7 Irresistibly Fun ESL Video Activities to Teach Listening Comprehension

Teaching a classroom full of students to read English is one thing.

Teaching them to listen and understand what they’re hearing is much tougher.

When the words are on the page, it’s possible to sound them out and take some time to come up with the definition.

But if you want your students to be able to carry on a conversation, they must practice. Yet practicing with more than a couple of students at a time is challenging.

So how can you teach listening comprehension to entire classes?

Luckily, we can use ESL video activities!

Why Videos Are So Important for ESL Students

Videos are one of the best ways to boost listening comprehension in a classroom setting (though they work well for individuals, too!). Here’s why:

  • Students love visual stimulation. Remember the special days when you watched a movie during science class in high school? It was exciting and different from the usual drone of the teacher. Watching videos makes class more interesting and will really stimulate students’ imaginations.
  • Real-life scenes are played out. In a classroom setting, you might not always have the opportunity to discuss real-life issues and scenarios. But with video, students will find themselves listening to scenes they could actually face in their own lives—making it really valuable and meaningful practice.
  • Realistic dialogue exposes students to common sayings and phrases. It’s raining cats and dogs! I’m happy as a clam! These are just two of the wonderfully weird sayings we have in English, which can be very confusing for ESL students. Even if you’re already teaching your class some colorful idioms, nothing compares to hearing and seeing them in context. This makes videos the perfect medium to teach such sayings.

Considerations When Choosing Videos for Your ESL Students

There are four main considerations to keep in mind when selecting a video or clip for your students to watch:

Age Appropriate

Adults can appreciate a wide range of video types, whereas younger students will find themselves bored with long monologues. Choose appropriate clips that don’t contain any foul language, excessive violence, sexual actions or possibly offensive material.

Language Level

Presenting a Shakespearean play on video to a class of beginning students will simply cause confusion. It’s very important to select videos that will stick to mostly known vocabulary. Animated videos for younger children tend to have simpler words, but may be dull for older students, so keep an eye out for appropriate options.


Funny videos are not only more interesting to watch, but they also teach students about humor in their new language. It can be difficult for those from a different culture to get used to the jokes that abound in English, so give them a head start with a comedy.

Interest Levels

How exciting is an episode of “Thomas the Train Engine” for you, as an adult? When you were a child, would you have been content to sit through a long documentary on coral reefs? Take your students’ interests into consideration when deciding on a good video to show them.

FluentU has videos for every level of English learner, at any age.

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.

7 Fun ESL Video Activities to Teach Listening Comprehension

Once you’ve selected a video clip, don’t just roll the video and leave it at that! Use the following activities or come up with your own to really engage the students and get them listening.

1. What’s Next

Let students watch an exciting video and stop it right in the middle of the action. Ask them to tell you what they think will happen next, based on the story so far. Have each student write down their guess and then watch the ending to see who was correct. You can stop the video multiple times if you like, for multiple guesses.

Alternatively, stop the video and allow students to come up with their own ending to act out. You can even divide a larger class into smaller groups and have each one come up with a possible finale to the video. This works particularly well with season finales for television shows.

 2. Step by Step

For this exercise, you’ll want a tutorial video. This can be anything from a cooking show to a demonstration on how to dig a hole. Before watching the video, let students know that they should pay close attention to the steps. Next, have each student write down the steps to the tutorial and then play the clip again so they can check their work.

Start with fairly simple tutorials that only have a handful of steps. Once your students are adept at this activity, you can increase the number of steps required.

3. Describe the Setting

Let students know before you watch the video that they should be looking at where the scene is taking place. After the clip, ask students to describe the setting to you and explain what happened.

4. Judge and Jury

Show two video clips that have opposite view points. For example, you might show one that argues for creationism and the other for evolution, or any debatable topic. Have students write down the arguments for each side as they watch. They should then work in smaller groups to decide which arguments are most important and finally, come to a conclusion based on the points presented in the videos. They can debate between themselves and come up with a unanimous decision.

5. Quiz Time

Prepare some questions ahead of time and let the students know that they should pay careful attention to the dialogue while they are watching the video. Once it is over, ask them the questions. These can range from “Did Bob get angry because his wife burned the spaghetti or because she forgot to feed the dog?” to “Why did Jean think babies shouldn’t eat broccoli?”

If the students have trouble with the questions, watch the clip again so they can find the answers, rather than simply telling them. It’s a good way to practice listening with them.

6. Create a Storyboard

Watch a fairly short video that has some different action and plenty of dialogue. The video should have several distinct parts that will be easy to map on a storyboard. Allow students to watch the whole thing while taking notes, then go back and watch each segment. Pause between segments so students can draw the scene and note what happens between the characters.

Another option is to make the storyboard on the whiteboard at the front of the class, calling on students to tell you what should be included. They can take their own notes and then help you design the actual storyboard.

7. Pick a Character

Have each student choose a character to pay particular attention to. They should observe everything from how the person reacts to various situations to how they speak and how emotional they are. After the video, have students write down diary entries for their chosen character.

To make things a little more interesting, give students specific scenarios for their characters to react to in their character journals. If you’re using characters from a television show, this could be an ongoing listening and writing activity.

Videos can easily be a more interesting way to practice listening comprehension than simply talking in groups. If your class needs a little something to spice it up, show your students some video clips and try out these activities—and then watch their comprehension explode!

Enter your e-mail address to get your free PDF!

We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe