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Teaching Ideas

October 06, 2002

Using Video in the ELT Classroom

Andy Hoodith

Saitama University

A brief history...
Compared with other teaching tools: audio tapes, textbooks, and the basic blackboard, video is a relatively new option for the language teacher. The technology became affordable only in the late 1970s, and it was several years before video materials designed specifically for language learning were developed. In the twenty years or so since then, video has become an even more widely available teaching aid, although its penetration into everyday classroom practice and course/syllabus design hasn't been as deep as many had anticipated. The development of video materials for ELT use can be seen as having gone through three main stages.

Stage One
The first was the direct adaptation of existing methodologies to incorporate the new technology. The 1960s and 70s had seen the emergence of the functional/notional approach to describing and teaching language, and this had begun to replace transformational grammar as the main underlying principle behind materials and course design. This was soon reflected in video material, most noticeably with the appositely titled "Video English", a series of videos which took the main functions of the English language (such as greetings and introductions, asking for and giving information, etc.), and developed short sketches around them.

The video was accompanied by teaching notes, classroom activities, and transcripts, and although this additional material wasn't particularly well-presented, the suggestions for teachers and the additional language material were very useful.

Stage Two
The next stage in the development of ELT video materials involved courses based around a story told in episodic form. Whereas materials such as Video English aimed to provide a video resource which could be used as needed for a wide range of levels; an off-the-shelf resource which could be easily intergrated into any course, the story-based videos demanded a more long-term commitment and were aimed at particular levels of students. In most examples, such "A Weekend Away", and Robert O'Neill's "Lost Secret", the introduction of new language items was fairly strictly controlled.

This posed obvious difficulties regarding the need to structure the language effectively for learning purposes while retaining a sufficient degree of realism in the dialogue. The two examples cited above achieved this to a commendable degree, though other courses failed to produce the appropriate blend.

Stage Three
The third development was the adaptation of authentic TV and video material for language teaching. Two examples are the BBC's "Television English" series, in which excerpts from (mainly non-dramatic) UK broadcast TV programs were the focal point for well-written language learning activities, and the development by Sony of teaching materials based on a limited number of major feature films.

In addition to these three main strands of development, there have been variations in content or theme, with the needs of English for Specific Purposes being addressed with "Business English" and "Tourist English" videos, as well as courses aimed at children using cartoons, one of the best of which being "Muzzy in Gondoland".

Because the video courses written specifically for ELT are usually accompanied by fairly detailed teacher guidelines, the remainder of this discussion will focus on general techniques for using video materials. These techniques can be applied to specially written or authentic video materials, and aim to introduce a greater degree of variety into classroom practice and to create a more productive interaction between the learners and material.

It should be stressed that these techniques are far from new, and the following is simply a brief overview of some of the methodological alternatives available.

Moving from the development of support and supplementary materials to the mechanics of using video, there are several ways in which the information transmitted can be broken down and re-assembled to good effect. One such technique is silent viewing. The students view a sequence, for example of a couple checking into a hotel or ordering a meal in a restaurant, and them attempt to generate an appropriate dialogue for the scene. The actual dialogue can then be used as a model from which to adapt the students' efforts.

Alternatively, if the students have already heard the dialogue, they can use the silent re-viewing to reproduce the conversation. The reverse technique is to play the sound only, and have students discuss what the scene might look like. The teacher may also make good use of the freeze-frame option, particularly if the material is proving to be difficult, to check comprehension and to answer unanticipated questions. In some viewings, particularly "reviews" of the video after the pre-planned activities have been done; students should be encouraged to indicate if they want a pause in the viewing to pick up on points of confusion or general interest. This goes some way to lessening the degree of teacher-centredness (produced by the fact that the teacher has the controller!).

The activities described in the lesson plan below can be divided into three areas: pre-viewing, viewing, and post-viewing activities

AIMS: To introduce various techniques that will help student comprehension when watching English programs on TV or video.

MATERIALS: A current news broadcast



Tell the students that later they will watch a recent news broadcast. Ask them to discuss in pairs or groups what some of the news items will be. Once they have generated some ideas, get them to put them in the order in which they think they will be presented.

(if class size permits)

Construct a table on the blackboard showing the students' choices. If any of the items seem unlikely to be included in the actual broadcast (too domestic/too specialized, etc.) you may wish to ask students to further justify them – alternatively this could be left until they've seen the broadcast. Distribute a worksheet on which the students can put the news items in order and make notes on them.

- First Viewing

For the first viewing, tell the students that their main aim is to identify the general topic of each item and to note these down in the order in which they are presented.

- Checking

Students check their responses in pairs or small groups. Following this, elicit the news items from the class and put them on the blackboard, leaving spaces if the class didn't get them all.

- Second Viewing

Show the broadcast again, and ask students to make more detailed notes on each item. In order to better facilitate this, pause the video after each item.

- Checking

Students check the information they noted down with their partner or group.


Below are some possible follow-up activities. Which of them you choose will depend on the needs and abilities of the particular class involved.

Review & Check:

Students re-view the broadcast and answer general comprehension questions


Focus on one of the news items in detail. Re-view it, highlight key vocabulary. Discuss the particular topic, perhaps with the aid of a related newspaper story.


Have students discuss the selection and ordering of the news items. Do they agree with the choices? How similar are the items to those in the last news program they watched? Which items are "one-off" stories and which are likely to be continued in subsequent news broadcasts?


Finally, in preparing materials and activities such as the ones described above, care should be taken in the selection of the video material, in particular regarding the areas of length and content. A five-minute sequence from a movie is likely to contain more than enough language for the students to cope with, and so it is better to expose students to several short sequences, each followed by activities which practice and recycle the target language, than to show a half-hour sequence and then give students exercises which rely more on memory than understanding.

Regarding content, and as with choosing teaching materials of any kind, the needs and proficiency of the students is of paramount importance. It is possible to take scene from a movie such as Pulp Fiction, and through a battery of activities and lots of repetition, have a class of intermediate students more or less completely understand it. However, the benefits of this are questionable: understanding a particular scene won't help them significantly to understand the movie as a whole, and the dense, idiomatic language of that movie won't provide them with much language they can easily use outside the classroom.

On the other hand, for a very advanced class, Pulp Fiction may provide a fertile source, not only of contemporary American language, but also of cultural issues which could be used for class discussion.

Andy Hoodith
Andy Hoodith is an author and works at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies. He is also a life-long supporter of Manchester City Football Club.

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