Teaching technologies: teaching English using video
An article offering advice and suggestions on how to teach English using video.
Video as a listening tool can enhance the listening experience for our students. We very rarely hear a disembodied voice in real life but as teachers we constantly ask our students to work with recorded conversations of people they never see. This is often necessary in the limited confines of the language school and sometimes justifiable, for example, when we give students telephone practice. However, we can add a whole new dimension to aural practice in the classroom by using video. The setting, action, emotions, gestures, etc, that our students can observe in a video clip, provide an important visual stimulus for language production and practice.
There are many things we can do with these clips. Here I would like to demonstrate a wide variety of them. These lesson plans refer to specific films which have been released recently, however, they could be adapted for use with a similar scene in a different film depending on availability. In the following lessons I have tried not to concentrate too much on specific dialogue that students may not be able to pick up; this allows lower level students to be creative in the classroom, using video as a stepping stone to fun and communicative activities.
The activities involve pre-viewing, while-viewing and post-viewing tasks.
Some students see and hear a sequence; others only hear it. A variety of activities can then follow based on an information-gap procedure. In this particular lesson those students who see and hear the clip from Pearl Harbour are eyewitnesses to the dramatic event, the others are journalists working for a radio station who have to conduct a live interview. Students are not asked to pay attention to any specific dialogue but relay their experience of the scene they have just witnessed to a horrified public. This is particularly good for past tenses and intermediate levels.
Download the Split Viewing lesson at the bottom of the page.
Vision on/ Sound off
Students view a scene with the sound turned off. They then predict the content of the scene, write their own script and perform it while standing next to the television. After the performances students watch the scene with the sound on and decide which group was the funniest or the nearest to the original. This is a good fun exercise. In this particular emotionally charged scene from High Fidelity, three people who work in a record shop have an argument. It is very graphic with plenty of gestures to stimulate the imagination. Good for intermediate levels.
Download the vision on/sound off lesson at the bottom of the page.
Observe and write
Students view a scene (this always works better if there is a lot happening) then write a newspaper article on what they have witnessed. This lesson is based on the fight scene from Bridget Jones’s Diary, students work for a local newspaper and have to write an article on a fight between two men over a beautiful, young girl. Pre-viewing and while-viewing tasks allow them to work on new vocabulary, while the post-viewing task gives them plenty of practice on past tenses. Good for intermediate levels.
Download the observe and write lesson at the bottom of the page.
This follows the dictogloss method of dictation and can easily be adapted to video. Students watch the scene a few times and write the main words and short phrases that a particular character says. Each group is given a character and is encouraged to listen and exchange information, this usually works better if there are two characters in the scene. Working with someone from a different group, they then write the script for the scene, incorporating both characters. As they will not have managed to write down the whole script from the listening exercises they will have to use their imagination and fill in the gaps. This gives them an excellent opportunity to work on grammar. This lesson is based on the hilarious restaurant scene from As Good As It Gets and is best suited to higher levels. The pre-viewing and while-viewing tasks give plenty of practice with food vocabulary.
Download the video dictogloss lesson at the bottom of the page.
Watch and observe
This is a good lesson for lower levels because students only have to focus on a minimum of spoken dialogue. Students watch a scene from a film which has lots of things that they can see and therefore write in their vocabulary books. You can teach and test your students’ vocabulary by asking a series of true/ false questions and asking them to put a series of events in order. This lesson is based on the kitchen scene from Unbreakable where David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is held at gunpoint by his son.
Download the watch and observe lesson at the bottom of the page.
Video as a listening tool - pronunciation
In some listening exercises we must concentrate on specific dialogue to enable our students to learn. It is necessary to challenge them to listen when dealing with features of pronunciation. I find movies provide a good source of authentic listening material for the practice of pronunciation and I use them accordingly. This particular movie exercise deals with connected speech, in particular prominence (or sentence stress). Without going into too much detail here, English is a stressed-timed language, meaning that certain syllables in a sentence have prominence therefore create a beat, other syllables tend to be said quickly making it difficult for our students to hear. Prominence, which is the speaker’s choice, is used to convey meaning. This is exactly what I want to exploit here. The movie is Family Man and uses the scene where Jack returns home after abandoning his family on Christmas morning and has to take the resulting tongue-lashing from his wife Kate. It involves a recognition exercise which helps students hear that some parts of the sentences are prominent and they are Kate’s choice. It also has an argument role-play allowing students to practice sentence stress in context. The use of video is an advantage here as it is an emotional scene with lots of gestures, adding weight to the situation.
Download the pronunciation lesson at the bottom of the page.
Video as a listening tool - elementary video class
By the time students get to elementary level they have the level of grammar for more complex communication. It’s motivating for them at this stage to enjoy and understand a real movie clip. There are different ways in which we can help them do this. This exercise involves working with a conversation as a jumbled text first then using the movie to check. Conversations normally have a logical order and movies are a great source. There is a role-play which encourages students to practise conversational English.
Download the vision lesson for elementary students at the bottom of the page.