Harnessing the power of video in ELT

 video2Video’s a powerful tool: choose the right one and we’re sure to motivate and engage our learners. But video in class can take many forms and be used in many ways. Let’s take, for example, the ‘Friday afternoon video’ or the ‘end of term video’ or ‘the treat because you worked well video’. Probably a long video, perhaps a feature-length film, where our students (and, why not, ourselves!) can kick back and relax, perhaps learning a little English into the bargain to boot. But that’s definitely not the type of video we’re interested in for this blog post: in this post we’re going to be looking at short video and at how to exploit it.

Video (of any length) has inherent benefits for our learners. Paralinguistic features and a visual context help aid comprehension, for example. But short video has other advantages for both learner and teacher. Our attention spans are not what they once were, and the chances of a student paying attention for a two or three minute video (and noticing some language) are much greater than with a longer video. Short videos can be watched repeatedly in a lesson: we can watch for gist and enjoyment (as you do in real life) first, before listening for details and exploiting vocabulary next time round.  If our videos are authentic, we’re more likely to motivate our learners, because they know they are dealing with real English.

Let’s get practical: before watching

Before watching a video it makes sense to do a few ‘pre’ activities. We know the drill here: we want to see what the students know about the topic, which will generate vocabulary, and we might get students to make predictions to give them a further krumpreason to watch. One easy way to prepare a prediction activity is to pause the video and make a few screenshots (see the example on the right: what do you think the video is going to be about? Why? *Answer below), from which students predict. This way we can decide how much we want to give away. A useful tool to make screenshots for windows is the snipping tool. Other ways to encourage prediction or to pre-teach vocabulary if necessary could be to paste the transcript for the video (if we have it) into a word cloud generator. A video’s title is another good place to start for predictions

While watching

There are a plethora of activities we can do with our students while they are watching. We could work with complete phrases: perhaps getting students to put them into the right order (add phrases that don’t appear or change some to make it harder!) or decide which character has uttered them. We might give our students a list of vocabulary and get them to tick off the items that appear.  We might provide students with screenshots to order and get them to write a caption for each if we’re looking at generating language.

At higher levels, what about a back-to-back activity where one student narrates the action from a short segment of video (maybe 30 seconds) to a partner who can’t see the screen? To add spice to this activity, we might tell our partner a lie: they then watch the same segment and see if they can spot it.

After watching

Exploiting a video for the language it contains is all well and good, but can we get our students to react personally to the video? What point is it making? Do our students agree? Can we use the video as a springboard for student production, be it writing, speaking or even making their own video?

Where can I get short videos?

There are many types of short videos and many ways to access them. What about using TV adverts? Many are available on YouTube. Here’s an example lesson plan I created from a Christmas advert (you might even want to use it in eleven months time!). For another non-seasonal idea, have a look at this interactive exercise I made around a classic advert using the tool Edpuzzle. What about the BBC 1 minute world news?

Some coursebooks, such as Speakout 2e  or Wider World (a new course for teens, stay tuned!), have short authentic videos built into the course. There are also some great websites out there with ideas on how to exploit video, such as this one or this one. The possibilities really are endless: happy watching!

*The video is about a dancing competition for young people.

You might also be interested in…


– Teaching skills for working with teens

– 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



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