Video is a great resource to use in class and there are an endless number of ways to exploit it to create motivating, memorable classes with a high level of language production.

Your choice of video may well be limited depending on what you have available to you wherever you are so the suggested activities have been kept deliberately general. They also include several tasks where you have the sound of the video down, and you simply use the moving image. Therefore you can use programmes recorded from the TV in the country you’re in. In fact, you can get a lot of mileage out of using cartoons, soap operas or reality TV shows from the students’ country as they will be able to tell you all about the characters and you can exploit the natural information gap between you and them!

  • If you are using films, try to get them with subtitles in English. The great advantage of DVDs is that you can always put on the subtitles in English. If you use the ‘subtitles for the hard of hearing’ you tend to get more information than you need, such as ‘car horn beeping loudly’ or ‘birds singing’ and this can be confusing for the learners, however it’s better than no subtitles at all. With higher levels explain that the subtitles have been made for deaf viewers so the background noises are also described. If you don’t have any subtitles and you’re using authentic materials, make your tasks based mainly on the visuals. As I’m sure you know, you need a high level of proficiency in a language to be able to follow films so lower levels could find it de-motivating if the tasks are too difficult. Using video should increase the students’ level of motivation, so take your time to prepare tasks that will be challenging but not impossible for students to succeed in.

When you are planning a video lesson, try to think of it in three parts:

  • Before you watch
    The important thing about the before you watch tasks are that they get students into the topic and you prepare them for what they are going to see. This is the time to pre-teach any tricky vocabulary if you need to. ‘Before you watch’ tasks could be brainstorms, quizzes, vocabulary matching or any other task that gives some background knowledge about what they are going to watch.
  • While you watch
    These are the tasks that students do while they are viewing, or during a pause in the viewing. Remember how annoying it is to be interrupted continuously while you’re watching TV? Bear this in mind while you prepare these tasks. They should be short and simple. You are asking your students to do a lot of multi-tasking by giving them ‘while you watch’ tasks and you are could be in danger of converting a potentially fun and enjoyable class into a real bore by over-loading the students with things to do. Having said that, we should always keep our students active during the viewing so they don’t switch off.
  • After you watch
    Many tasks can follow on from watching a video and what you choose to do really depends on what you are watching. To give a few examples, a discussion could follow on naturally from a documentary, a role play or a ‘what happens next?’ could follow on from a soap opera and a character study or making your own comic strip could follow a cartoon.

Here are some classic video activities to get you started.

1) True or false?

As students watch a section of video and have to write three sentences about what they see. The sentences can be a mix of true and false. Pause the viewing periodically and ask a couple of students to read a sentence and the others must say whether it’s true or false.

2) Sound down

Sit students in pairs facing one another with one facing the TV and the other facing away. Turn the sound down and play about two minutes of film. Choose the section carefully ensuring there’s enough action. The student watching the TV must explain what’s happening to their partner. Then change places so the other student gets a turn. Then watch the whole clip to see how accurate they were. If you like, do the task once, then ask the students who were the viewers which words they needed. Put some vocabulary on the board then repeat the task so they get another go at describing the action.

3) Dubbing

This can be a lot of fun. Choose a scene (I last did it with a cheesy South American soap opera) and get the students into groups according to how many characters there are. Play the scene without volume and get each student to choose a character. Play it again, stopping after each bit of speech and get the students to invent the dialogue. You need to go slowly and play back many times to give the students time to think and write. When they have the dialogue for the scene, play again and get each group to dub the scene with their dialogue. You can also do this with adverts.

4) Hold it there!

Pause the video at an appropriate moment to leave a still image on the screen. Use the image as if it were a photo or a picture and use it to prompt discussion, create role-plays or simply for students to describe what they can see.

5) What going to happen next?

Pause the video at an appropriate moment and ask students to predict what’s going to happen next. You could put the class into teams to discuss the options and the team who’s closest to what actually happens when you watch the scene wins a point.

6) Ordering the events

Write a list of events that happen in the video clip on the board or on a worksheet but put them in the wrong order. Students watch and re-order the events correctly.

  • Just a word of warning to end on, do check all the material you show students beforehand just in case there are scenes that you think may not be suitable. It could be quite uncomfortable, for you and them, if raunchy bedroom scenes or very violent scenes appear on the screen and you are with a class of young students. Also be careful to check the school’s policy on using video. You should probably abide by either the local age restrictions or British age restrictions for films. British Council teaching centres are quite strict about this now and don’t allow any students to see films with higher age restrictions than the age of the youngest student in the class.
  • If you use it well, video can really be an excellent resource for the EFL classroom and as with all resources, the more you use them the more ideas you will get on how to use them. If you use any of these ideas or have any more ideas of your own to share with the other language assistants please write to the discussion list and let everyone know how the video classes go.

Additional reading:

Jo Budden