Light the Fireworks: 15 Ways to Create ESL Video Lessons That’ll Make Your Class Burst with English

Want to create video lessons that’ll truly captivate your class?

We’ve come a long way from the days of wheeling a TV cart into a classroom and rewatching the same VHS every year.

The internet, that land of cat videos and celebrity gossip, has also given us teachers mountains of ESL video lesson opportunities all waiting for the click of a button.

It’s no secret that language students love watching videos, and the simple fact students enjoy the activity should be enough to get teachers on board. But that’s not all. There are plenty more reasons for us to go ahead and click the play button.

  • Videos provide fabulous listening comprehension practice.
  • Videos expose students to real-life language, complete with idioms and expressions that don’t usually appear in textbooks.
  • Videos familiarize students with different regional accents and dialects.

But of course, we can’t just stick a video on and expect the students to take in all that rich language input on their own. If we do that, then yes, a video lesson is just a cop-out. Our role as language educators is to facilitate the process to make sure that our students get as much as possible out of the activity.

A simple way to structure a video is into before-, while-, and after-watching activities. Pull a couple from each category and you’ll know you’ve given your students all the tools they need to have a successful ESL video learning experience.

15 Brilliant Ways to Captivate Your ESL Class with Video Lessons

Before Watching

If your students know what to expect, they’ll understand more of what’s going on the video, and from there, they’ll be able to focus on the language actually used, rather than wondering what the heck is going on. Obviously this is different than when we watch a video in our native language.

The key here is that the more familiar they are with the storyline before even beginning to watch the video itself, the more language they’ll be able to pick up from the dialogues. There are lots of ways to activate this pre-watching knowledge. Try these ideas for starters.

1. How Will It End?

Give your students some key bits of informations about the video (names and ages of the characters, basic beginning of plot) and get them to discuss in groups their ideas of what will happen in the video. Nominate a spokesperson from each group to share the group’s ideas with the class. Write them up on the board if you want, and see which group’s ideas end up closest to what actually happens in the video.

2. Vocab Brainstorm

Students often know a lot more vocabulary than they let on. Brainstorming words that might come up in the video will go a long way towards helping them recognize those words as they’re watching. So if you’re watching a 5-minute short for example, first ask your students to take 5 minutes to brainstorm all the vocabulary they can think of that relates to that topic.

3. Silent Watching

If it’s a short video—like a commercial, or those you can find on Film English or FluentU—watch it the first time muted.

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

Get students to discuss what they think is happening and what they think the characters are saying, then rewatch to see who was right!

With FluentU you’ll also be able to play fun summary games with an inbuilt quiz and flashcard options after the silent watching activity. Be sure to request a free trial of the FluentU program and explore all the other incredible ways FluentU can help students become more native with all aspects of their Engish

4. Pre-teaching Key Terms

Comprehension can be difficult if there are a lot of expressions or vocabulary words that the students don’t already know. In that case, you want to be sure to pre-teach those terms. Using a vocabulary/definition matching activity like those you can create on Quizlet, make sure your students are comfortable with those terms and how they’re pronounced before setting out to watch the video itself. Frustration factor abolished.

5. Pre-watching Worksheet

Afraid your students will clam up when you ask them to make creative predictions about the video? I get it. I’ve had some students like that too. For them, a simple worksheet with true/false or multiple choice questions can help jumpstart their creativity and may even lead to a group discussion. HelpTeaching is a great resource for creating printable worksheets like this.

While Watching

One your class has finished a pre-watching task or two, they may be tempted to zone out once the video is going. This is why it’s so important to make sure that students also have a while-watching task. Again, this is very different than how we watch videos in our native language. But we want to maximize the benefits of an ESL video lesson for our students, and while-watching tasks are an important part of the process.

6. Ordering

This is one of my favorite activities to get my students to follow along with the plot, and it can be done in two ways. First, you could take screenshots of the video at different key points in the storyline, print them out and get the students to order the pictures as they watch.

Or, you can type up little descriptions of what happens in the video, and have the students order those instead. (For example, Nemo touches the boat, Nemo gets lost…)

7. Key Word Grab

If you pre-taught some key vocabulary words and expressions, you can type these up and cut them out so that each bit of paper has one key term written on it. Give each pair of students one set of words. Students compete with their partner to grab each word as they hear it come up in the video. Students of all ages enjoy this element of competition!

8. What’s Next?

Keep your students’ creativity active by pausing the video at different climatic points. Ask them to predict what is going to happen next. They definitely don’t have to agree. It can be a lot more fun to have lots of different opinions because then the students can see who was right once you resume the video!

9. What’s Going On?

This is an all-time favorite that can be used with just about any action-packed short video. I’d shy away from it with videos that are heavy on the dialogue and light on the action. Divide your students into pairs and set them up so that one student can see the video and their partner can’t.

You could use a blindfold or you could simply get students to turn their back toward the screen. The partner who can see the video describes what is happening to their “blind” partner for one minute, then they switch roles and continue swapping every minute or two. A video lesson, plus speaking and listening comprehension all at once. You can’t beat that!

10. Map It Out

Whether you call them story charts, mind maps or graphic organizers, visual representations of learning are currently all the rage in education, and for good reason! They help students get a handle on what they’re reading (or in our case watching) and retain the information better and longer. Students can fill in a story map while watching a video and use it to discuss the video after it finishes. This story map is one of my favorites, but there are a host of others available on as well. Happy mapping!

After Watching

So you’ve finished the video and the students have figured out whose predictions were right and whose predictions were wrong. Now it’s time to make sure that they retain what they learned. Take your pick of the activities below.

11. Post-watching Worksheet

Create a worksheet in the same way as the pre-watching worksheet, but now they’re not just predicting, they should know the right answer!

12. Cartoonists

Print out some comic book templates and get your students to draw and write the key plot points. This activity can get both verbal and visual students involved in the making of their very own comic book.

13. Writer’s Workshop

If you made a story map, have the students use it to rewrite the plot in short story form. It’s a great way of recalling the events and vocabulary from the video, as well as practicing conventions of written English. Students can read and proofread each other’s stories after!

14. Dialogue Rewrite

Want another way to exercise your students’ verbal creativity? Get the them to vote on a particular scene with dialogue that they enjoyed. Rewatch that scene on mute, and have your students write a new dialogue on a random different theme. For example, imagine that scene from Jerry McGuire re-worked into an impassioned plea for doughnuts. If you give them time to practice, they could even read the dialogue to the class while watching the scene. Guaranteed laughs!

15. Hollywood Wannabe

Got some budding actors and actresses in your class? Drama is a fantastic creative outlet. Have them choose a scene from the video, memorize a (simplified) dialogue and deliver their performance to their classmates. Since everybody has a smartphone in their pocket anyway, you could even make a movie if your students aren’t shy.

Too many teachers believe that video lessons are only for those days when we’re too burnt out to teach any more. But if you structure your lessons into pre-, while- and post-watching tasks, you and students are sure to gain from a video lesson.

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