10 Excellent ESL Video Activities: Lessons and Clips Students Will Love
In this day and age there is no shortage of ESL video material online.
But what’s the best way to use it?
Here are a few activities using English videos that are guaranteed to keep your students interested and engaged in your English classes.
- 1. Best for Free Talk: What Happens Next?
- 2. Best for Practicing Adjectives: What Are They Like?
- 3. Best for Guessing and Speculation: What Are They Talking About?
- 4. Best for Telling a Story: Video Jigsaw
- 5. Best for Improving Speech Rhythm: Phonology Focus
- 6. Best for Role-Plays: Memory Test
- 7. Best for Expressing Opinions: Which Film?
- 8. Best for Vocabulary Practice: Scratch off
- 9. Best for Describing a Scene: Describe, Describe, Draw
- 10. Best for Comprehension Practice: Guess and Check
1. Best for Free Talk: What Happens Next?
Aim: To practice speculating and predicting, initiate authentic discussion and generate interest in a topic.
Material: You’ll need a video with some kind of cliffhanger, like a trailer for a TV show or a movie. Make sure it’s something exciting, like this video for “Jurassic World Dominion”!
- 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 the rest of the video to see if they were right.
2. Best for Practicing Adjectives: What Are They Like?
Aim: To practice describing people and using language of speculation (could be, looks like, seems like, etc.)
Material: Find a short clip that clearly shows one person and key details about them such as age, clothes, features, mannerisms or voice. This could be someone in a TV interview, a character in a film and so on.
Try this video of Jimmy Fallon interviewing Post Malone. They’ll have a lot of fun describing someone like Post Malone!
- 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. Best for Guessing and Speculation: 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: Find a short clip of two or more characters talking. You could show this video from “Modern Family,” where two of the characters get called into the principal’s office.
- Explain the activity. Review or introduce vocabulary and expressions of opinion and speculation. Discuss the importance of body language in communication.
- 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. Best for Telling a Story: Video Jigsaw
Aim: To practice telling a story, giving descriptions (for example, scene, characters and setting) 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 storyline which has a distinctive beginning, middle and end. This has to be divided into three (or more) parts.
There are also plenty of animated short films on YouTube you could use, such as this one called “Purl” from Pixar.
Each group will watch a different part. So you’ll 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 all swap around until each of the three groups has watched their clip.
- Put students in three or more groups, labeled A, B and C. Each group watches their clip from the video, which should be a different part.
- They discuss what they’ve seen and then form new groups made of 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. Best for Improving Speech Rhythm: 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. For example, you can use this clip from “Modern Family.”
- 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 the 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.”
- 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. Best for Role-Plays: Memory Test
Aim: To practice listening for meaning and to practice role-play and improvisation.
Material: Choose a clip with a short dialogue between two characters, such as this clip from “The Devil Wears Prada.” Make sure that it matches the level of your students!
- 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 a few times, as necessary.
- The students can then reenact the scene and check for accuracy with the original at the end. Try to keep this activity light and make it fun. If they can’t remember, improvise!
7. Best for Expressing Opinions: Which Film?
Aim: To practice giving opinions, agreeing and disagreeing. Persuasion.
Material: Find several movie trailers which would be appropriate and entertaining for your class. Try vastly different movies, such as “Beauty and the Beast,” “Lightyear” and “Spider-man: No Way Home.”
- 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.
8. Best for Vocabulary Practice: Scratch off
Aim: To help students remember and practice new vocabulary words.
Material: Use a video which features images of a lot of the new vocabulary, usually within a set theme.
For this example, it’s animals, so you can use this nature video from BBC Earth.
- Show pictures of the animals and go over their names. Write the names on the board as you go over them. This becomes your word bank.
- Then, show the pictures in random order and have students name the animals as practice.
- Give students a page with a list of 10-20 animals or students can write the words from the board on a piece of paper. Make sure the list is not in order!
- Students will then scratch off the animals in the order they see them in the video.
- Watch the video again and check the answers together with the class.
9. Best for Describing a Scene: Describe, Describe, Draw
Aim: To practice describing a scene and sequence of events.
Material: Find a video that has a scene that is easy to understand, and one that your students would be able to describe based on their level and vocabulary knowledge.
You could try using something exciting, like scenes from Marvel movies, but make sure it’s age appropriate!
- Break the group of students into thirds. Name the students in each group A, B and C.
- Student As watch the clip either on their own devices or all together in a classroom. You can watch it more than once if needed! Make sure it’s not too long so the students can remember it.
- While Student As watch the clip, give the other partners the topic of the video and let them brainstorm possible words and phrases they might encounter.
- After watching the clip, Student As describe the scene to Student Bs.
- Student Bs then describe the scene to Student Cs, who draw it.
- All students watch the video for accuracy and discuss changes in the description and drawing.
- Close the activity by having students write in their journals. They can write a summary or you can give them a sentence stem like “I really liked when…”
- I’ve also stretched students to create their own scene or write a poem that uses the words or phrases from the clip because choice increases student motivation! (This was actually a suggestion from a student!)
10. Best for Comprehension Practice: Guess and Check
Aim: To practice reading comprehension through the use of true or false statements.
Material: Choose a clip in which quite a lot happens.
A compilation video of some kind could be a good choice, for example, this video on funny farm animals. Always make sure you watch the whole thing yourself first!
- Give students a list of statements before watching the video.
- You can either write these on a blank anticipation guide and print a copy for each student, or write them on the board and have students write them down. Here are some possible statements to use with this video:
- A cow licks a girl’s hand.
- A pig sits on a blanket.
- A rooster fights with a goat.
- Before watching the video, the students will decide if they agree or disagree with the statement (they’re really just guessing) with a partner.
- As they watch the clip, they’ll check to see if their predictions about each statement were correct.
- After watching the clip, students will check their answers and decide whether or not their original responses were correct.
- I also have my students correct the sentences that were wrong. For example, if there was a man riding a horse and not a chicken, I would have them correct the appropriate part of that sentence.
- With the blank anticipation guide template, there’s so much you can do. I really like to use this template before reading a text, and this activity is a great way to introduce the guide for the first time.
- The sentences will grow increasingly more complex as the students’ English levels improve.
So there you go! Try these activities with them and watch your students improve their English step by step.
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