10 ways to use short video in class

Using video in the language classroom was a thing when I was at school, though back then it involved wheeling in a big TV on a trolley to watch Run Lola Run and we didn’t do much besides watching. How things have changed! We now typically watch much shorter videos and we do more to exploit them.

The benefits of using short video to teach languages are many and varied. Students watch short video already (eg YouTube and TikTok), it’s a medium they’ve embraced. With the ubiquity of mobile devices, short video can be watched anywhere. Visual clues aid comprehension and give meaning to language: videos demonstrate paralinguistic features like gestures, facial expressions and intonation. We can broaden our students horizons with video: video can bring the wider world into the classroom and expose learners to different cultures, accents, people and ways of life. And of course, video can provide a meaningful context for grammar and vocabulary and it can also provide a speaking model for students. We could go on, but we’re here today to propose activities. Here are 10 of them:

  1. Paste your transcript into a word cloud generator for prediction / pre-watch vocab work

A good coursebook will come with digital transcripts for its videos. Plugging one of these into a word cloud generator gives an overview of the vocabulary and shows the high frequency, key vocabulary in a larger font. We can have students predicting what they’re going to see in the video based on the vocabulary in the word cloud. Or we can project the word cloud onto the board and get a couple of students up at the front of the class by the board. They race to ‘splat‘ (touch) the word that the teacher (or a student – get them involved whenever possible)  defines /gives an opposite / a synonym for (Eg. ‘The place where children play at break time’). This game is useful should we wish to highlight some vocabulary before watching. My teens used to love it!

2. Make some screenshots for prediction exercises

Another pre-watching prediction task involves taking a few screenshots of the video and asking the students what they think the video is going to be about or what’s going to happen. Be sure to ask them why, as this can generate useful language, eg “I think the video is going to be about a school, because I can see pupils / a playground / uniform.” You could make predictions on other things too, such as giving a screenshot of a character and asking the students what the character is going to be like. Or you might have the students predict words they will hear in the video, based on a screenshot. To make a screenshot use the snipping tool or try the shortcut windows key+shift+s.

3. Students ask questions of the video

Give students the topic, a screenshot or a wordcloud and have the students ask questions that they thing the video might provide answers to. Then they watch to try to get the answers.

4. Audio on silent 

Play the video on mute. The students predict five things that were said, then we listen to check. You might give students different characters to make predictions for. Alternatively, you can make ‘dead spots‘, muting the video at certain strategic points and having the students predict what the characters could have said. Here the idea is focusing on generation of language and what could naturally fit in the gap, rather than necessarily getting the one correct answer.

5. Play sound but no video 

This time we can have students predicting what they’ll see based on what they hear. This can include single items of vocabulary or we can guide them with more specific questions such as how many characters they’ll see and what they look like or where the action takes place.

6. Back to back with a twist 

The classic, back-to-back activity involves one student watching a video and relaying to another student who can’t see what is happening. This activity needs a little bit more to it though. One way to give the students a bit more of a reason to do this task is to stipulate that while watching their, for example, 30-second clip, the student narrating needs to tell a lie. The student listening then watches the clip and tries to spot the lie. Also, bear in mind that narrating requires considerable fluency: for lower levels we can have our students saying three / five things about their clip, with one being a lie, or indeed have them doing some writing about the clip (so they have time to formulate) which includes a lie. Or if we want it to be speaking, and want formulation time, we can let them see the video they are going to narrate in advance.

7. What’s coming next?

Pause the video at strategic points and ask the students what’s coming next and why. Then keep playing to find out.


Give the students 20 words or phrases that they will hear. They choose five. Once they’ve heard them, they shout ‘House!’ The obvious variant on this is that students are given things they will see, rather than hear.

9. Who said what?

Give students a list of utterances they’ll hear in the video and introduce them to the characters. They decide who said each of the utterances. Of course you could make this a bit tougher (considering mixed ability for example) by adding in a few gaps to each of the utterances. You might also have your students put them in order.

10. Tell their story

A creative task: students take a character from the video and tell their story. For example:

  • Who are they? (name, age, nationality)
  • What’s their favourite subject at school?
  • What are they good at?
  • Think of three adjectives to describe them
  • What are their hopes and fears?
  • What is on their mind at the moment?

To build on this, you can have the students creating a dialogue between their new characters meeting each other on, for example, their first day of school. Brainstorm some questions with the class first for support, consider providing a model, then the students do their own.

So, there you have it: ten activities to use with short video. Why not give them a go?

Did you know?

Short videos, taken from authentic BBC content (such as the one at the top of this blog post) are used in Pearson & BBC Live Classes, which recently won a British Council ELTon award.

Live Classes are online lessons taught to up to 10 different classes from around the world at the same time. Sound interesting? Think your students might like that? Click on the link to find more!

Short video taken from the Pearson Course Wider World 

(Version for Spanish schools Real World)





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