Keeping the screenagers happy

Ben Goldstein

Ben Goldstein is a teacher, teacher trainer, materials writer and international conference speaker. He has co-authored the secondary course book series Eyes Open and the adult series English Unlimited and Evolve. In this article, he talks us through a fun, modern way to engage screenagers in those tricky teenage years… get them making video content!

Making a video is a part of everyday life for today’s teens and increasingly a part of the modern classroom experience, thus increasing learner engagement. These developments have, of course, been enhanced by the digital medium, with video becoming easier to access, produce and share – particularly via our smartphones.

If students are given the chance to contribute their own video, then they will clearly be more engaged in the learning process. This article outlines some simple ideas that you can use with your students to help them create their own videos. This practical advice will hopefully harness students’ enthusiasm for creating video and provide them with key guidelines both before and after filming. There are three key stages for creating video with your learners:

1: analysing model video clips

Generally speaking, it is a good idea to choose genres which students can replicate themselves easily. For example, vlogs of all kinds are a good choice because they usually just consist of face-to-face camera footage. Within the vlog category, it’s a good idea to think of other genres which teens like to make such as “how to” videos, react videos, tours, video game walkthroughs, music videos and so on. Within each genre, it’s also sensible to choose a range of different subject matter. For example, in the case of “how to” clips you could show recipes, make-up tips or “how to” videos on any other topics that you think students will be interested in.

When you show model clips it’s a good idea to focus on the structure of the video and not just the language or content. For example, students can tick whether the following elements appear in the model video or not: narration (you can’t see the person speaking), face-to-face camera shots, captions (words on the screen), stills (photos), musical soundtrack, titles and credits (names of the people who made the video).

Another more sophisticated approach is to get students to think of generic features of certain videos. In other words, which elements do “how to” videos include? For example, instructions are often numbered and given using imperatives, the finished product is shown at the end, etc.

2: preparing to film

If students are going to make a video together they need to establish certain things before filming. They need to know: the type of video (e.g. “how to”, the topic (e.g. a recipe), features to include (e.g. music, captions etc.) and things to mention in the clip (if the recipe is easy or difficult, the time it takes, extra tips, etc.).

Then they need to work out the kinds of roles each person in their group is going to have in the making of the video. There are up to six possible roles: scriptwriter, director, actor and / or narrator, camera person, video editor and researcher. Understanding the strengths of each group member here is an important concern in the collaborative process.

Then students need to discuss the technical process, which apps or software will be used for filming and editing, where will the video be stored, what extra material is needed and where can it be obtained (e.g. props)?

Finally, before filming, students need to be familiar with storyboarding. They need to establish the topic or what happens in each scene and roughly how long this scene takes. A thumbnail sketch can help a lot in visualising the scene.

3: reporting back after filming

In order for the video clip to be generative language-wise in class, a number of feedback style tasks can be designed after the video has been made. The video can be shown in class and the students discuss its content (for example, in the case of the “how to” clip, would all students include the same information?). Alternatively, students can be asked to summarise the video or present it in class. In the presentation, they can explain their choices regarding the topic or the style of the video.

Students could also evaluate their own videos and those of others. To do this, they could answer some of the following questions: What was your role in the filming? Did you enjoy it? Why / Why not? Which part was the most fun? What was the easiest and most difficult thing about making the video – e.g. the English, a technical or logistical aspect? Was there something you liked most about the final product? What, if anything, would you do differently next time?

The two initial stages – analysing model videos and preparing to film – should make the film making process a lot easier for students, especially if this is done in groups. The final reporting back / feedback stage then means that you can make the most of it in class from the language point of view.

If this has inspired your future lessons and you’d like some more advice about working with secondary students, you’re likely to find Herbert Puchta’s article on ‘Helping teens become their own life coaches‘ useful.

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