In this article, young-learner teacher Claire Venables offers some practical tips for choosing and using video with primary-aged young learners.

Photo of children watching a video in the classroom.

Source: FatCamera, Getty Images

Video is an easy way to engage young learners – we are all familiar with the way children can become hypnotised in front of a screen. It is easy to be tricked into thinking that their passive silence is concentration, when in reality there is little learning actually taking place. However, there are many ways in which video can be used effectively. In this article we will look at how to select appropriate video content and design effective activities for presenting, revising or exposing young learners to English in an active and meaningful way.

Choosing appropriate video

A well-chosen video clip has the potential to motivate learners, provide a context for a wide variety of language and bring elements from the outside world into the classroom. Nowadays, there is an overwhelming amount of free video available online but selecting appropriate content becomes easier when you know what to look for.

Video, in its essence, is a medium for communicating story. Therefore, when looking for good video content to use with your learners, the secret is to use similar criteria to choosing a good story to read aloud.

Here are some tips on what to look for:

  • Choose a clip or select a part of a clip that is appropriate for the attention span of the learners. Remember that listening to a video in a foreign language requires a high level of attention, and the younger the learner, the shorter this is.
  • Look for topics that are within the developmental stage and interests of the age group. Make sure to choose ones with content that can connect with not just their language level but also their interests, motivations and world knowledge.
  • A video may or may not contain spoken text. Either way, a good video has visually appealing images that support the meaning of that story.
  • Make sure you have the right balance between cognitive and linguistic challenge. Concepts that are beyond the current level of a child’s knowledge can be challenging for them even in their first language. This should be taken into consideration, so if the cognitive challenge is high then the linguistic challenge should be low.
  • In many young learner coursebooks, vocabulary is presented in thematic lists. This may make the words easier to memorise, but it doesn’t contribute to helping the learners see how and when the language is used in real-life communicative contexts. Video can provide that context, so look out for content that connects to the topics or lexis that they are studying in class.
  • Remember that it is much easier to find a great video clip and then define appropriate objectives than the other way around. Always keep your eyes out for good materials and you will soon build up a bank of great video resources that you can draw from when needed.

Getting the most from video

Like any teaching resource, there are specific ways to maximise the benefits of using video with your learners.

  • Don’t let the video do what you can do better. Video is there to enhance your lesson, not teach it for you!
  •  Watch the video yourself first, more than once, so you become familiar with the narrative, the language used and can predict any problems your learners might have in understanding it. Think of the kind of support you will need to provide them with.
  • Make video active by planning tasks and questions for before, during and after the video.
  • Below are three different ideas of how you can use video with your primary-aged learners. Each has a different objective but what they all have in common is that the learners must participate actively throughout the activity.

It’s not a box

Video – ‘Not a box’:

This activity uses video to stimulate a child’s imagination and creativity and provides a wonderful opportunity for emergent language to take centre stage. The target vocabulary is anything that the children come up with while they play the game, making the language learned in this lesson more personal and, therefore, most likely more memorable. The story that this lesson was inspired by (Not a box by Antoinette Portis) can also provide a context for teaching or revising more specific language such as preposition of place, verbs and negative sentences.


  • Start by showing the children a plain cardboard box and ask, What is it? They will most likely answer, It’s a box! to which you reply, It’s not a box!
  • Begin the video but keep students active while watching by pausing the video and eliciting what they see on the screen every time the main character turns the box into something new.
  • After watching, present the box to the group again and ask, What is it? You give the first idea, modelling what you expect them to do and say.
  • Pass the box around the circle, letting each child have a turn at coming up with an idea. Teach the words if no one in the group can say it in English. Encourage them to ask and answer questions – What is it? It’s not a box. It’s a …
  • To extend this activity you can then let the children experiment and play with the boxes in any way they choose. Have materials on hand so that they can change and personalise their boxes.
  • A follow-up activity might be for them to make their own film of this story.


Video – ‘Runaway’: 

A great way to engage and involve the learners in a video activity is to simply turn down the volume and ask some clever questions. By doing this you can get them thinking about the relationships, messages and possible dialogue between the characters in each scene. The link above leads to a short animated film for children about a man and his beloved 1950s refrigerator. You might like to use this one, but there are plenty of other great videos that you can use too.

Before doing this activity with your students, make sure you’ve watched the video yourself and planned out the questions you are going to ask.


  • Start the activity by asking them a question that’s relevant to the topic of the video. If you are using the Runaway video, ask them what they do when something breaks.
  • Begin the video, pausing it to ask about what they see and what they think the characters are thinking or feeling.
  • At specific moments, you can pause the video and have students discuss with a partner what they think is going to happen next.
  • The second time you watch the video, invite students to come up with lines for the characters.
  • A third viewing could be to allow some volunteers to read out the lines they have written.
  • Finally, you could watch the video again with the sound up so students can compare what they’ve come up with to what the characters are actually saying.
  • Note: The Runaway video is also a great jump-off point for discussion on the topic of consumerism and could easily be turned into a more extensive project on the topic of recycling, upcycling or the environment.

Video sequencing

Using simple screen-capture software, printable images from your video of choice can easily be created and used for many different activities with your learners. The following is one such idea.


  • Find a short video that visually communicates a clear beginning, middle and end.
  • Use the screen-capture software to take pictures of key moments that you can print and turn into sets of large flashcards.
  • Split your students into groups and explain that you are going to be watching a short film. Show a couple of the flashcards, or alternatively write the title on the board, and get them to guess what the film is about.
  • Hand out a set of cards to each group and get them to take turns describing what they see in each picture.
  • Monitor and help with vocabulary where needed.
  • Ask students to work together to put the cards into order to recreate the story.
  • Let them compare their answers with the other groups.
  • Watch the video as a class. Students can then check to see if their card order was correct.
  • Get them to rewrite or retell the story in pairs using the flashcards for support.
  • A follow-up activity might be to get students making their own videos by first creating storyboards to illustrate the key moments from their own story.

I hope you have found some inspiration in this article and a few practical ideas and tips that you can use in your next lesson.