How to Use English Videos in the ESL Classroom, Plus Great Resources to Browse!

Sure, the technology has changed.

But that feeling of excitement is just the same…

You remember it from when you were a kid, and the teacher started class by wheeling in a TV cart, right?

Yes! We get to watch a video today!

There’s just something about videos in the classroom. They’re a break from the routine, they’re fun and they grab students’ attention.

Maybe these days, you’re not physically dragging your TV into class. Maybe you’ve got tablets, or smart projectors or what-have-you. But no matter how you’re bringing videos into your English classroom, they can be a fantastic tool to engage students and boost specific language skills.

The thing is, you don’t just want to press “play” and then let everybody space out.

In this article, we’ll show you how to use English classroom videos the right way, to target students’ vocabulary, speaking abilities and more. We’ve also got plenty of video resources and clips for you to draw on.

3 Clever Ways to Use Videos Successfully in Your English Classroom

Just remember, with videos less is more. You don’t need to show them the whole “Harry Potter” series in order to impress your students. They’re bombarded with images and media every day, so you’ll want to keep it short and sweet to get the most out of using videos in the ESL classroom.

1. Videos to Build Vocabulary

I’ve found videos to be a fantastic tool for focused vocabulary building. Videos hold students’ attention and make the vocabulary seem relevant to their lives.

One way I teach vocabulary through videos is a method I call English Cartoon Time, or ETC. (This caters to my younger learners—if you’re not using cartoons, you could call it English Video Time or anything else you like!).

I’ll pick out an episode of a cartoon that focuses on a vocabulary theme we’ve already studied. For example, when we were learning about jobs, I selected the “Fairly OddParents” episode Odd Jobs. Then I pause regularly throughout the video to ask my students questions that focus on vocabulary and comprehension.

For this episode, I asked what sort of jobs Timmy found at the career fair. I then asked them about what sort of jobs they liked from the jobs at the career fair, and we practiced using the vocabulary to construct grammatically correct sentences.

Great Videos for Vocabulary:

“Pokémon the Series”

Here’s a great ETC option for young learners. While each episode is different, all follow a similar story of Ash’s adventures trying to catch Pokémon. They tend to recycle the same vocabulary and sentence structures over and over again and what happens in one episode will often carry over to the next.

TED Talks

Here’s another great resource for older students. Since TED Talks feature one speaker discussing a specific topic at a steady pace, your students can pick up valuable vocabulary without losing the context of the video. Plus, TED Talks often cover innovative or debate-worthy ideas, making them great for sparking English conversation in your classroom, too.

For example, with this TED Talks video on music you could identify key vocabulary and ask your students what kind of music they like, why it’s their favorite, how music has evolved and so on. Those students can then focus on adding to their own ideas or building counterarguments to the message that’s presented in the video.

For more ideas, check out this list of easy TED Talks for ESL students.

2. Videos to Teach Pronunciation

Studies show that when learners watch videos in English they’re able to immerse themselves in the language. In other words, they start to absorb the sounds of the language naturally, and they build links between the sounds they’re hearing and the meaning of the words. With the right English videos, you can take advantage of this to organically improve students’ pronunciation skills.

For these videos, try showing short clips focusing on a particular sound over a period of time (say, one clip per day for a week). As we’ll discuss more below, the repetition is key to getting the most out of these videos. And if you show clips that are too long, students will be focusing all their energy on following the speech and won’t be able to concentrate on specific sounds.

Great Videos for Pronunciation:

“The Powerpuff Girls”

Kids’ shows like “The Powerpuff Girls” are great because they consistently repeat English sounds in a range of contexts. For example, in this two-minute episode clip, I was able to pick up on “-th” more than a dozen times from just one listen! The words this, there’s, think and the were all repeated more than once.

A student who’s interested in shows like “The Powerpuff Girls” will regularly watch and get consistent exposure to these sounds, resulting in a better understanding of how to produce them on their own.

Rachel’s English

If you have older students who benefit from more focused English practice, Rachel’s English should be one of your first stops. The host breaks down elements of English pronunciation into manageable bites. It’s a great tool to either introduce a new sound or reinforce a sound you’ve already taught.

For example, with this Rachel’s English video we’ll go back to “th,” as it can be a difficult blend for English learners to get the hang of. Adult students in particular might appreciate the straightforward explanation of how to produce this sound.

Clips from Popular English-language Shows

While younger students benefit from the repetition used in kids’ shows, teens and adults will be more engaged with shows that expose them to natural, everyday English. They’ll hear the sounds they’re learning in real contexts, and they’ll enjoy the window into English-speaking cultures.

Hit shows such as “Riverdale,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “Pretty Little Liars” are great options that demonstrate a range of speaking styles and accents.

3. Videos as a Class Reward

Of course, sometimes students just want a break from their books and a chance to have some fun. Why not entice them with a short video after they successfully finish a unit or do well on a class test? You can disguise it in a way that the students have fun while learning.

The key here is to pay attention to what interests your students. Their hobbies, interests and internet obsessions can all become fodder for fun English learning.

For example, is there a sports team they’re obsessed with? Find game clips from channels with English commentators. Or have any English-speaking rockstars grabbed their hearts? Bring a music video into class.

Below are some specific video ideas that’ll be interesting to most types of students!

Great Class Reward Videos

You Laugh, You Lose Compilations

My students are really big on the “you laugh, you lose” compilations they see online. The idea is to get through the whole silly video without laughing. So feel free to challenge your students to do the same! It’s a great way for students to get some giggles out, and at the end you can ask them to describe which clip was their favorite in English.

TheLearningStation’s Brain Breaks

The name says it all! These videos can help break up your lesson and relax students, without wasting precious class time. They’re slow-paced, catchy tunes that repeat English vocabulary and concepts, such as exercise words or body parts.


Videos in the classroom have come a long way since a lot of us were kids.

But you know what hasn’t changed?

The smiles on your students’ faces. They’ll all be smiling when you tell them that you’ll be starting the lesson with a quick video, or that they’ve done such a great job lately that they can have a small treat in the form of a video.

Video is an essential part of the ESL learning experience, so why not find that perfect clip for your classroom needs?

Happy viewing!

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