Using Videos in the ESL Classroom: Flop or Success?



Showing movies / TV-shows / videos in the classroom is always tricky. 

Generally, and very plainly speaking, there are three possibilities: 

1. You're the loser teacher who can't be arsed to prepare his/her classes so you just show a movie or an episode of your favourite TV-show... After all, you get an hour of silence since your students are occupied with what's happening on the screen. To keep them happy you also show subtitles (kudos if you have the decency to choose English-only, shame on you if you choose their native language). The downside of that is, however, the lesson is pretty one-sided, there is no real communication between you and students. They don't need a teacher to watch a movie with them, they can do that alone in their free time, something many students already do anyways. 

2. Your intentions are good but you pick a movie or TV-show with little educational value and therefore your class ends up being pretty boring and not very useful. Generally speaking, movies and/or TV-shows that contain a lot of slang aren't valueable to the students' progess and neither is material that features a wide range of topics such as violence, drug abuse, sex and alcohol.

3. You get lucky and you pick the right material. 

The third option is what's happened to me and I'd therefore like to share some details about my PLANET EARTH class. 




When I decided to turn the BBC series Planet Earth Series I and II, as well as several BBC Natural World episodes, into a fun class about geography and the animal kingdom I was initially worried about length, level, difficulty and/or the possibility of boring the students, but I decided to be bold and give the class a try. My students' geographical knowledge was atrocious, and while having a map in the classroom did help them, they still knew precious little about the different continents, oceans, jungles and deserts. I decided that had to change and since each episode features either a specific part of the world, a particular type of habitat (e.g. jungle, desert, fresh water, etc.) or a particular animal on a certain continent the students can actually learn a lot from the series. Each episode is about an hour long I generally split it into three or four parts (between 15-20 minutes long) and compliment each part with questions which are both content-based (students answer based on what happens in the video) and listening-based (students listen and complete a gap fill). 

At first we watch part of the episode and I tend to occasionally stop the video to point out a word in the subtitles, a place, an action or anything that might be of interest to the students. You learn to judge what things the students need more information with and what they'll naturally pick up from the context. Sometimes I just make a joke and we continue on.

Then, after having watched part of the episode I stop the video, hand out the questions and we go through them one by one. I call the students attention to some words and tricky questions. Once they have their handout (see below for a sample picture) and we have checked each question, I play them the same part of the video again and they go about answering all the questions. Finally we go through the questions and verify the answers to make sure everyone has the correct answers on their sheet. If I feel the topic of the video is rather complex I might supplement the class with a dictionary-like handout which includes key words and their Chinese translation. I do this to avoid confusion or distract the student from the overall message of the video and the students find it helpful. They know that they aren't required to learn and/or remember all these words.

All in all, it's a perfect class, I always have a packed room and the students thoroughly enough themselves while learning more about conservation, animal protection, various continents, countries and living environments.