Experiences of an English Language Teacher

Using Video in the Classroom

An assortment of technology: Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @grahamstanley, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

Video in the ELT Classroom

The use of video in the classroom has seemed to evolve since Cooper, Lavery and Rinvolucri’s publication on the subject in 1991 by Oxford University Press.  Around that time, the internet was still underdeveloped, YouTube didn’t exist and the best one could use in the classroom was a VHS.  DVDs were not commercially available until around 1994, with the consumer market starting to use DVDs nearer the later 1990s.  It seems such a long time ago.  These days, there are more and more digital videos being recorded using various equipment including digital video recorders, smartphones and even tablets.  These videos can be accessed using the IWB, student or teacher smartphones or tablets.  Furthermore, teachers, as well as students, are now able to record or take pictures and develop a video to document a particular subject – be it their learning, their experiences of living abroad or their holiday snaps.  Therefore, teachers now have more creative opportunities to incorporate videos inside the language classroom and have therefore compiled my list of top ten classroom activities revolving around the use of videos.  One important point to consider is for teachers to receive consent from learners as well as more senior members of staff.

10. My Music Video Jukebox

If you are teaching a group of adolescent learners, they are probably called ‘digital natives‘ (people who were born during or after the general introduction of technology and the internet), while more … umm, how shall I put it?  Those teachers who have more life experience are possibly considered ‘digital immigrants‘ (people who were born before the introduction of technology and the internet).  Digital immigrants are considered to have a greater knowledge and understanding of technology, while their opposite numbers are considered to have a lesser knowledge and understanding of technology.  Of course this very crude and rudimentary stereotyping is probably nothing more than this – there are digital immigrants who have a greater understanding of technology than digital natives.  Nevertheless, if you are teaching adolescent learners, it is possible that they watch music videos on YouTube.  An activity that I like to get my adolescent learners to undertake is to choose between three to five music videos that are important to them.  Both students have to agree and it doesn’t have to be English music videos.

  • Tell students that they are going to work with another student(s) or the whole class and they have to choose between three to five music videos which are important for them.
  • If you have access to school tablets such as iPads or equivalents, tell students to head over to YouTube and search for music videos which are important in their life.  Provide a demonstration which is personal to your life.  For example, I always grew up with Tina Turner being played when I was young and if our family were driving to somewhere, it was always “The Best”.
  • Give students a time limit of between ten to fifteen minutes to collate three to five music videos and search for them on YouTube.  They need to give a reason why that song is important for them and let the other students have a watch of the music video.
  • By the end of the activity, students then have to put music videos in order of preference.  Students then have to share their preferences together and explain why they like or dislike particular music videos.
  • Obviously monitor learners and provide the necessary language for describing preferences.

9. Clipped Students

Your typical adolescent, young adult or adult will more likely have a smartphone or tablet which they enjoy using, particularly during the lesson to refer to a dictionary or get a more immediate translation on a particular word or phrase.  However, one activity you could do would allow learners a chance to use their smartphones or tablets.

  • Ask learners to record 2 second clips with their phones or tablets related to their day – it could be a recording of the street, a weekend trip or an object.
  • During the academic term or few weeks you may have them, they will start to collate a lot of 2 second clips.  Make sure you have access to a laptop or computer so that you can start to save their video files for editing later.
  • Hopefully with all the submission of video files during the day, you will be able to create a video composition.  Use basic video editing software such as iMovie or Windows Movie Maker and add some generic background music.
  • You could use the video as a presentation for the school with new students or show it as part of an end of year/term party.  The students will find this incredibly motivating and fascinating to watch.
  • You could always share this video via YouTube.

8. Movie Advertisements

I love watching movie advertisements!  It really does get me motivated for the cinema and it is likely to enthuse your learners into watching a particular movie.  We all know the “play the several movie advertisements and get learners to decide which movie to watch or discuss” activity, but I always enjoy getting learners to be a bit more creative than this.

  • Tell learners that they are going to watch a movie trailer.  Choose a well-known movie trailer that they all will know, such as “The Hobbit” or “Man of Steel“.
  • Tell learners that they will be watching the movie trailer twice with the audio on and that they must listen to or watch the movie trailer and write down some important information (plot, characters, actors, etc).  They should make a note of this information as quickly as possible, due to having only two opportunities to do this.
  • Play the movie trailers and give the learners space to compare information with each other.  Group learners up in pairs or small groups and tell them that they will be giving a voice-over for the movie trailer.  They need to do this after preparing a script.
  • Monitor learners and provide help if required.  The learners will be collaborating and this will help learners notice and correct errors than writing alone.
  • When learners are ready, get learners to give their voice-over live in the form of a presentation to the rest of the class and hopefully this activity will give learners the opportunity to practice speaking spontaneously over a short period of time.
  • Get learners to mark each other and provide feedback and a chance for correction at the end of the lesson.

7. The Special Student Interview

The sharing of experiences is the epitome of learning about each other and what better way to experience this in the form of a TV interview.  For this activity, you need a device suitable for recording such as a smartphone, tablet or handheld video recorder and then you need to get learners to prepare the classroom suitable for a classroom interview.

  • Tell learners that they are going to meet a special somebody – it could be a fellow teacher, a guest or a family member – and that they are going to interview this person.  In order to do this, they need to prepare questions for this person.
  • Give them a bit of time to prepare the questions using the “Wh-“/”H-” question forms (What, When, Where, Who, Why and How) on a piece of paper or create a template form using Word or Pages.
  • Monitor the learners to ensure that they are developing questions well and assist if requested.  If required, offer students the chance to correct their own questions from various error correction techniques.
  • When students have created their questions, nominate learners ask the questions.  You could always get nominated learners to record the interview and control the camera, etc.
  • Once the interview is complete, you then can share the interview on YouTube for additional activities – sharing with other classes or as a review.

6. What’s That Sound?

One popular activity, probably done in countless English classrooms, is to play a video without the visual element and the only input is the sound.  It is a wonderful activity to incorporate during a context creating activity, particularly with young learners and are likely to engage and motivate learners with the topic.

  • Try to pick a video which contains a lot of sound effects.  However, the use of voice could encourage learners to think about location, characters or situation.
  • Ask learners to try and listen to video and write up or handout some questions for them to answer (How many people? Is it indoors or outdoors?  What sounds do you hear?).
  • Play the video a couple of times and then get learners share their answers in small groups or pairs.
  • After a short period, elicit some possible answers from nominated learners and board up some vocabulary or scaffold and correct learner input.
  • Finally, play the video to the class so that they can see what they have heard and monitor response.

This activity is really useful as a lead-in to a topic and can result in some really useful conversation in the classroom.  I have included some videos below which I enjoy incorporating as a context builder.

5. What Are They Saying?

Choose a short scene with two people speaking.  A video with a little emotion is preferable.  This activity can really get learners to try to read other aspects of communication, such as body language, pronunciation or other non-verbal cues.

  • Tell learners that they are going to watch a short video clip and that they will receive a script from that scene. Handout the script to each pair or small group of learners.
  • Play the short video to the class a number of times.  Once learners have worked on this activity and the video clip has been repeated various times, get pairs to group up with other pair of students like a pyramid activity.
  • Get small groups of learners to collaborate and help each other complete the script.
  • Finally, play the video with the sound on and get learners to compare their version of the script to the original video.  It will encourage learners to listen for particular detail.
  • An extension to this activity could include learners acting out the scene with another partner whilst another member of the class films the scene, which could then be shared via YouTube or with another class as a demonstration tool for a similar activity.

I have included a video clip below which I have used with this activity in the past.  It was a highly motivating activity for learners and does develop listening and speaking skills for learners.

4. Translating Subtitles

When I was in Korea and headed to the cinema to watch a Hollywood blockbuster, there was inevitably subtitles.  If the audience was lucky enough, there was a voiceover – this being more expected with animation movies.  Nevertheless, one activity that I enjoy doing is getting learners to translate subtitles into English with an English movie.

  • Choose an English movie and a short scene to play for students.  Select the same language subtitles as your learners’ L1.  For example, if your learners’ L1 is Spanish, choose the Spanish subtitles.
  • Play the short scene once without the audio and just the subtitles and image for learners.
  • Next tell learners that they are going to be translating the subtitles into English and you could either handout the subtitles on a worksheet (pre-made) or get learners to watch the movie clip and try to translate in small groups or pairs.
  • Once learners have translated the subtitles to the best of their ability, offer students the chance to compare their translations.
  • As a class, the learners have to create a final translation – so build it up like a pyramid writing activity.  Check their writing and offer self-correction if necessary.
  • The final part of this activity is to get learners to compare their translated English subtitles to the original English subtitles for the movie clip and notice the differences in language.  You could compare language or lexical phrases and it will engage the learners.

Please note that this activity is best for a monolingual group of language learners and it introduces students to the act of translating literally or by meaning.

3. Adding Subtitles

Another spin-off with the previous lesson idea is to get learners to add subtitles to various film clips.  There is a really useful and interesting web-based activity for learners to undertake with the various websites below:

  • Bombay TV – a subtitling activity for students to complete and create their own interaction.
  • Bombay TV2 – an additional subtitling website for students to visit.

The websites above can really get learners to create some imaginative subtitles and then share via a student blog or on Facebook. It is quite easy and the young learners will pick it up very quickly.  However, if you would like to look at a topic – giving advice or directions – you could make this activity more focused.

2. Roving Reporters

Do you teach adolescent learners?  Are you finding it quite difficult to get them talking in English?  One way around this is to get learners to either tell a story or the news for the day at your school.  It will engage, motivate and relax learners into speaking English with their peers.

  • Tell students that they will be reporting the school news for the day and show some news report clips from YouTube to get them interested.
  • Put learners into small groups and get them to think of school reports which they could include for the news recording.  Write up some examples: “Tony got married last weekend”, “It is Phillip’s birthday tomorrow!”, etc.  It could also be about the learner’s lives.
  • Make sure that the learners write up a script for the news report and then when they are ready, they have to choose a reporter, director and cameraman/woman.  Get them to do the news report until they are happy and then return back to class.
  • Once all groups of learners have completed their news report, you could get them hand you the recording for you to edit on a computer.  Make sure it is ready to upload and share via YouTube or with a special viewing one day.  You could always create a listening exercise from the students’ report.

Another variation of this is to interview famous people and the students could wear masks or just pretend to be famous people.  Students write up their own questions and then the interviewee has to answer the questions on an ad hoc or improvisational basis.

1. Filming Your Lessons

You are teaching full-time and you have very little time for peer observation or reflecting on your own lessons.  Do you want to become more aware of how and what you are teaching in the classroom?  You could always setup a camera at the corner of the room and then film your lesson for reviewing at a later date.

  • Check that the students and senior staff are happy for them to be filmed prior to recording – official consent is recommended.
  • Charge up the video camera before walking in and make sure that everything is connected.  You maybe able to connect the camera up to a power socket during the day.
  • Prepare your lessons, film the class and then watch.
  • You could always edit the recording and then upload to YouTube.  I have included an example below for a lesson that I recorded a number of years ago.


  1. VeerleGr

    Is it just me or is 9 (Clipped Students) not really educatoinal? It’s fun for the learners, no doubt about that, but they don’t learn anything from it. But… Nice blog! Very useful for teachers! I’m really going to try some of the acitvities you’ve described!

    • Martin Sketchley

      I believe that most learning can be done creatively. Whether this is done autonomously by the learner or not is another matter. One thing is important in the language classroom that not everything can be imparted to the learner as the sun does to the plant but the teacher can open the gates for learners to take hold of their own learning and I hope that number 9 demonstrated that learners could be autonomous and independent as much as anyone trying to learn a language.

      Thank you for your comment but not everything has to be educational and not everything has to have an immediate affect to be beneficial.

  2. Great article! Fantastic ideas! They are all good fun and educational – will look forward to using them in class!

  3. Great tips! I always record my students when they’r role-playing and in the beggining they’re shy and uncomfortable but now they’re used to it and I feel they are more concerned about the quality of their speech and one of the reasons is because of the videos.

  4. Jamy

    Your ideas are amazing!Thank you.

  5. daniel

    Very useful and interesting. Thankyou for sharing this Great article

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