Teach ESL with Videos! 14 Vitalizing Video Activities Your Students Will Love

“Video lesson, that’s amazing—it’s time to kick back and relax.”

Or, at least, this is what many ESL students think when they spot the screen set up in class.

But as teachers, we know that videos are actually incredibly useful learning tools which can push students beyond their limitations, really engage them with the language and boost their learning speed.

Read on to learn how to harness the fun of video-based activities to jump-start your students’ learning!

Why Base ESL Activities on Videos?

  • Videos harness students’ interests. There’s a huge range of video material out there, covering every topic imaginable—from professional wrestling and pet ownership to artwork, politics and social issues. No matter what your students love to talk about, there’s a video that features something cool about it.
  • Videos make the lesson seem “real” and relevant to the world outside the classroom. Their power to keep students engaged and interested is a huge boon to the teacher. In videos, students see the target language in its natural setting, spoken by native speakers. Not only do they realize how relevant the language is to their lives, they can also master spoken phrases naturally.
  • They’re chill. In the guise of a “treat,” you can actually motivate your students to work harder than before, without them even knowing it!
  • The Web is a treasure trove of material, which is relevant, engaging and constantly updated. Remember your schooldays of using the same worn out French textbook passed down from your older cousin? Never again. With videos, your lessons can always be relevant, new and refreshing.

So you see, the question is not why, but how to use videos. Videos can be incorporated into all lesson types for multiple purposes. Read on for practical advice to get you started.

How to Use Videos to Teach English: A Few Starting Tips

Ready to get started? Here are some tips to keep in mind every time you pop on a video in class.

  • Vary the format, source, length and activity type from lesson to lesson. This keeps each video session fresh, unpredictable and fun.
  • Use appropriate-length videos. The length of the video should carefully correspond to the purpose of the task set. Sometimes a few seconds will suffice to arouse interest. For more extensive work, use longer videos. Don’t be afraid to cut the video to only the relevant portions, as your lesson will only seem more streamlined and carefully structured.
  • Watch twice. Most students, even at higher levels, feel more comfortable if they can watch twice. This prevents them feeling stressed or rushed and gives them a chance to actually enjoy the video.
  • Always make the reason for the video clear. I normally say something like “We’re going to watch a short, 4-minute clip and your task is to gather as much information about Helena’s journey as you can.” The point is, be clear. Your students have probably all experienced situations where they were dumped in front of a video to fill in time at the end of term or because the teacher hadn’t planned ahead. By having carefully-timed videos and tailored activities laid out beforehand, you’ll show your students this is for real.
  • Either make use of the online bounty or think up your own activities and materials for video-based lesson plans. The latter prevents the possibility of repetition and gives you a personal link to the resources.

Are you convinced yet? Great. Because I’m going to introduce you to four types of activities which will enable you to utilize video learning to the max.

The 4 Top Types of Video Activities for ESL Students in Any Class

1. Intro Activities

Recommended Video Length: Up to 30 seconds

Clips are a great way to kickstart a lesson quickly and effectively. Here are a few of my favorite activities, even though you’ll almost certainly discover your own.

1. “Clip start!” — Show a short clip and get the students to guess what happens next.

2. “Guess what?” — Students guess what the lesson will be about from the clip.

3. “Sound down” — Show a clip with no sound and have the students provide the voice-over.

For example, during a science lesson on predators, I used the first 30 seconds of a coywolf documentary and had the students find four adjectives used to describe these animals. For lower classes, you can give them the first letters of the words they need to find.

(Note: Often you’ll only be using clips or parts of videos. It is, therefore, vital to keep paying attention once you start the clip. Nothing exposes a dozy teacher better than when the students have to point out that the relevant scene has ended!)

Resource Tip: Search YouTube and FluentU to find suitable clips for any topic area.

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

2. Discussion- and Language-based Activities

Videos also work as the core of a lesson, providing the material for further learning.

Recommended Video Length: 5-7 minutes

1. “Question time!” — Before the video starts, give about five questions relating to the content of the video, so that students must seek the answers as they watch.

2. “5 out of ten” — Find a video which follows the classic format of “10 ways to………” or “10 things to………”. Watch half and get students to guess the other five. Alternatively, you can give them all the headings and get them to make up the content before watching.

3. “Find that fact” — Set specific questions for the students to answer, based on info from the video. For example, “Which natural phenomena can contribute to sinking a city?”

4. “Mindmap it” — Have students create a visual mindmap of the video and tell it back to their partner afterward in as much detail as possible.

5. “Follow It Up” — Follow up the video with language work and activities using related idioms. For example, after playing a video related to criminality, I then went on to practice these crime idioms.

Resource Tip: FluentU has a great range of videos for this type of work. “The School of Life” is also a great resource.

3. Research-based Activities

Videos can also provide the material for students’ creative work:

Recommended Video Length: 10-30 minutes, or given as a homework assignment

1. “Report forward” — Students watch a video and use the information contained to create a presentation on what they’ve learned. For example, students watch a complicated scientific or technical video and then present it in a way that their peers can understand.

2. “Inspire yourself!” — Students watch a type of video and replicate the style. For example, give them a tourist information video for Paris and get them to create a similar presentation about their own town.

Resource Tip: FluentU and TED Talks provide an amazing array of fascinating factual videos on all topics.

4. Skills Activities

Recommended Video Length: 5-30+ minutes, depending on how much video content is required for the assigned activity

These video activities provide a visual model for students to emulate:

1. “Presentation skills” — Show a video on how not to give a presentation. Have your students watch and act out positive behavior.

2. “Summary skills” — Students summarize the video as a news report using appropriate language.

3. “Role play time” — Show practical videos such as “How to behave in a restaurant.” These form a sound basis for a rich range of role plays after.

4. “Think outside the box” — Critical thinking skills. Watch a news report and analyze it in terms of accuracy and believability.

Resource Tip: FluentU and the British Council “how to” videos are wonderful for role plays.


There’s no doubt about it. Videos are an incredible tool for teaching.

But don’t take my word for it! Try incorporating these ideas into your classes today and see how this learning “treat” will help your students learn faster, better and more happily.

Is everyone sitting comfortably? Then let the learning begin.

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