Exactly five years ago this month, the video-sharing site YouTube was officially launched to the public. Since then, the site and others like it have been affecting the world in diverse and unpredictable ways.

Video for the English classroom - speaking article - guest writers

For the language teacher, YouTube may be nothing less than one of the best sources of material the classroom has ever seen. In this article, I would like to share 12 clips that I have used in my own classroom. I hope that each clip will be representative of a type of video that may be of particular interest to language teachers.


Note: In this article, we will be examining a number of clips that are hosted on the video-sharing site YouTube. Unfortunately, the site is blocked in a number of countries and in such cases the clips will not be accessible. We hope, however, that many of the principles that we examine throughout the month will apply to video in general and will be of interest to you regardless of the specific video sites that you use.


1. Video-enhanced texts

Some poems are best appreciated when they are heard rather than read. In the case of this poem by Billy Collins, the underlying ideas and imagery are communicated even further by the ingenious animation that accompanies it. For me, this video encapsulates a harmonious marriage between old and new media.

For language teachers, a visual element increases the possibilities for using any text in the classroom. In other words, there are more things that you can do with words and pictures than with words alone.

2. Space-time texts

This is an example of ‘kinetic typography’ – the technical name for a moving text. This genre is currently very fashionable in advertising and has peaked in popularity as a result of online video culture.

Note how the text bombards the eyes in a range of orientations, sizes, font- types, colour and movement. All this is accompanied by fast-moving images and graphics and, in some cases, sound effects. All of these factors can contribute to increased learner engagement with the text and comprehension of it.

Kinetic typography requires ‘space-time reading’ on the part of the viewer. Compare this with the more regular ‘space reading’ which is what we are used to in the case of non-moving texts. It won’t be long before some clever person creates an application which allows us to make and share our own kinetic typography texts.

3. Adverts

Unlike the adverts that we are subjected to on television, new adverts that are uploaded onto sites such as YouTube generally have to be interesting in some way or another. There is a very good reason for this: if they are not worth watching, no one will pay any attention to them.

As a result, forward-thinking advertisers are working closely with teams of highly creative individuals to produce video content that the audience will like.

Any educator should consider the ethics that underlie the question of whether or not we should use adverts in the classroom. But it is obvious that if we do it responsibly and if we confront the issues, there are some highly engaging
adverts out there that may be used.

4. New issues

With a new advertising medium comes a whole new range of issues for the educator to confront. In the above video, there are two questions that come up time and time again in the modern era of video sharing:

  • Is it real?
  • What purpose does it serve?

The Kobe Bryant Aston Martin jump is not real. Surely the basketball player, who is worth millions of dollars to the Los Angeles Lakers, would have a clause in his contract to prevent such dangerous stunts. The more plausible explanation is that the video is a stealth advert. It exists for no other reason to sell Nike shoes and perhaps Aston Martin cars (and, of course, the Kobe Bryant brand). But how obvious was that?

5. Social campaign videos

If advertisers are using video in increasingly imaginative ways, the same can be said for the creators of social awareness campaign videos. The above clip was created for World Water Day 2008 by California-based media platform www.GOOD.is. The videos, which are regularly uploaded onto YouTube, deal with a range of environmental issues and global social problems. They are invaluable for any English teacher and educator.

6. Television

Many of the content creators for traditional television use video-sharing sites to promote their programmes. The clip above comes from a BBC series called ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ in which actors and comedians lend their voices to animals in footage taken from wildlife documentaries. Promotional clips like this are valuable to language teachers. I particularly like the monkey dentist in the above clip.

7. New accessibility

We may associate the explosion in online video with all that is new and at the cutting edge of creativity. But, of course, the rise of video sharing has allowed for an accessibility to video content from yesteryear. In the above piece of news footage from 1930, we meet Helen Keller - the American author, political activist and lecturer - and her instructor and lifelong companion, Anne Sullivan, showing us the way that Helen learned to talk.

8. Multicultural content

While teaching in Spain, I used this music video to bring celebrities into the classroom. The clip features a number of well-known Spanish actors and musicians. For me, it was interesting to be educated by my Spanish students about:

  • Who the people are
  • What films/bands they have been in
  • What type of roles they play/music they create
  • Their private lives
  • How they are perceived in the public eye
  • Whether or not they deserve their reputations

The Internet is generally not defined by boundaries. Language teachers can make use of material from their learners’ own backgrounds for speaking and writing activities and learn from the students in the process.

9. Remix

In a TED presentation which can be seen here, activist Larry Lessig defines remixing as “taking and recreating, using other people’s content, using digital technologies, to say things differently.”

Robert Ryang, the young creator of the remixed trailer (see above) does exactly this. He ingeniously used video and audio from Stanley Kubrik’s classic horror film, The Shining, to portray it as a light-hearted comedy about a father and son bonding. He was able to do this with standard editing tools and share it using online video sites.

Although remixing is not a new thing, it has now been democratised. In other words, anyone with a modern computer is now able to take sounds and images from the culture around us and use it them say things differently. In the presentation mentioned above, Larry Lessig speaks of this as a “literacy for this generation.”

10. Material for CLIL teachers

We all know that helium makes the voice go higher. But not a lot of people know that sulfur hexafluoride has the opposite effect. For CLIL teachers, YouTube is a repository of material that can complement virtually any curricular subject: Sports drills, instructional videos, natural history clips, historical footage, and, of course, experiments that cannot be recreated in the classroom. 

11. Stories

To many people, the term ‘video’ used to be synonymous with videocassettes and full-length feature films. Online video, on the other hand, is associated with reduced-length clips. For language teachers, this is an important point. It is much more practical to make use of short, yet complete pieces of material which tell a complete story such as the one above.

12. Life and love

Anyone who has ever tried to learn a new language must feel sympathy for this young learner of English. He is making such an effort to produce the language accurately but can’t comprehend why his efforts to communicate are being met with laughter. Similar thoughts go through my own frustrated head when I try to speak Spanish on a bad day!

Human beings are fascinated by other human beings and the video-sharing phenomenon lets us into the lives of everyday people all over the world. Language teachers can make use of such clips for more serious purposes such as the study of authentic language in use and linguistic and cultural diversity.

I hope that this non-comprehensive list of video genres and types will serve to initiate some discussion here. Perhaps you would like to share a clip that you have used in the classroom. During this month, we might want to look at any of the following:

  • How online video is affecting education in general and ELT in particular
  • How we should choose the material that our learners will engage with the most
  • Principles for using video to teach language
  • How we can make use of video recording devices in the classroom
  • Privacy issues
  • The technical competences that are necessary for using online video in the classroom
  • Copyright and legal issues
  • Access to video: What do teachers do in countries where sites like YouTube are blocked?

I look forward to sharing ideas :)


Submitted by milada on Tue, 01/04/2011 - 20:12


Jamie, thanks for the brand new website full of creative lesson ideas:  

www.lessonstream.org has Great downloadable lesson plans, invaluable tips, visually attractive, easy to search and fun to teach. Highly recommended!

An excellent start to a new year :)






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