary, or an introduction to the topic. One possible lead-in is a technique known as ‘vision off’, where the students attempt to predict things about what they are going to see by listening to the sound of the beginning of the video without the pictures. They can be asked to predict where the action is taking place, how many people are in the scene, or for higher level groups, the relationship between the characters or their attitudes. Play the video twice, then allow the students to compare their answers in pairs before sharing with the class. Then play the video with the pictures to allow the students to ‘check’ their own ideas.

Another possible lead-in is the pre-teaching of key vocabulary, as in the activity ‘Pigeon Impossible’, which you can read about here. In this case, key vocabulary is taken from the film and presented to the class. The students are asked to write a story in pairs which contains all of the vocabulary given. Higher level groups could be asked to present their story orally. The video is then played and the students compare their stories to the story in the film.

Silent films

For many types of activities, including the ‘Pigeon Impossible’ activity mentioned above, it is not necessary for the video to have intelligible dialogue. Indeed, there are activities which require a video without words. A useful speaking activity, which I learnt from Tom Spain, is to seat the students face-to-face, one half looking at the screen, the others with their backs to it. When you play the video, those watching describe the action to their partners. After about a minute, pause the video and ask the students who were listening to the description to describe what happened. Then change over, and play another minute or so of video. This activity can be followed by a prediction exercise, where the students work in groups to decide what happens next and report to the class before watching the rest of the film.

Copyright, BBC

Copyright, BBC

Another way to exploit film without sound is to get the students to dub the video, preparing the dialogues themselves and trying to sync their words as much as possible to the faces on screen. This can be done using a film which does have dialogue but with the sound turned down. This way, once the students have performed their versions, the real dialogue can be played. I have done this exercise using Armstrong and Miller’s RAF pilot sketches, where wartime fighter pilots speak like modern teenagers. In this way, I guarantee a surprise for the students when they listen to the authentic version, although it is only for higher level groups.

Listening exercises

Obviously a video activity lends itself particularly well to listening comprehension exercises. However, as I pointed out above, it is important to bear in mind the difficulty of listening to authentic language, even with visual support. One way of getting round this is to get students to listen for specific things in the video. Choose a film which has plenty of visual humour, such as one of the Wallace and Gromit films, and pre-teach items of vocabulary or set expressions which appear frequently in the dialogue.

Wallace and Gromit

Wallace and Gromit (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As the students watch the film, they are instructed to stand when they hear the pre-taught words and expressions. Different students can be responsible for different items of vocabulary, which allows them to focus on fewer words and phrases. If the students are reluctant to stand up, have them hold up cards with the correct item of vocabulary on it when they hear the word. It is useful to repeat this exercise after a few days to revise the vocabulary. Once again, the period of concentration required from the students should not be too long. If the film lasts more or less the whole class, take two or three breaks at least to discuss what is happening and possibly to find out if the students can remember any words which were said with the items of vocabulary they were listening for – in this way they start to build an idea of how the words collocate in natural language.

Discussion topics

A video can be a useful way of introducing a topic for a class discussion or for presenting a point of view. The BBC news website is a great source for short video news reports which present topics for debate. Ideally, the class would begin with one or more of the activities described above, moving on to a class discussion on the topic presented. I had a very interesting discussion in class based on a news report about a woman who had asked to have her disabled arm amputated and replaced by a ‘bionic’ one. This video was followed by another showing a person using one of the new generation of bionic arms to do things like tie his shoe laces, or open a bottle and pour a drink. I’m afraid I couldn’t resist starting the class with the intro to ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’, before showing the video news report itself – this led to a useful initial discussion about how science fiction has become fact in some cases. A good example of a lesson plan for this type of activity can be found here, on Jamie Keddie’s website.

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15 thoughts on “How to … exploit video in class

  1. Thanks for these ideas – a few of these ideas were new for me and I’m sure the participants in class will be quite happy when I test a few out with them!

    With a very advanced group I also like to focus on listening for cultural references or specific speaking styles or words… for example… if there is a lot of “gonna, woulda, gotta” then I like to highlight them as it’s always a good reminder of the authentic English they may encounter. I once had a video of a pop singer in an interview and we counted out how many “likes” she added into her speech… something like 35 in 2 mins!! Such things are good eye-openers & tend to be memorable.

    I think your main point here is that we should have some sort of focus or activity prepared when turning on the video… clearly…. and not just turning it on and leaning back in a chair to enjoy the show. 🙂

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  9. I agree in using silent films. They are very good for students to imagine the dialogue and create their own scripts. I use a lot of videos in my class and I also use viral videos to break the ice.

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