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Video recorders in the classroom

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I have just become an uncle! My new nephew Tomás is three weeks old today. 

Video recorders in the classroom - speaking article - guest writers

Mummy and daddy live in Barcelona but his maternal grandparents and great granddad live in Scotland. As you can probably imagine then, Tomás is currently getting used to the mobile phones, Flip camcorders and other video recording devices that are being habitually pointed at his little baby head – all of this so that his UK family can see him sleeping, feeding, having his nappy changed and sometimes just lying in wonder at it all.

Welcome (Tomás) to the age of video sharing, where the rise of accessible and relatively inexpensive video tools are, increasingly, becoming a part of the baby’s everyday life. These tools include seemingly ubiquitous video recording devices, faster Internet connections, user-friendly video editing applications, and video-sharing sites such as YouTube.

For teachers and students, the new culture of video sharing means new potential, new opportunities and new motivation for creating and learning. In this article, we are going to explore a few of the possibilities.

Capturing a student performance
The presence of the video camera may provide motivation to rehearse and polish a spoken performance. Potential for student-generated content includes:

  • Stories and anecdotes
  • Role plays and drama productions
  • Interviews
  • Fictitious television, news reports, adverts
  • Songs
  • Speaking games
  • Presentations
  • Project work (e.g. students have to create a video report on a local subject)

Watch a couple of examples:

The captured 'end product' of a student performance can be shared with all those who participated in it. The easiest way to do this is by using a site such as or Importantly, videos can be uploaded so that they are private (only specific users can view them) or unlisted (only people with the links can view them).

Of course, if you want to film students, it is necessary to obtain permission from the relevant parties first (parents, head teachers, students themselves, etc). But this is well worth doing when you consider the benefits:

  • The knowledge that a performance or activity is going to be filmed may potentially excite and motivate students.
  • Students may be able to monitor their own progress (e.g. improvement of aspects of spoken English)
  • If students are happy with the outcomes, they might revisit their clips from time to time and in doing so, inadvertently revisit language that was recorded in conjunction with them.
  • A teacher can refer back to the video at later dates to revise language or demonstrate an activity.
  • A teacher can refer back to a recording of a speaking activity for error correction. This solves the interrupting-to-correct problem.
  • Students will retain a record of their classroom activities. The children in the choir are singing from the heart (see above clip). Imagine them being able to watch themselves do so for the rest of their lives. What a beautiful gift from their teacher.

Texts from the teacher
The teacher’s voice is one of the most important instruments in the language classroom. Just consider the diverse range of situations in which we make use of it: giving instructions; motivating students; doing dictation; giving explanations; telling stories; drilling sounds and structures, etc. Importantly for learners, it will usually be the primary source of spoken language input.

There will most likely be a number of video recording devices in your classroom in the guise of mobile phones or digital cameras. If you feel brave enough, and if you trust your students, you can create a classroom culture in which your students are granted permission, upon request, to capture a spoken text from you whenever they want. Here are two examples from my own class:

We can also organize things so that we can plan activities around such video clips. A recording of a teacher-led story or anecdote, for example, allows the spoken text to be captured and subsequently used for a whole range of language-study activities.

One Friday afternoon, I decided to play a trick on a group of students – a fantastic class of Swiss teenagers that had come to the UK to do an exam preparation course. In the previous lesson, the class had met the expression 'to pull someone’s leg' (i.e. to tell someone that something is not true as a way of teasing or joking with him or her). I hid a Flip video camera in the corner of the classroom and was very careful to make sure that I was the only one that would be in the picture. Here is the result:

In a normal situation, the words of my fake anecdote would have been lost forever. With a video recording device, they can be captured and kept. The text can then be used for a wide range of language study activities. Here are three ideas:

  1. Transcribe the text or excerpts from it. Use it to create a gap fill for any useful words, expressions, narrative tenses, etc, that you would like your students to learn or revise. Allow them to correct their answers by playing them back the clip in class.
  2. Use the story for a dictogloss activity. This involves students reconstructing the text concisely in their own words. In order to compare aspects of the language that they have used with the original language that you used, refer them back to the video.
  3. Use a transcript or transcribed excerpts to study aspects of spoken language (false starts, self interruptions, hesitations, vague language, etc.).

Teacher cams
Potentially, one of the greatest beneficiaries of a video camera in the classroom will be you - the teacher. No one likes to listen to recordings of their voice or watch the clumsy movements or gestures that we may seem to make around the classroom. But once you get used to doing so, the possibility for learning by watching videos of yourself at work are enormous. You may become aware of situations for consideration or room for improvement – negative body language or moments in which you could have interacted better with a student, for example. Alternatively, you might notice something positive that you did that you had never really thought about before.

Possibilities can be expanded even further if we are brave enough to share our footage from the classroom on sites like YouTube. In this case, the beneficiaries will be other teachers who may learn from your successes or mistakes.

Video is the best medium for recording or documenting the organic nature of the classroom. The articles, lesson plans and blog posts that we read will tell us about activities and techniques we can make use of as teachers. Video, on the other hand, goes one step further - it shows us. We are only just beginning to explore the potential.

It would be great to get some feedback on this article. Please do share your ideas and experience regarding any of the following:

  • What type of hardware (video recording devices) do you recommend?
  • Are you aware of any technical or practical problems with recording in the classroom?
  • How easy/difficult has it been for you to obtain permission to film students?
  • How happy or unhappy are your students to be filmed? How do they feel?
  • How happy or unhappy are you to be filmed? How do you feel?
  • Most importantly, it would be fantastic if you would share any videos from your own classroom.

Thanks for reading.