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Using DVD and Video in Your ESL Class - Part One

By Keith Taylor

Have you ever wondered how to use movies in your ESL classes, without just sitting your students down in front of the screen, hitting 'Play' and sitting back to watch?

Here are a few ideas to get you started, using very short movie extracts to present and practise new language and develop communicative skills.

1 No picture

Choose a short extract (2 or 3 minutes) with plenty of sound effects. Play it with the screen covered or turned away from the students, and ask them to write down what they hear. If two of the sound effects are birds singing and a baby crying, you could use the extract to present or practice any of these language points (and I'm sure you can think of more):

Some birds are singing / A baby is crying

Some birds were singing / A baby was crying

It must / might / can't be birds singing or It must / might / can't have been birds singing

I heard some birds singing / I heard a baby crying

After playing the extract, have students compare what they heard in pairs, and then elicit the language from them. Remember to show the extract with both picture and sound at the end of the activity to satisfy the students' curiosity!

2 No sound

Here's the opposite idea. Show a short extract (again, 2 or 3 minutes is enough) with a lot going on, or where the characters convey a lot of emotion in their expressions, but play it with the volume off. Students can then do one of the activities below without having to worry about understanding dialogue:

Describe what happened using narrative tenses

Describe the scene

Anticipate dialogue or reactions

Arrange a cut up dialogue which you have given them.

Finally, play the extract again with sound. Having done one of these tasks, your students will be able to fit what they hear into a context much more effectively than if they had viewed the extract initially with picture and sound.

3 Jigsaw viewing

You may have done jigsaw reading activities in your class, where students have half the information, and share what they have read with another student to recreate the whole story. You can also do this with short video sequences in a number of ways:

Half the class watches with no picture, then the other half with no sound (you'll have to take half the students out of the class in each case). In pairs they then question each other to recreate the scene.

Half the class have picture and sound, the other half just have sound. You can do this by sitting students in two rows, back to back, so that only one row can see the screen. The half who only had sound then question the other half.

One student listens with headphones, while all the others view without sound. The student with headphones questions the others to recreate the scene.

4 Viewing on rewind

Choose a short sequence with a lot of action. For example, a woman enters an apartment, picks up the telephone, listens, looks terrified, runs out of her apartment and down the stairs, and runs off down the street. Movies are, of course, a great source for this sort of material. Play the scene backwards to the students (DVD gives more flexibility than video with the speed of playback) then have them reconstruct the story in chronological order, using narrative tenses, or future tenses, or whatever you want the linguistic focus to be. Finally, play the sequence normally so students can compare it with their version.

5 Pause / Freeze Frame

If you use pictures in your classroom for introducing new vocabulary, or for describing people and scenes, you can add a new dimension to this with the pause/freeze frame button of your video or DVD player. Hit pause when a character has an interesting expression on his or her face, is about to react to something or answer a question, or when there is a lot of colourful new vocabulary on the screen. Have students describe the character/scene, or anticipate what the character will say or do next. Release the pause button to allow students to compare their ideas with what actually happens.

Video is a motivating and effective way to bring variety to your ESL classes. Using short, sharp sequences with a clear linguistic focus, your students will go away from your class with much more than if you sit them down in front of the screen and hit 'play'.

About The Author

Keith Taylor is the founder of eslbase,, providing free resources, information and advice for TEFL teachers, as well as a directory of TEFL courses and TEFL jobs worldwide. He also maintains the eslbase language exchange,, an easy way to learn any language.


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