Language teaching media. We all use it.
But what does it mean, really?
In its simplest form, the term “instructional media” refers to any physical materials that an instructor uses to facilitate learning. As such, media encompasses everything from your chalkboard to your classroom blog.
If you grew up in the 1970s, media in the classroom also meant filmstrips shown on an old-fashioned projector. In the 1980s, it was VHS tapes.
But today, the sheer volume of options available to us for media in language teaching is just plain dizzying.
It seems that each new day brings another great new trend to explore. Is it worth our time to add new media to our toolbox every time we find it? Or are there times when the old-fashioned media that we’ve always relied on may be best?
Well, yes… and yes. There are innovative digital media tools out there that can add new dimensions to your teaching. But there are also tried-and-true media tools you might not be taking full advantage of already.
We’ve done some of the work for you in exploring the vast and varied world of language teaching media. We’ll show you six media resources that hit a wide range of language teaching goals.
How the Right Teaching Media Boosts Language Learning
- Media can connect students to an authentic audience. If students never get to actually use their language skills, they can quickly lose their motivation to learn. Language media like authentic videos or audio apps can open up an audience of native speakers with whom they can communicate.
This experience gives much more credibility to the value of language learning than relying solely on the somewhat artificial conversations that take place in a classroom.
- Media makes content more visual. A whopping 65 percent of your students are visual learners, according to research. That means that the majority of your students need images, graphs, videos and charts to learn.
- It opens access to authentic materials. Even those old-fashioned VHS tapes gave us access to target language movies and TV shows that we couldn’t find anywhere else. Students simply can’t get the authentic language exposure they need through their textbooks, or even just from you.
- Most students today are “digital natives.” You may think it’s labor-intensive to access technology in the classroom, but your students are perfectly at home with it. They can easily use their tablets and smartphones to access language media that we never imagined in the past.
- Today’s tools simplify collaboration. Gone are the days when media was only useful for watching a slideshow or a video. Now, it offers numerous platforms for students to collaborate successfully, in the classroom and outside of it, opening opportunities that we never dreamed of.
- Students can record and revise their pronunciation. Remember when students had to rely solely on their teachers for help with their pronunciation? Recording devices existed, but were too unwieldy to easily use in a classroom context. Now students have a vast array of devices and apps at their disposal to record and listen to themselves anytime, anywhere.
- Media helps personalize the learning experience. Students no longer need to rely on their classroom teacher as the gatekeeper of learning. Media allows them to seek out learning experiences based on their personal interests and learning style, giving them independence and ownership.
Ground Rules for Choosing the Right Language Media
But with so much media available, how do you decide what’ll work best in your classroom?
Before we give you some specific recommendations, here are some guidelines to consider when choosing the best language teaching media for your classroom.
- Select media that‘s a good fit for the topic or skill being taught. What’s your primary goal in using media? Do you want the students to improve their speaking? Or do you want them to learn something about the target culture? Choose media that supports what you want your students to know and to be able to do.
- Make sure it conforms to the ages of your students. That fun children’s video about shapes and colors may be perfect for your preschool or kindergarten students, but a high school class is likely to find the same video boring and even mildly insulting.
- Choose media that reflects your students’ needs and interests. Do your students love sports? Use images of a baseball diamond as a visual aid to explain a tough topic like verb conjugation. Do you have some students who struggle with reading? You can find books and magazines that give just the right scaffolding to help them build their reading skills.
- If you’re using new technology, give it a trial run. It’s hard to imagine anything less engaging for students than sitting around waiting while you try to load that video over a poor internet connection or figure out all the glitches with that awesome online game.
Do your trial and error ahead of time, before you’re demonstrating media to the class.
- Check for authenticity and linguistic accuracy. The internet seems like a limitless treasure trove of language media, but remember that it’s not always authentic or accurate. Check your sources as you’re lesson planning to make sure they’re reliable.
6 Media Tools for Powerful Language Teaching
Here are a few places where you can find language teaching media that can be adapted to a range of classrooms and learning styles.
Google Docs: Increase Student Engagement
Has this ever happened to you?
You ask a question and you really want to hear every student respond. Or, maybe you’re facilitating a discussion about literature or culture. Who do you hear from? The same few students, every time.
It’s easy to imagine that you could go for a whole year or a semester without once hearing from some of the quieter students if you’re not careful.
What about having students respond to your questions on a shared classroom Google Doc? Shy students have an opportunity to think about what they’re going to say ahead of time, and you get to see everyone’s responses.
All the students can see their classmates’ comments and revisions, so every voice is heard. No one is talking over anyone else.
Google Docs is also great for writing assignments. The “View Revision History” feature helps you hold students accountable for deadlines and the “Explore” tool makes it easy for students to find quality sources and cite them correctly.
Audacity: Boost Speaking and Listening Skills
This user-friendly app makes it easy for you to edit and share audio of all kinds, including TV and radio shows, music and native speaker interactions. You can even digitize any traditional audio you may have on tapes or records.
This makes teaching with authentic audio much smoother, since you can collect all your target language audio in one place and won’t be bouncing back and forth between different files and apps. You can also edit and cut audio sources to home in on a phrase you want to teach or demonstrate how native speakers pronounce a particular sound.
What’s great about this media tool is it’s not just about listening. Students can easily record themselves speaking to improve their pronunciation.
FluentU: Get More out of Authentic Videos
Yes, VHS tapes still exist… and if you have a VHS recording of a great target language TV show or interview, it may still be worth sharing. (Filmstrip projectors, though, are officially obsolete. Sorry about that.)
However, there are many authentic language videos to choose from that can expose your students to language and culture in a relevant and engaging way. And one of the best ways to access them is with an innovative tool called FluentU.
FluentU takes real-world videos, like movie trailers, news broadcasts, kids’ shows and more and transforms them into language learning experiences. Each video comes with interactive captions that students can click—they’ll get in-context definitions, visual learning aids and pronunciations for any word. That means they’ll be actively building their vocabulary while absorbing their target language the way natives use it.
As an educator, you’ll appreciate the fact that you can track student progress, design a curriculum, assign homework and more all from the FluentU platform. You can also cut down on lesson planning time, since engaging, effective videos are all picked out for you!
Basically, with FluentU you get all the benefits of old-school video media, plus digital tools to supercharge both learning and assessment.
Personal Response Systems: Assess Student Skills Rapidly
With personal response systems (also known as classroom response systems), students choose their responses to multiple-choice questions using handheld “clickers.” Their responses are automatically transmitted to the teacher’s database, making it quick and easy to gauge their level of knowledge or comprehension.
Personal response systems can be a great way to make assessment more fun and engaging for students, and less labor-intensive for you. As with Google Docs, this can also eliminate the problem of having the same few students answer all your questions.
You’ll find it’s easy to incorporate this tool into the language classroom. You can use it for a quick vocabulary quiz, to reinforce recently-learned conjugation rules or even to pose higher-order questions about themes in literature or history. Try it as a warm-up before class or for some prep before a big test.
Some personal response systems that might interest language educators include:
- Socrative: A sleek personal response system app for spontaneous questions or prepared quizzes.
- iClicker: Students can participate using their laptops, devices or dedicated iClicker remotes.
Print Maps: Make Learning Relevant
You might have a map up in your classroom, but are you using it to its full potential?
A map can give a visual dimension to the history and culture of the countries you want students to learn about. This will give more impact to a lesson on Moroccan culture in Spain or the role of French culture in early America and Canada.
Don’t hesitate to reference the map throughout your year, like when a certain region comes up in a book you’re reading or if you’re discussing accents from different areas. Simply giving context to your lessons in this way can make them feel more relevant to students.
On a more basic level, use maps as a visual aid to teach directional vocabulary or for travel role plays in which students practice asking directions to a certain restaurant or museum.
Mini Whiteboards: Support Student Agency
Don’t discount tried-and-true teaching tools like good old whiteboards! Giving each student a mini whiteboard (or chalkboard) to work with is a great way to let them sit in the driver’s seat.
There are countless ways you can take advantage of this instructional media. The key is to use mini whiteboards as a tool to support student agency—let them free write or draw, write answers to open-ended questions, pose their own questions, etc.
For example, you can divide the class into small groups for a game of Pictionary in which you give students a vocabulary word to draw on their whiteboards while their teammates try to guess what it is. Or you could have them pass one board around small groups, each writing one sentence to create a collaborative story.
You’ll not only shake up your classroom routine and boost engagement, but will also get them comfortable expressing themselves in the target language—which is the ultimate goal!
When it comes to incorporating language teaching media in your classroom, more isn’t necessarily better. But with the right kind of media, you can achieve great things.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach languages with real-world videos.