A review of classroom activities enhancing the use of video materials in teaching speaking to EFL students

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №6 - 2014

Author: Yelakov Vladimir, Kazakh-American Free University, Kazakhstan

In order to use films and videos fully in classroom, EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teachers should integrate pre-viewing, viewing, and post-viewing activities into the lesson. The nature and length of these activities depend on the selected film / video, student needs, students’ ages, and instructional objectives. A teacher may choose to integrate all three activities in a given film / video lesson while planning only two for another lesson. Before presenting the video, the teacher should engage the learners’ interest in what they will be doing and prepare them to do it successfully. While learners view the video, the teacher should remain in the classroom with the learners to observe their reactions and see what they do not understand, what intrigues and what bothers them. After the viewing, the teacher should review and clarify complex points, encourage discussion, explain, and assign follow-up activities. It is also important to ensure the suitability, length, clarity, and completeness of the videotaped material. Tomalin (1991) believes that the ideal video clip tells a complete story or part of a story.

The activities presented below are, for the most part, standard communicative activities that have been adapted for the use with films and videos.

The primary purpose of pre-viewing activities is to prepare students for the actual viewing of a film / video. Because comprehension is partially determined by a student’s own background knowledge, an effective pedagogical strategy is to devise activities that access this knowledge. A previewing activity is meant to acquaint students with the material that they are going to view and facilitate easier and better comprehension thus achieving successful results in language teaching. Consequently, the teacher may design this activity to help students with their language skills. Indeed, it is obvious for both the teacher and students to work cooperatively, deliberately, and simultaneously with the intention to develop the four skills (i.e. listening, reading, writing, and speaking). The activities listed below should be viewed as possible suggestions for pre-viewing activities. Some of the activities naturally evolve out of certain films; the film / video itself, needs of the students, and the goals of the class session should be considered before deciding on a specific pre-viewing option.

Student Interviews / Polls. Students can interview or poll other class members about issues related to the film / video. Ideally, the question(s), generated by the instructor, should highlight an issue, concept, and / or problem that will surface in the film / video. The discussion that accompanies the interviews / polls helps prepare students for the content of the film / video, thereby aiding comprehension.

There are many variations for an interview / poll activity. Students can ask each other the same question(s), or students can be given separate questions. Students can record their findings so that once interviews / polls are completed, they can report findings to another student, a small group of students, or the entire class.

Problem Solving. Students can be given a problem that highlights issues from the film or video. In small groups, students can discuss and attempt to solve the problem, later reporting possible solutions to the class. For example, if students were to view a video about women’s roles in our society, the following questions could be provided to start a discussion for a problem-solving activity. Therefore, students discuss a particular woman’s problem in their group and come up with a list of suggestions for her.

a) Do you have any suggestions?

b) What do you think are some options for (the woman’s name)?

Discussion of the Film / Video Title. Students can examine the title of the film / video in order to hypothesize its content. This quick activity can be done as a class or in small groups, the latter allowing for more student participation.

Brainstorming Activities. The teacher can pose questions or elicit information that link students’ past experiences with the film / video. For instance, if the students are going to see a film that accompanies a unit on “Professions”, students could participate in the following activity: Individually, think of five professions that can be dangerous or have risks. Write down the risks of those professions. Then, in groups, compare and discuss lists. Choose the three most dangerous professions listed and substantiate your point of view. After that, students could be asked to interview three students from other groups about the three most dangerous jobs selected in their original group. For example, “Would you like to be a________? Why? Why not?”

Film Summary. Students can skim a written summary of the film / video for the main idea(s) and / or scan the summary for specific details. Teacher-generated questions help students locate the information for viewing comprehension. The teacher can also present a short lecture summarizing the main points of the film. To facilitate note-taking, a “skeleton” of the lecture notes can be distributed, with blanks for students to fill in missing information. Then the students can present their summaries verbally in groups or for the whole class. The next step in this activity is to see the film / video, thereafter the students choose the best speaker who presented the summary before the film. To terminate the given activity, the winner’s speech can be presented before the audience.

Information-Gap Exercises. After introducing students to the topics of the film / video, they can fill in a grid similar to the one below with the following discussion of the information they noted down.

Dictionary / Vocabulary Work. Students can be introduced to important words / phrases needed for better comprehension of the film or video through dictionary or vocabulary exercises. Some believe it is necessary to present vocabulary lists to students before screening time. Others believe that it is advantageous to introduce vocabulary items after the film / video has been shown, when there is a real need for the word / phrase. With this latter option, concepts are developed throughout the screening of the film, not necessarily by means of specific vocabulary; the visual stimulus contributes much to comprehension. Once students have been exposed to the content of the film, post-film activities will create a need for specific vocabulary words / phrases. Students, at that time, will be motivated to match a concept developed in the film to a vocabulary word / phrase. This word or phrase can, then, be introduced at that moment of “need”, by the teacher or another student in class. The teacher may want to vary these options at different times in the course.

The primary purpose of viewing activities is to facilitate the actual viewing of a film / video. More specifically, these activities help students deal with specific issues and focus on character or plot development at crucial junctures in the film / video. The activities listed below can be regarded as possible options to be used while showing a film / video.

Directed Listening. Students can be asked to listen for general information or specific details considered crucial for comprehension. Similarly, students can be asked to consider a particularly relevant question while viewing the film. This activity can be further transformed into discussion of what the students have found out by listening for general information and / or specific details.

Information Gathering. As in directed listening, students can be asked to gather pertinent information while viewing the film or video. For example, if students are studying a unit on “Energy Sources”, they could be asked to fill in the following grid and then discuss the information they have gathered:

Film Interruptions. The film can be interrupted in progress to clarify key points in the thematic development of the film. In addition, a film can be interrupted so that students discuss the content of the film up to that point or predict what will happen in the remaining portion(s) of the film. The latter exercise is especially effective in dramatic films / videos.

Second Screening. Films can be shown in their entirety a second time. However, the length of the film and the pre-viewing and post-viewing activities may make this option undesirable. It is important to keep in mind that if films / videos are primarily used as springboards for other classroom activities, it is not necessary for students to understand all aspects of the film / video. Second screening activity may also be used to focus students’ attention on some particular information that can be a source of the following discussion.

Post-viewing activities stimulate both written and verbal use of the target language, utilizing information and / or insights from the film / video. Because the entire class now has a shared experience, designing post-viewing activities that extract main ideas, concepts, and / or issues from the film / video is effective. Post-viewing activities can easily lend themselves to writing and / or speaking practice. Ideally, the two skills can be linked, allowing students to use the information from a speaking activity, for example, in a writing assignment.

In-Class Polls or Interviews. Students can interview classmates to find out reactions to the film or to explore issues raised in the film. Students can report findings verbally (either to the entire class or to a small group) and / or in a written essay.

Film Summaries. Students can work alone or in small groups to identify the main points of the film / video. Students can then summarize main issues raised in the film in a written and / or spoken form (Williams, 1982).

Alternative Endings. Especially with dramatic story-lines, students can work together to come up with an alternative ending and report it in an verbal and / or written activity.

Discussion. Film-related questions focusing on issues, personal experiences, and / or cultural observations can be raised to stimulate small group discussion. Similarly, students can examine problems central to the topic of the film / video; working together, students can share insights, propose solutions, and later report them in spoken and / or written form.

Comparisons. Students can compare what they knew about the film / video topic before the viewing with what they learned as a result of the viewing in the form of discussion.

Agree / Disagree / Unsure Activity. Students can react individually to a series of statements related to the film / video. For example, during a unit on “Media”, students can complete the following exercise:

Do you agree (A), disagree (D) with or are you unsure (U) about these statements?

1) Television is a wonderful educational tool.

2) Watching television is a waste of time.

3) Selective television watching is crucial.

4) People read less because of television.

After comparing answers in small groups, students select a statement that they either agreed with or disagreed with and comment on it in their discussion or dialogues.

Ranking / Group Consensus. By ranking various characters, issues, etc., of a film / video, students can attempt to reach a consensus.

Speech Organization. A number of exercises will help students with speech organization:

а) After eliciting the main ideas of the film / video, students can list details that support those major issues; and then the supporting details can be used to prepare a speech.

b) Teachers can cut printed film summaries into “strips”, comprising one sentence or an entire paragraph. Students can practice organizing their speeches by assembling the strips into logical order, thereby reconstructing the summary which can be presented to the group or class.

c) Based on a close examination of an introductory paragraph of the speech, focusing on certain features of the film / video, students can identify ideas to be developed in subsequent paragraphs. Once the main ideas of subsequent paragraphs are identified, students can compose those paragraphs.

d) This activity can also be presented in the form of the game called “Snowball”, in which the students can present one by one sentences or even paragraphs if their level of English is high enough.

Speed Speaking. After introducing a topic related to the film, students are asked to speak about it for a short period of time. The emphasis here would be on speaking fluency rather than accuracy.

Using Notes for Speech Practice. If students have taken notes while watching the film / videotape, students can pool their notes to obtain a more complete set of notes. Then, using these notes, students can prepare a brief summary or examine a particular aspect of the film / video.

Role plays / Simulation Games. Students can role-play characters or a situation from the film / video (Tomalin, 1991).

Debates. Students can hold a formal debate concerning an issue raised in the film. Such formal activities take careful preparation.

The pre-viewing, viewing, and post-viewing activities listed above represent a sampling of the types of classroom activities that can be utilized with films and videos. Teachers who recognize the needs of their students and have clear instructional objectives should be able to make productive use of these and other activities.

Some more examples of speaking activities integrated with video are suggested by Pearson long man. Com but they are not subdivided into pre-viewing, viewing and post-viewing activities. The assumption is that while watching television is often seen as a passive viewing experience, there are ways to turn it into a springboard for student interaction. Here are some general teaching strategies that enhance the use of video materials in language classroom by targeting specific skill sets:

- Predicting;

- Viewing comprehension;

- Speaking practice;

- Discussion.


With picture and audio on:

- Use the pause control to stop a scene and have students predict what will happen next.

- Use the pause control to stop after a particular line of dialogue and have students predict the next line.

With audio off:

- Have students predict the situation and characterizations based on viewing an entire scene without the sound.

- Have students predict lines of dialogue after viewing an entire scene without the sound.

- Have students predict individual lines of dialogue by using the pause button to stop the scene.

With picture off:

- Have students predict the situation and characterizations by listening to the soundtrack without watching the picture.

Viewing comprehension

You can check students’ understanding of the situation and characters in the following ways:

Before watching:

- Give students specific things to look and listen for before they watch a scene.

While watching:

- Freeze-frame the scene by using the pause button and check students’ understanding.

While watching or after watching:

- Have students answer comprehension questions you devise.

After watching:

- Give students cloze scripts and have them fill in missing words in dialog lines.

Speaking practice

Role Plays: Have students role play a scene, practicing the lines of dialogue for correct intonation and emphasis.

On-Location Interviews: Have students circulate around the classroom and interview each other using questions contained in the video segment. Students can then report to the class about their interviews.

Information Gap: Have half the class see a segment without audio and the other half hear it without the picture. Students from each half of the class then pair up, talk about the situation and characters, and act out the scene.

Strip Dialogue Scenes: Write dialogue lines on separate strips of paper, distribute them randomly, and have students recreate the scene by putting the lines together.


- Have students discuss the scene, plot and characters’ actions, thoughts, and feelings.

- Have students think about what the characters in the scene are thinking but not saying. Students can create these interior monologues, present them to the class, and discuss any varying opinions about characters’ inner thoughts during the scene.

- Have students tell which characters they identify with and explain why.

Although the use of films and videos in the second-language curriculum is endorsed by many professionals and has proven to be an excellent teaching tool, their use is not without limitations:

- First, using such media effectively requires rather extensive teacher preparation. As overworked as most teachers are, it is difficult to find the necessary time needed for previewing films, film selection, and lesson planning.

- Second, if one’s school does not have the equipment, or has poorly serviced equipment, a film / video component in the curriculum would be unwise. Similarly, if one’s school has an inadequate (or nonexistent) film / video library, it may be close to impossible to select films / videos that would justifiably enhance one’s syllabus.

- Third, this modern audiovisual technology can easily master its viewers, causing teacher and student alike to lose sight of instructional objectives, turning both into passive and uncritical television-like viewers (Willis, 1983). These possible pitfalls can be circumvented if one is cognizant of them and consciously attempts to avoid them.

Films and videos, widely recognized as powerful communication media, can greatly enhance and diversify a second-language curriculum. With careful selection and purposeful planning, films and videos can motivate students, thereby facilitating language learning. Moreover, the integration of pre-viewing, viewing, and post-viewing activities into the film / video lesson encourages natural language use and language skill development, making films and videos valuable teaching tools.


1. Bachman, L. & Palmer, A. (1996). Language testing in practice. Oxford

2. Hasselgren, A. (1998). Small words and valid testing. Bergen

3. Luoma, S. (2004). Assessing speaking. Cambridge University Press

4. McCarthy, M. & Carter, R. (1995). Language as discourse: perspective for language teaching. London

5. Tomalin, B. (1991). Video, TV and radio in the English class. London

6. Williams, E. (1982). The “witness” activity: group interaction through video. London

7. Willis, J. (1983). 101 ways to use video. New York

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №6 - 2014

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