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Six reasons to use video in the ELT classroom

Lewis Lansford

In the first of a short series of posts, Unlock author Lewis Lansford looks at why we should be using video in the ELT classroom.

1. Video speaks to Generation V

Skype was released in 2003 and YouTube followed in 2005. The iPad was unveiled in 2010. Internet usage has increased from 16% of the world’s population in 2005 to about 40% today (nearly 80% in developed countries). My own kids – aged 8 and 10 – routinely communicate with their grandparents via video chat. For Generation V (the V stands for ‘video’, in case you hadn’t guessed), video isn’t just a passive form of entertainment, it’s also the mode of delivery for interactive communication, and for information accessed on a daily basis. Our students are accustomed to using video, and we teachers can use that to our advantage.

2. Video brings the outside world into the classroom

We now have more access than ever to video. Newscasts, advertisements, comedy routines, documentaries, dramas, and even academic lectures are available on DVD, via the internet, or even as student-produced projects. Most of what’s out there wasn’t originally produced as teaching material, which means it serves an authentic real-world communicative purpose. Some materials, for example the Discovery Channel documentary videos that accompany Cambridge University Press’s new Unlock series, are authentic materials adapted for language teaching. This is the best of both worlds: authentic subject matter not originally produced as ELT material, but later adapted to be pedagogically sound through grading.

3. Video engages learners

Some teachers feel that watching a video is entertainment rather than education. However, if we think of a video as a text – a source of information – and we create a lesson around it that helps learners develop language, then we can use video to capture and hold learners’ attention, while at the same time teaching them. Most of us wouldn’t give our learners any sort of text to read without offering support for language learning. When we offer the same support with video, the result will be effective, enjoyable lessons. (In future posts, I’ll explore ideas for exactly what to do with video in the classroom.)

4. Video is a great source of information

English learners – especially students of English for academic purposes – often need to carry out research for projects. Film and video (documentaries in particular) can be excellent sources of information. The visual input often helps clarify and support the language input, making research more effective.
It works at lower levels, too. In many cases, we can completely ignore the audio portion of a video and still be left with a great source of visual information. This is especially useful when we want to control the language level; we don’t need to grade the input, but instead can grade the language activities we provide.

5. Video provides stimulus for classroom activities

Academic skills such as summarising, paraphrasing, and giving an opinion are often linked with reading as a source of input. However, as I mentioned earlier, a video is also an information-rich ‘text’ that can provide students with the ideas and concepts that they must learn to manipulate successfully. Many teachers successfully use video in the ‘flipped’ classroom, where learners are given input (for example a YouTube video) outside of the classroom to feed into output, which can be done during class time.

Video can also provide a good reference point for critical thinking: for example, in considering advertisements, learners can develop the skills of considering motivation, whether or not supporting details are valid, and so on.

6.Video provides a good model for learner output

After we’ve thoroughly exploited a video as a language input, we can then use it as a model for learner output. Many teachers have had great success with student-produced newscasts, interviews, documentaries, and so on. Having seen the model on video, learners can then produce their own version of the original. In situations where learners have access to video cameras (often on their own phones), the result can be an actual video. However, students can also perform ‘videos’ live in the classroom, focussing on the content rather than the medium.

If you think of video as something you can switch on to entertain students and give yourself a rest, then you’re missing a real opportunity. Video, like any stimulus you bring into the classroom, needs a teacher’s expert touch to turn it into a great lesson. In my next post, I’ll explore some ideas for exactly how to do that.

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