13 Inventive Methods for Teaching Languages with FluentU
Classrooms come in all shapes and sizes.
The sheer diversity is staggering—I mean, my own language teaching experience took place in New York City and a small village in the Amazon, so I get that not every method works for every situation.
For all I know, you could be teaching in a rural community’s one-room schoolhouse, an urban prep school or a virtual classroom based on your laptop.
You’ll need to employ different language teaching methods depending on whether you’re working with 1, 5, 30 or even 100 students.
Beyond that, you’ll need different methods for students with different learning styles, interests, goals, native languages, ages and cultural backgrounds.
Oh, and you’ll need to choose methods that you can actually pull off, given your training, personality and goals for your students.
That’s a lot to consider, right?
Well, I’ve got a pretty great solution—a language teaching resource that is as close to one-size-fits-all as you can get when it comes to this unpredictable profession: It’s FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
Why Use FluentU to Teach Foreign Languages?
- The video and audio content spans all skill levels and interests. We’ve got learning material for every level ranging from Newbie to Native, and the thematic categories cover arts and entertainment, politics, culture, music and more. Kids will love seeing clips from their favorite animated movies and cartoons. Adults will love watching actual speakers of their target language interacting and speaking naturally.
- People love it. As I more or less just indicated above, FluentU video and audio materials are bound to get a positive reaction from your students. The idea of watching a clip that goes behind the scenes of “The Avengers” makes homework sound like something worth doing.
- You can put the learning in your students’ hands. Once your students have signed up for FluentU, they’ll have the whole library and the associated Learn Mode activities at their disposal. Unsurprisingly, you may well find that students are watching extra videos and plowing through unassigned Learn Mode activities in their free time. This encourages students to love learning and constantly seek more opportunities to practice language.
- Downloadable content is great for off-the-grid teachers. When teaching English for a brief stint in the Amazon, there was absolutely no way I was going to have access to wireless or 3G services. I would have balked at the idea of using an Internet-based program while hiking miles up a muddy road after my 45-minute bus ride. While you can’t download the videos or play them without Internet service (they’re all YouTube based, after all), you will be able to download all of FluentU’s audio content, Learn Mode activities and PDF transcripts of every video.
So, how exactly can you teach foreign languages with FluentU?
13 Inventive Methods for Teaching Languages with FluentU
1. Hook your computer up to a projector.
Hopefully you have a projector that you can use at your school! If you don’t have one in your classroom already, ask your fellow teachers how to get hold of one. Usually the computer lab, A/V room or library has one that can be signed out by teachers.
Projecting FluentU videos in the classroom makes FluentU a fun, inclusive classroom activity. Once you’ve got FluentU on the big screen, here are few more specific teaching methods you might try:
- Give students a walkthrough. Watch a video clip with your students and pause to explain things along the way. Stop whenever someone looks confused or raises their hand to ask a question. After that first play though, play the video once more without stopping. Ask your students some key comprehension questions to see if they understood everything.
- Hand out a fill-in-the-blank activity. This will encourage students to listen carefully to what’s being said and do their best to understand important pieces of their new language. Making one of these handouts is super simple with FluentU, because you are able to download and print out the transcripts of video and audio clips with the click or tap of a button. All you have to do is download the content and then modify the text to remove (or black out) those key parts of speech.
- Start a discussion or debate. FluentU video clips taken from news shows, interviews, politically-oriented clips and documentaries work best for this. Have students take notes while watching a video and then break them up into two teams. Give each team a statement about the video—one on the pro side, the other on the con side—and set up a debate. You could either have them try to discuss the issue on the spot, in the same class period, or let them do some additional research after class and prepare themselves to debate during your next class period.
2. Make one video the focal point of class each day.
Each video has tons of content (even Newbie videos may contain upwards of 20 new vocabulary words). Watch the video a few times through with your class and then go through the Learn Mode activities together.
Have students take turns guessing the answers or answer in unison. You can then have everyone work on the Learn Mode component of the video at home.
3. Have all your students sign up.
In order to have students learning with FluentU videos and activities at home, you’ll need to have them sign up for student accounts connected to your teacher account. Luckily, getting everyone started on this is a simple process.
Students don’t even need an email to sign up for FluentU. Once they’ve all signed up, they’ll have access to the FluentU courses you’ve designed. You’ll be able to keep track of each individual student’s progress, see your students’ weaknesses and strengths, and see how much progress the class has made as a whole.
Take a look at this guide to getting started with FluentU to get a more in-depth walkthrough that will help you get everyone set up.
4. Have a “Gadget Day” in class.
If students have and are allowed to carry their technological gadget with them in your school, then have students break out their smartphones, tablets and laptops one day.
Let your students know in advance that this is the game plan, so they come prepared. If available, reserve laptops or tablets from your school library for the students who don’t have their own gadgets.
After your first “Gadget Day,” you can evaluate how many of your students have their own devices that they can use to practice with FluentU. If everyone has one, or if enough students are technologically equipped that you can have everyone break into pairs and share devices, then make “Gadget Day” a more regular occurrence.
I’d recommend making “Gadget Day” a special, fun class day that they can look forward to once a month after successfully completing a big project or exam.
5. Use the most entertaining videos as rewards.
Students will look forward to the days when FluentU makes an appearance in your classroom.
Let your students know at the beginning of class that, if they behave well (depending on the age and level of unruliness of your students) or reach a certain goal in class, they will get to watch a movie clip, cartoon or music video.
At the end of class, take those last few minutes to play the clip and let them enjoy! Since it’s a reward, allow them to watch casually and think they aren’t learning anything—then revisit the key language topics in the video during your next class period.
6. Bolster your lessons with grammar-oriented videos.
There are many pre-made playlists for each language that combine 3-5 videos on an important, fundamental grammar topic. For example, there’s a Spanish playlist for common stem-changing verbs and a Chinese playlist for the four tones. These permit you and your students to linger on one key lesson for a longer time.
While teaching beginner or intermediate students, you will most certainly find these playlists useful for introducing and reinforcing some essential grammar topics that you’ll inevitably cover, like verb tenses, possessives and so on.
While teaching more advanced students, you can use these to refresh lessons they’ve covered in previous language courses, or to brush up on problem areas.
7. Keep track of your students’ progress
FluentU teacher accounts allow users to keep track of their students individually and as a group.
You’ll be able to see who has completed which videos and Learn Mode assignments, as well as what percentage of each they completed. You’ll be able to see which questions they’re getting wrong and right, and investigate if there are patterns in what’s more challenging for them. This puts you in a great position to revisit tricky topics.
This also means that you can assign FluentU for homework without a worry in the world, knowing that you don’t have to operate on the “honor code.” Nobody can get away with not doing their homework.
Even better, FluentU does that pesky grading work for you!
8. Give your students homework.
FluentU is ideal for homework.
It has the power to eliminate a huge part of your most time-consuming class planning routine. Just say “goodbye” to all those late nights spent creating and printing out handouts, or to the nights spent grading them.
You’ll find this program exceptionally convenient for homework—and your students will too. If everyone has the ability to access FluentU at home (on any computer, tablet or iPhone), then using the program is perhaps the best way to keep students learning every single day.
You could task students with the following assignments, depending on how much practice you want them doing every night:
- Assign one video to watch, and its accompanying Learn Mode assignment.
- Assign one video to watch, and assign the Learn Mode assignment for the following night.
- Assign one segment of each video’s Learn Mode activity each night (there are three segments to each Learn Mode activity, and they can get somewhat long and difficult in the more complex videos).
Encouraging students to use FluentU every day is a great way to keep their language skills sharp. This is extremely valuable for classes where students need to pour in hours of study every night, such as fast-paced, intensive courses or ones ending in a big exam (like the JLPT or TOEFL).
9. Give your students a take-home quiz.
Since their work will be graded, you can actually apply the grades they get from FluentU as homework grades, participation grades, extra credit or even quiz and test grades.
When you assign a video’s Learn Mode activity as a take-home quiz, make sure that you’re assigning a video that they are extremely familiar with already, such as one that you’ve viewed in class numerous times.
You might also want to weigh this quiz a little less than other in-class quizzes, and then instruct students to watch the video at home as many times as they need to in order to prepare. Students should take notes while watching to help them with Learn Mode.
10. Encourage students to roam freely.
The best part of FluentU is the diversity of videos. Give students the freedom to watch at will, and you may be surprised at the level of enthusiasm they have for their classroom and homework assignments.
Students might be under the impression that they should only use FluentU when something specific is assigned to them. So, make sure you encourage them to use it whenever they have a spare moment or are looking for some entertainment!
They should feel free to explore the videos of different levels and topics. If they find something really cool, invite them to share it with you and the class.
11. Have students give presentations on their favorite videos.
There’s most definitely something for every student on the site, videos that will really grab their attention and appeal to an interest they’re passionate about.
Take advantage of this!
Have your students click around until they find a video that they really enjoy watching, and then have them give a quick, 1-minute presentation in class on what they learned from the video. You might want to arrange desks in a circle and do this “show and tell” style.
12. Assign writing projects using FluentU video vocabulary.
Every video comes with a word list that can be viewed easily. Have them choose their own video, or assign them to work with a video you’ve covered in class activities or homework, and then challenge your students to write an essay incorporating a certain quantity of the word list’s highlighted vocabulary.
You could also have students do the same thing with their personal word lists that have been built around their viewing activity. This will include all the words they’ve encountered and manually added along the way. What better way to review vocabulary?
13. “Tell me about Americans.”
What cultural, social and political knowledge can be extracted from FluentU videos?
Since they’re all authentic videos created in the foreign language you’re teaching, made by native speakers for native speakers, you’ll find that there are many lessons to be taught aside from linguistic ones.
Instead of Americans, you could replace this nationality with that of a country where the language you’re teaching is spoken. If you’re teaching Spanish, try “Tell me about Ecuadorians” and have them watch one of the many videos from Ecuador.
It’s amazing the kind of cultural snapshots you can get from brief clips. Afterwards, assign a more in-depth writing assignment where they explore these ideas further and do some outside research.
Well, these are all the main teaching methods I’d recommend to get you and your students off the ground with this great learning tool (for now).
Please let us know on Twitter or Facebook if you have any thoughts or questions about using FluentU in your classroom along the way—or if you come up with some awesome new ways to use it in class.
We’d love to hear your feedback after you’ve given some of our classroom features a try.
Now, get out there and let the fun begin!