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23 ways to use video in your Junior English lessons (Part 1)

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It’s essential to keep students engaged and interested in lesson content – our Embassy Summer Academic Coordinator, Philip Warwick, has prepared an article on 23 ways that video can be integrated into your Junior English lessons. This is part one of three.

Obviously, video has been around since the days of clunky VHS cassettes and heavy TVs on trolleys and pre-dates the internet by decades, so it’s a medium that a lot of us English teachers have grown up with and something that we should feel comfortable using in the classroom. We know that Classroom listening is notoriously difficult for junior English learners and this is not really surprising considering that most classroom listening has a transactional rather than an interactional focus. Add to that the fact that 80% of communication is non-verbal and 75% of all western students are visual learners and you begin to see how demanding the traditional audio exercises can be, especially for junior English learners.

By using videos on your English programme for teens, you automatically add in a visual component and by providing a format that younger students associate with entertainment and relaxation you also have an interactional foundation from which to work.

Again whatever the added elements it is still useful to consider a video activity to be at heart a listening activity too, and as such it is advisable to follow the standard three stage format for this (e.g. a Pre-listening, a While-listening and a Post-listening task).

Certainly with today’s focus on Performance based curricula and examinations and with CEFR in mind it is important to make sure that the English learners’ listening skills are developed and not simply tested. Penny Ur (1984) suggests:

Listening exercises are most effective if they are constructed around a task. That is to say, the students are required to do something in response to what they hear that will demonstrate their understanding

Here are a few of the activities that I’ve used with videos over the years, generally during a junior summer English course add a little bit of variety to an intensive programme of study – how many have you tried?

  1.  In Character – Play a sequence that contains at least two different characters. Get the young students to choose one of the characters and write a sequence of events from the viewpoint of the character. Alternatively with a sequence rich in characterisation you can get the students to create a biography of one of the characters based on creativity and visual clues.
  1. Sex Change – Play a sequence between a man and a woman where some gender issues are important (e.g. husband and wife). Put the young students into pairs or small groups and get them to discuss how this sequence would be different if the roles were reversed (i.e. the dialogue was the same but the characters had changed sex so that this time the ´husband´ would be female and the ´wife´ male). Get them to think about clothes and certain verbal references that would need to be changed. Alternatively, you could choose an extract where weather was important and change the weather or where cultural inferences are important and then change the country.
  1. Sound and Pictures – Divide the class into groups. Position one group so that they are behind the TV and leave the other in front. Play a sequence, then regroup the class into pairs matching students who have only seen the sounds with those that have seen and heard. The students who have only heard the sequence have to guess what was seen and their partners tells them if they are right or not. Finally play the sequence through again but this time everybody can see the pictures.
  1. Translation – You need to have a monolingual class for this one. Cover the screen so that only the subtitles are showing (make sure that the subtitles are in the students’ language and the film is in English) . Play a bit of dialogue and get the students to translate it into English (to make this more demanding you should have the sound turned off). Students then compare answers and talk about what the extract is about – especially where it is taking place and who is talking. Put some of the ideas on the board and some of the phrases that students couldn´t agree on, then play the extract again but this time let the students see the pictures with English subtitles. Finally, discuss any discrepancies with the students.
  1. Strip Dialogues – Write out subtitles for the extract that you are going to show. Each utterance should be on a separate piece of paper. Hand out the subtitles to students in groups, who have to try and put them in order and predict the extract they came from. Finally, play the sequence for students to check.
  1. Word Grab – Similar to the previous activity, but this time the subtitles are laid out on the floor (one pile in front of each group of three or four students). Play the extract, as soon as a student hears one of the subtitles they have to pick it up before the rest of the group. (Obviously, with this activity you don´t need to write out the whole script, just part.)

Phil first started working at Embassy when there was just one school in Hastings, back in 1990 – during his time there he has worked in many roles, from teacher to head of vacation education to teacher trainer and then finally over to Embassy Summer, where he has Academic Coordinator for UK schools since 2007. 

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