7 modern methods for teaching esl students with video

7 ESL Video Activities That Your Students Will Love

There’s never been a better time to use video in the ESL classroom.

Remember the old days of VCRs, VHS tapes and trips to Blockbuster?

When I started teaching, my classroom video material were well-worn, borrowed cassette tapes or ones I recorded at home.

Finding a good quality video was like striking pure, untarnished gold.

Once you’d acquired the precious item, you’d need to find a room, set up a TV, plug in the video player and then hope to goodness that everything worked.

Sometimes, you’d accidentally stick a VHS tape in a Betamax machine (yes, I’m that old!) and ruin everything.

To be honest, it was such a hassle that you just didn’t bother most of the time.

Fast forward a few years, (sorry about the pun!) and video is all around us — it positive defines our cultures and lifestyles. The language teacher’s best friend, the Internet, has tremendous resources available.

Websites like FluentU have made life much easier for students and teachers alike by curating authentic video clips and providing all the scaffolding that students could ever need. Relevant video has been made so easily accessible and usable, that it would be a shame to let it all go to waste.

Why Use Video to Teach ESL Students?

There are a number of reasons why video is a great resource in the ESL classroom:

  • it’s fun and adds a change of pace
  • it’s good for visual learners
  • it helps bring a subject to life
  • the language in videos is usually more natural
  • the language is set in a realistic context
  • students hear natural pronunciation, stress and intonation
  • depending on what’s shown, video can make a lesson memorable
  • showing a small clip can be as effective as a whole movie
  • video can be a great way to practice a wide variety of language skills

Ideal Types of Videos for ESL Instruction

Video-based material can range from a still picture taken from a video to the whole movie or TV show and everything in-between. Which one you choose depends on the aim of the lesson at hand.

1. Documentaries

2. TV shows, films and trailers

3. Cartoons

4. Homemade videos (including the students’ own home videos)

5. Advertisement

6. News clips and stories

7. Weather forecasts

8. Instructional videos (focusing on English language acquisition or other content areas)

9. Vlogs and video clips from websites

10. Sports events

7 Modern Methods for Teaching ESL with Video

There are almost as many ways to exploit video material as there are videos. Here are just seven ideas to get the ball rolling in the right direction.

1. What happens next?

Aim: To practice speculating and predicting, initiate authentic discussion and generate interest in a topic.

Material: A video with some kind of cliffhanger (it could be from a show’s bloopers reel to make it less predictable).

Procedure: Set up the situation. Teach any necessary vocabulary beforehand. Play the video and stop at a suitably exciting place. Have students discuss in pairs or groups what they think happens next. Elicit responses and write them down on the board. Play rest of the video to see if they were right.

2. What are they like?

Aim: To practice describing people and use language of speculation (could be, looks like, seems like, etc.)

Material: A short clip or still which clearly shows one person (and key details such as age, clothes, features, mannerisms, voice, etc.) This could be someone in a TV interview, a character in a film and so on.

Procedure: Review descriptive language, and then review or teach expressions of speculation before starting this activity. Play a short clip and get students to ask and answer questions about the character, including: age, job, personality, kind/unkind, intelligent/unintelligent, what hobbies they have, married/single and areas of expertise. To elicit further discussion, they can argue their points in groups justifying their opinions. For example, one student may get up and explain that “he looks like a lawyer because…” and go on to enumerate his lawyer-like qualities.

3. What are they talking about?

Aim: To practice language of opinion and speculation, show the importance of body language and generate interest in a topic or story.

Material: A short clip of two characters talking.

Procedure: Explain the activity. Discuss the importance of body language in communication. Review or introduce vocabulary and expressions of opinion and speculation. Play the clip with the sound muted. In pairs or groups, have students speculate on the moods, perspectives and relationships of the characters from their body language clues. See if anyone can figure out what the characters are actually discussing. Give feedback and then play the clip with the sound turned up. You could have further discussion on the importance of body language in language learning or in different cultures.

4. Video jigsaw

Aim: To practice telling a story, giving descriptions (scene, characters) and practicing language of speculation and decision making.

Material: For this one you’ll need a clip of a movie, TV show, advert or other video with a strong story line (having distinctive beginning, middle, and end sequences). This has to be divided into three (or more) parts. Each group will be watching a different part. You’ll also need access to separate computers or TVs in different rooms. If this isn’t possible, then one group can watch the film in a corner of the room while the other two groups work on a related task — then they’ll all swap around until each of the three groups have watched their clip.

Procedure: Put students in three (or more) groups, labelled A, B and C. Each group watches their clip from the video, which should be a different part of the clip. They discuss what they’ve seen and then form new groups made from one person from each of the original groups (grouped together like: ABC, ABC, ABC). They retell their part of the film to the others in their new groups. Then, each group tries to work out the correct order and the complete story. They then watch the complete film to check if they were right.

5. Phonology focus

Aim: To draw attention to the importance of the shape and position of the jaw and mouth muscles in the target language. To highlight the rhythm, stress and intonation of the language.

Material: Choose a video clip where there’s a close up of someone talking for at least 20 seconds.

Procedure: Introduce the topic – the idea of the “music” of a language and also what happens to the faces of people speaking different languages. Play the video with the sound muted, pointing out the mouth and jaw muscles they’re using. Note the shapes of their mouths, positions of lips and so on. Get students to imitate this, making it fun. Now play the clip with sound quite low so they can focus on the rhythm, stress and intonation of the language. Get them to repeat sections, trying to mimic the speaker as best they can without using the words, just the sounds. This will kind of sound like, “bla bla BLA,” or “da da DA da da da.” Again, this focuses attention away from the words and towards the music of the language. Finally, if necessary, hand out copies of the script and get the students to repeat the actual words while trying as much as they can to retain the “music.”

6. Memory test

Aim: To practice listening for meaning and to practice role play and improvisation.

Material: A clip with a short dialogue between two characters.

Procedure: Students work in pairs, A and B. Tell them that you’re going to play a short clip and Student A must remember what one character said. Student B must focus on the other character and remember what they said. Play the clip once, or more times as necessary. Try to keep this activity light and make it fun. If they can’t remember, improvise! They can then re-enact the scene and check for accuracy with the original at the end.

7. Which film?

Aim: To practice giving opinions, agreeing and disagreeing. Persuasion.

Material: Several movie trailers.

Procedure: Set up the task, teaching language and vocab as necessary. Tell them they’re going to watch a movie, but there’s only time for one. Let them know that in order to watch even that one, they must all agree on which one they want to watch — as a group. Play trailers from several films. Then, put the titles on the board. Put the students in groups and let the discussion commence! Try to get each group to agree on watching the same movie. Provide feedback to the whole class. If possible, play the whole movie or go and see it together as a class.

Videos are just awesome as teaching and learning tools, and I think you’ll agree once you see them in action in your classroom.

As well as providing great examples of language structure and function in context, they’re a wonderful way to teach vocabulary. Video is also a great tool for encouraging discussion and bringing a light-hearted approach to sometimes tricky areas like pronunciation, stress and intonation. I hope you’ve found some ideas here you that can use with your own classes. Good luck, and happy watching!

Oh, and One More Thing…

If you like teaching English with entertaining video clips, then you’re going to absolutely love FluentU.

FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, cartoons, documentaries and more—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons for you and your students. 

It’s got a huge collection of authentic English videos that people in the English-speaking world actually watch on the regular. These are videos that your students already love watching, so they’ll be beyond excited to interact with them in the classroom. 

2014 10 09 21.14.21 A Model Lesson for Using Songs as ESL Audio Listening Materials

On FluentU, all the videos are sorted by skill level and are carefully annotated for students. Words come with example sentences and definitions. Students will be able to add them to their own vocabulary lists, and even see how the words are used in other videos.

2014 10 09 21.15.16 A Model Lesson for Using Songs as ESL Audio Listening Materials

Worried that students might be stumped by some of the harder videos? No way. FluentU brings authentic content within reach by providing interactive captions and in-context definitions right on-screen. For example, if a student taps on the word “brought,” they’ll see this:

2014 10 09 21.20.15 A Model Lesson for Using Songs as ESL Audio Listening Materials

Plus, these great videos are all accompanied by interactive features and active learning tools for students, like multimedia flashcards and fun games like “fill in the blank.”

2014 10 09 21.21.16 A Model Lesson for Using Songs as ESL Audio Listening Materials

It’s perfect for in-class activities, group projects and solo homework assignments. Not to mention, it’s guaranteed to get your students excited about English!

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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