No one ever said teaching ESL was easy.
Memorizing verb tenses, understanding active vs. passive voice, taking in the culture, pronouncing the word “squirrel.”
How are you supposed to teach students these things, all while keeping your class engaging?
Thankfully, English teaching videos are swooping in to save the day!
A short, fun video often holds a student’s attention better than a worksheet or textbook. YouTube is filled to the brim with ESL videos for your classroom.
But how do you find the best English teaching videos out there? And how do you turn them into effective teaching tools? Let’s find out!
Ways to Use English Videos in the Classroom
- As warm-up activities. Grabbing and holding students’ attention can be difficult. Starting the class period with a short video can be a good way to reel them in. If you teach young students, showing a music video they can dance along with can help them get their energy out before starting the main lesson.
- As reward systems. My friend used videos as reward systems for years and his students always seemed to be more well-behaved than mine.
He placed three stars on the whiteboard at the beginning of the class period. Each time he had to discipline the students, he removed one star. If they kept at least one star before class ended, they got to watch a fun video, but if they ran out of stars, they didn’t receive the reward.
- As a way to introduce an activity. For instance, are you teaching the conditional verb tense today? After covering the basics, try showing a video so students can watch the conditional being used in real-life scenarios.
- As a way to spark discussion. This tactic is especially useful for upper-intermediate or advanced students. Try showing a video, then asking follow-up questions to get the students using the vocabulary they know or have learned from the video.
For example, you could show a video clip from a superhero film, then ask the students what superpowers they’d have if they could be a superhero.
The 12 Best English Teaching Videos on YouTube
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The Best English Teaching Videos for Beginners
Oh, man. I taught first- through third-grade Chinese students for a year, and they went nuts for Tooty Ta! Every. Single. Time.
It’s no secret that songs can be fantastic tools for helping learners memorize material. This fun song can teach students both parts of the body and directional words. For example, a chunk of the lyrics says: “Bottoms up, tongue out!”
There are plenty of other songs out there that teach body parts and directional words. “Tooty Ta” is unique because it repeats each line multiple times and this repetition could help students retain the information. The tune is also meant to dance along with, so using each corresponding part of the body and following directions can help students remember the vocabulary, too.
Students may be a little shy to dance and sing along at first. The solution? Lead them in song and dance! I loved dancing along with the kids every time I showed “Tooty Ta.”
You might already be sick of the “Baby Shark” song. But stick with me here.
This rendition of “Baby Shark” is much slower than the version that’s so popular right now. This has a couple of advantages. First, it makes the tune much less annoying, in my opinion. Second, slow lyrics make it the perfect song for beginning ESL students.
The words also vary slightly from the popular version, and there are more lyrics. As a result, the song includes plenty of vocab for students to learn!
I used this video to teach the names of family members (baby, mama, papa, grandma and grandpa). You can also introduce or review simple vocabulary (little, hungry, swim and fish).
This is another song I had fun leading the class in. If you make up hand movements for each line, students could have fun with the lyrics and have an easier time remembering the vocabulary.
There’s a lot going on in this video, so to get even more out of it, I’d play the “What can you see?” game.
“What can you see?”
“I can see five sharks!”
“I can see water!”
“I can see yellow fish!”
You get the idea.
“The Very Hungry Caterpillar”
Remember the children’s book “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”? It was one of my favorites! Showing this video gives you the opportunity to introduce your learners to a famous book in the English-speaking culture.
This video tells the complete story. It teaches basic vocabulary with a ton of imagery, which could help your students remember the words.
This is a fantastic video for teaching food words (apple, cake, ice cream and cheese, just for starters.)
Students will also hear days of the week, numbers and adjectives.
Looking for a follow-up activity? You could create a worksheet for students to match which food the caterpillar ate on which day of the week, or how many pieces he ate of which fruit.
“Feelings—Are You Happy”
Teaching feelings to your students? Check out this video! It introduces simple feelings, such as angry, happy, bored and excited.
The video shows children at a carnival and displays how someone could feel each emotion in this setting. The bright colors and imagery make it simple for students to remember the words.
Students will hear each feeling by itself, followed by the sentence pattern “Are you [happy]?” “I’m [happy]!”
“Feelings—Are You Happy” is available on FluentU, so if you’re a member, you have plenty of resources available for teaching with this video.
Looking for more FluentU videos to enforce this vocab? When you’re lesson planning, click on “angry” to see a list of other videos that include this vocab word to find even more material.
Videos also come with interactive quizzes. If you’re in a language lab, students can take a quiz about this video during class or you can even assign the quiz as homework. With a FluentU school membership, students can access material at home with the password and you can track their results from your own account!
The Best English Teaching Videos for Intermediate Students
Taylor Swift’s “You Belong with Me” Music Video
If you’ve ever watched the “You Belong with Me” music video, you know that it tells a very clear story. This makes it easy for intermediate students to follow along with the lyrics and understand what’s happening even if they miss a few words here and there.
There are a few ways to teach verb tenses with this song. Intermediate students are probably already familiar with the present tense, so this is a great opportunity to teach them how to create contractions to sound more like a native speaker. Take a look at the first few lines of the song:
You’re on the phone with your girlfriend
She’s going off about something that you said
‘Cause she doesn’t get your humor like I do
Teach your students how to turn “you are” into “you’re” and “she is” into “she’s.”
You could also use this song to teach the present continuous tense. Swift includes a few -ing verbs throughout the song when she says things like “I’m listening to the kind of music she doesn’t like,” “Dreaming about the day when you wake up” and “Laughing on a park bench.”
Want students to practice using these verb tenses? This is where that easy-to-follow music video comes in handy. Have them explain what happens in the video either orally or in an essay, but they must use the verb tense(s) you’re teaching.
Beyoncé’s “If I Were a Boy” Music Video
Another music video, another opportunity to teach verb tenses!
“If I Were a Boy” is a great video for teaching the subjunctive verb tense. Let’s look at a chunk of lyrics:
If I were a boy
I would turn off my phone
Tell everyone it’s broken
So they’d think that I was sleepin’ alone
Throughout the song, Beyoncé uses the “If I were… I would” sentence structure, which gives students several examples of how to use the subjunctive in real situations. Like “You Belong with Me,” this music video tells a clear story, making it easy for learners to follow along.
Try drumming up some classroom conversation to discuss the video. You could ask students to describe what happens in the music video. Or ask them what they’d do if they were a boy/girl.
“Top 10 Romantic Comedies of All Time”
This video will introduce your students to a ton of romantic vocabulary such as “fall for,” “win the heart of,” “womanizer,” “fall in love” and much more.
It’s also a good tool for teaching your students how to tell a story. The narrator explains the plot of each film very quickly, as the video covers 10 movies in just over five minutes.
There are several ways to use this video compilation in the classroom. You can have the students create their own one-minute story or give a summary of their favorite romantic comedy. You could have them interact by voting on which of these 10 movies they’d most like to watch. (And you could even show the winning film in the next class period!)
YouTube is full of compilation videos similar to this one. Maybe you don’t want to talk about love or romantic comedies. For example, if you want to teach vocabulary related to shopping, you could show “Top 10 Funniest Movie Shopping Scenes,” which is from the same family of YouTube channels from WatchMojo.
“Best Friends Challenge with Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel”
In this video, Jimmy Fallon (Timberlake’s BFF) and Jessica Biel (Timberlake’s wife) compete to determine who knows Timberlake better. Who is his one, true ride or die?
The vocabulary is relatively simple and the questions and answers are written down, making it easier for intermediate students to follow along if just listening is too tricky. There are a few colloquialisms, such as “safe word” and “on the rocks.” (Those could spark some interesting discussions!)
The real challenge? Understanding all three people as they talk over each other, laugh and speak over the sound of applause. This can improve learners’ listening abilities and prepare them to listen to English speakers in real life.
Want to take this video to the next level? Group students together to play this game in English together. You can provide the questions and have students practice vocabulary with a fun game!
The Best English Teaching Videos for Advanced Students
Ellen DeGeneres’s Interview with Jennifer Aniston
Your students may recognize one or both of these celebrities, making it fun for them to watch.
DeGeneres and Aniston discuss a wide range of topics, from planes to drinking to nudity. They include some advanced but practical vocabulary, such as “low-key,” “white-knuckling it,” “hammered” and “irrational fear.”
These two women are close friends off-screen, so the interview isn’t as stiff as many interviews you’ll find on YouTube. Students will get plenty of practice listening to people talking over each other and stammering.
You can get creative with how you use this video in your classroom. If you want to start a class conversation, ask students what their “irrational fears” are. (Aniston’s is flying in airplanes.) Then talk about why they’re afraid and what they’d do if they had to face those fears.
“Friends” New Year’s Resolutions Clip
This is a great video to show in a New Year-themed class period. Each friend talks about their New Year’s resolution. The concept is simple, but definitely some advanced vocabulary and slang. For example, you’ll hear “go out on a limb,” “boob job” and “…if you know what I’m talking about.”
You may have to cover what a “New Year’s resolution” is before jumping into this video. But after watching the video a couple of times, there are some great activities you can do to go along with this theme.
To start, students can review what each friend’s resolution is and why they chose that resolution. Which friends do you think will keep their resolutions and which ones won’t?
Then, you can have them talk about, write an essay or give a presentation on what their New Year’s resolution is and why.
Death Cab for Cutie’s “Someday You Will Be Loved”
Time to learn some advanced grammar skills! “Someday You Will Be Loved” is great for teaching active vs. passive voice. Let’s look at some of the lyrics:
I cannot pretend that I felt any regret
‘Cause each broken heart will eventually mend
As the blood runs red down the needle and thread
Someday you will be loved
Students can read the lyrics in this video and identify which lines are in the active voice and which ones are passive. Then, ask students to write their own poems/songs that contain both the active and passive voice, either as an in-class assignment or homework activity.
“Parks and Recreation” Meet Bobby Newport Clip
Talking about government is definitely an advanced topic in the ESL classroom. First of all, the vocabulary in and of itself is heavy. Second, it can be difficult for students to grasp a government system that works differently from their own country’s system.
This video gives great examples of how to use a variety of government-related vocabulary such as “race,” “polls,” “bureaucrat” and “city council.” You could include this in a lesson when it’s close to a local, state or national election. Then, the class can talk about how voting works in America.
Ask the students whether they think Bobby Newport or Leslie Knope should win, and why. Who do they think will win?
“Parks and Recreation” is a fantastic show to teach students about government issues, such as running for office, town hall meetings and democracy.
These may be some of the best English teaching videos on YouTube, but it isn’t enough to just show them to your students and be done with it. Each video provides an opportunity to incorporate discussions, worksheets, assignments or even just dance moves.
By building on these English teaching videos, your students can grasp difficult ESL concepts in a brand new way.
Laura Grace Tarpley is a freelance writer based in Nashville. She writes about language learning, travel and personal finance. Follow her on Twitter @lgtarpley.
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