Using ESL videos: Hit play and get ready to learn!

ESL videosWhen we watch a film, we are looking at a story which interprets places, people and events. That’s why films and series are a great classroom tool to understand another culture. If the student can identify with a character in the story, follow the fictional narrative, a life story, conflicts, and events, then they will be able to humanize the film, make it more personal, and, therefore, learn from it. With film we do not only learn content–which can lead us to thought-provoking discussions, stimulating critical thinking, etc.,– but we also improve listening, speaking, writing, reading, grammar and vocabulary skills. Any sort of ESL videos can be used for the learning purpose: commercials, news bulletins, political speeches, movies, and so on.

Videos are not to be used for those “I’ve already covered my syllabus this term” moments or “the kids wanted to watch a movie” days. What not to do: hit the “Play” button, sit back to watch (this could be done at home, couldn’t it?), and “write a 200-word summary and hand it in tomorrow”. There are other more lively ways of using a video or a short clip in class as a profitable learning experience. It might take you more than one session to do this, and just a little preparation, but I’m sure students will learn something other than “the movie was good” or “the movie was about…”  Unless otherwise stated, it is assumed that the following activities will be done in pairs, or small groups, and be appropriate to your students’ level and the target goal. Moreover, all of the activities below focus on one or more linguistic points and skills (grammar, vocabulary, listening, reading, writing, pronunciation, and speaking).

Using ESL videos


Prediction: No sound / No picture. Use the first scene or when they main characters are first presented and play the movie without sound. Students imagine what the characters are like (physical appearance and character vocabulary). You can also cover the screen (with sound) and students will describe what has just happened, using narrative tenses. Short films, such as this one by the Naik Foundation, with no dialogues, just music, work perfectly here.



Freeze! Stop the movie (or freeze an image) at any time and students: a) describe the scene that they just saw, especially with more difficult dialogues; b) anticipate the dialogue / reactions (give a word list).

Dubbing. Find an extract which can also easily be found on YouTube or any other video sharing sites (Vimeo, Dailymotion, Blip TV) with a dialogue between at least two people. Stop the movie right before the scene. Play it without sound. Tell the students to imagine what is happening. Then, they write a dialogue for that scene and dub it. They replay that fragment (no sound!) and practice before recording it and showing it to the rest of the class


What happens next? Stop the film before the last scene and tell the students to imagine an ending. Give them vocabulary or grammar structures you want them to use. Students share and vote for the best ending.

Alternative: Students watch the whole movie. They write a different ending: what would have you done if you were Mr. X?

Quotes. Search the Internet for movie quotes. It’s a guessing game. Give each student a list of 5 different quotes (with a linguistic point or controversial content). In pairs, student A reads his/her quote, leaving out the second half. Student B guesses that part. They take turns. Example (Quote from The Wolf of Wall Street): “Winners use the words that say ‘must’ and ‘will’” (Jordan Belfort). Student A reads the first part up to “say” and student B guesses the rest. Afterwards, you can use the quotes for content discussion, grammar, or vocabulary.

Visit my time. Students take notes of key moments / concepts / the historical period of the film. They need to imagine there’s a theme park which offers the visitors the chance to explore that period in history. The student’s main task is to design a travel brochure for this historical resort. They can include maps, pictures and other visual aids. Then, they can do a role play in which travel agents attempt to persuade tourists to visit their resorts.

Interview the director. Students imagine they are going to interview the director. They need to write down questions regarding any aspect of the film: the time of history, a specific scene, the characters, the setting, etc. At home, students find the answers for those questions and share them with the class the following day.


Using the script:

  1. Cut up a dialogue of a scene. Students put it in order. You can do this at the very beginning of the movie or right before any scene, once the students know the characters.
  2. Choose an extract which is rich in vocabulary. Underline 10/20 words. Students go through the text and discuss meaning in that specific context. You can do this before the actual scene or at the end of the movie, for students to make a bigger effort in remembering the context.

Quiz show. Stop the movie after every 30 minutes. Students are given an index card and write one or two questions (who, what, where, when, why) regarding what has happened in that time and give three / four possible answers (underlining the correct one). They write their names too. At the end of the film, collect the cards and divide students into two or three teams. Make sure questions are not answered by their authors by telling them to be quiet on that one / calling on one representative of the team.

Alternative: students create comic strips (by drawing in class or by using comic creator tools online such as Chogger, Pixton, Comic Book). Students draw two or three sequences of that 30 min time slot with dialogue bubbles. They can publish them and the class will vote for the best one(s): the most original, the most accurate, the funniest, etc.

EDpuzzleThis is a free online video editing site that you can also use to manipulate content a design pre-, while-, and post-viewing activities. Check it out!

Video in ESL classroom

You might also be interested in…

– Collaborative learning in EFL class with teens and adults

– Using ESL videos: Hit play and get ready to learn!

– 6 easy word games for the English language classroom

– 5 great activities for using movies in the EFL class

– 7 tips for teaching writing in the EFL classroom

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5 thoughts on “Using ESL videos: Hit play and get ready to learn!

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