10 phenomenal activities using esl videos in the classroom

10 Phenomenal Activities Using ESL Videos in the Classroom

Let’s just get it out there: everyone loves watching movies and television.

Teachers and parents have long been at war with this idea.

They’ve been battling popular culture for their students’ attention and dedication to their studies.

But are today’s ESL teachers really losing out to the boob tube?

As it turns out, there are many reasons why we should sign a treaty to officially make our peace with popular culture.

You’ve already figured out how to incorporate fun games, high-speed activities and motivational strategies into your ESL lesson plans. Heck, you know how great listening activities are for your students.

Now, we’re going to fuse these comprehension boosting tactics with all the fun of pop culture!

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Benefits of Using TV Shows and Movies as Teaching Tools

Imagine if watching TV was doing homework. What if students could learn while watching movies and television programs?

Guess what?

They can, and here’s why.

Enhance Conversational Skills

Learning isn’t linear. It’s nearly impossible for students to learn English if they’re just receiving the information in the exact same form all the time. Doing activities with ESL videos in the classroom exposes students to a variety of realistic day-to-day scenarios. In watching and listening to these videos, students are able to fully understand when and how words and phrases are appropriately used.

Improve Comprehension

Along with well-structured lesson plans, reading practice, writing activities and other in-class exercises, ESL videos are a great addition to help improve students’ comprehension skills. Watching videos works as an additional vehicle to receive information. Since videos often have a consistent story-line throughout, students are better able to understand and comprehend complex material.

Foster Cultural Interest and Social Engagement

Nothing helps students learn a language more than engaging them in the culture. The more they care about the culture, the more they care about learning the language. The better they come to understand the culture, the more they’ll begin to understand the language.

Improve Pronunciation and Dialect

To learn English, it isn’t just important for students to read, write and say English words, it’s important that they’re exposed to the variety of usages that there can be for even a single word. ESL videos in the classroom provide that opportunity.

10 Phenomenal Activities Using ESL Videos in the Classroom

A conversation clip is a 2-5 minute clip that can be used to review material that the students have just learned, or can be used as a way to check for understanding. They feature people conversing in a relatively natural way about different topics.

Here are a few websites where you can find a variety of conversation clips:

Since we’re at it, I’d be remiss not to tell you about FluentU. FluentU takes real-world videos—like interviews, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

With such a great diversity of content, you’re guaranteed to find something that your class will love. There’s video for all themes, teaching points and skill levels, and the bite-sized clips are perfect for holding students’ attention during in-class activities.

1. Question and Answer

This activity is simple but efficient After teaching a lesson, find a video clip that fits the subject matter that needs to be reviewed. Most of these types of clips should only be 2-5 minutes and can vary in subject matter from “introducing yourself” to “restaurant etiquette.” Give each student a questionnaire filled with questions related to the video. Although questions should be specific to each different conversational clip, here are a few general questions that would be good to use:

  • What is a different way to start the conversation?
  • What are the people in the video talking about?
  • Where is this conversation taking place and why are the people there?

 2. What Happens Next?

This activity is similar to the Question and Answer activity. Instead of having students fill out a questionnaire after watching the video, they should instead practice predicting what will come next after the brief conversation. This can be done by way of writing down their answers or simply sharing aloud in class – or both!

*If the clip has a clear ending with little room for prediction, stop the clip a minute early and have the students guess what will happen next. Then play the rest of the video to see if they were right.

Activities using conversation clips work best for conversational comprehension and vocabulary review. They’re good to do at the end of a day of learning new material so that students can see what they have learned in its proper context.

3. Act-It-Out

Act-It-Out is a student favorite and can be great for beginners or even advanced students. After watching a movie (the entire film or just a few scenes), put students into groups of two to five (enough for each person in the group to have their own role). Once the students are in their groups, instruct them to write their own script mirroring one of the scenes in the movie.

Beginner level students can write down the script word for word. For more advanced students, encourage them to find different ways to get the same point across. Have all of the groups act out their scenes in front of the class and have a great time!

 4. Tell the Story

This activity can be as simple or as complex as the teacher or the students need it to be. On the simple end, after watching a movie have the students write a one to two paragraph summary of what happened in the movie. For advanced students, require summaries to be longer and have greater depth. Turn this in-class assignment into a project by making it a full-length essay with a poster or PowerPoint presentation including a timeline of the movie.

 5. Who, What, When, Where, Why?

If the teacher chooses to play an entire film in class, this is a great activity to ensure that students are paying close attention to the whole movie. Before the movie, instruct students to separate a piece of paper into four columns. On the top of each column, write the words “Who,” “What,” “When,” Where,” and “Why.”

After each scene plays, pause the film and have the students answer Who was in the scene, What they were doing in it, When they were there, Where they were, and Why they were there. One great way to go about this activity is to pick a weekly movie and play a little bit of it each day. Students will eventually get into the routine of playing this game, and they’ll need your assistance less and less as time goes on.

6. Character Descriptions

Before playing a film clip, write on the board the names of all the characters in the film. Give the students a brief explanation of each character. Have each student pick a character based on these descriptions. (It’s okay if students overlap and have the same characters). During the film, tell students to pay special attention to their character and take notes on who they are and what they do. At the end of the movie, have students write one to two paragraphs about their character. Here are some starter questions to set you on the right path:

  • What is your character’s name?
  • What is their job?
  • Where do they live?
  • What are their goals?
  • Are they in a relationship? If so, with whom?

For advanced students, make this into a bigger project by asking them to prepare a presentation, researching the character and the actor that plays the character.

7. Tell The Future/ The Sequel

This activity can be adjusted according to how much time there is to spend working on it.

If you have 10-15 minutes, try it out this way. Play a scene from a movie and have students either write or shout out predictions of what they think will happen next. Play the next scene and see who’s right!

If you have more time, there’s another more involved approach to this activity. After watching the movie, have students get into groups of 3-5 and write a sequel to the movie. Have them create a brief story-line of their movie. They’ll need to name the main characters that they want to include along with any additional characters. Then they’ll have to give it a catchy title! Students enjoy getting very creative with this activity and the presentations are always fun to watch!

Activities with movies and films are great for keeping students engaged and having fun. They’ll be learning without even knowing it! Stuck on what movies or TV shows to play in the classroom?

Here are some great ones to start with:

For Kids:

For Adults:

8. Current Events

This is a great activity that encourages students to be working on their English even when at home. Have students get into a rhythm of doing one current event presentation per week (or per month for larger classes). Instruct students to watch the news at home and pick a current event that is likely to be talked about multiple times daily. For their presentation, they should include a brief clip of the current event and have some good information about the event to present to their class.

9. Be the Newscaster

Give students time in class to research the internet for news videos and instruct them to pick two to three of their favorites and take notes on them. This can be done individually or in groups of two or three. Have students write brief scripts as though they were the newscasters reporting on the news and then have them perform their work in front of the class! For extra fun, add a news logo for their background using the projector. Students that aren’t presenting should take notes on what their newscaster peers are reporting.

10. Solve the Problem

For this activity, play a 10-20 minute news clip explaining a current situation that’s happening. The problem can be a small local problem or a global crisis. Be sure to explain the highlights of the problem and make sure that the students have a good grasp of what the problem is. Then, have students get into groups, come up with solutions to the problem and present the solutions in front of the class.

*To avoid conflict, try to stay away from problems that involve heavy political stances.

Using ESL Videos in class is not only a lot of fun for both the teacher and students, but it helps take students to a whole new level of speaking English!

Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)



If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach English with real-world videos.

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