Read the following text, paying particular attention to the highlighted words.
Teaching English with Video
So far we have discussed what there is in the way of video equipment and materials and we have looked at how we can use the machine. It's time now to turn our attention to how video can fit into our teaching as a whole. This chapter examines reasons for using video in language teaching and considers when and how we could introduce it into the syllabus and into the lesson.
Video is not the only resource we have at our disposal in the language classroom. It takes its place among a range of other aids we use quite regularly, so we have to decide what its strengths are. What does it do particularly well in the context of language teaching?
If your students want to study spoken English, you will spend part of the time in the classroom working on examples of the spoken language. Most language courses use dialogue or a narrative to present the language of the unit. We use examples in the textbook, and often on audio, which gives them the greater realism of different voices and sound effects. When, with video, we can add moving pictures to the soundtrack, the examples of language in use become even more realistic. These examples are more comprehensive too, because they put before us the ways people communicate visually as well as verbally. So video is a good means of bringing 'slices of living language' into the classroom.
In many language classrooms today there are times when we want to get our students talking to us and to each other. We want to give them the opportunity to put their own language into practice in a genuine effort to communicate. So we look for situations where our learners will really have something they want to say to each other. The right video material can do this in a range of ways: its vivid presentation of settings and characters can be used to set the scene for roleplay; it can present a case with such impact that it sparks off fierce debate; we all make our own interpretations of what we see and so video can be a stimulus to genuine communication in the classroom by bringing out different opinions within the group.
We all send and receive visual signals when we talk to each other. These help us decipher what is being communicated. It must therefore help learners when they listen to a foreign language if they can see as well as hear what is going on. And video's moving pictures also help learners concentrate because they provide a focus of attention while they listen. Both these forms of support suggest that video is a good medium for extended listening to the foreign language. The more exposure learners have to the language, the better they are likely to learn it. In some situations, the classroom is the only place learners can hear the foreign language spoken, so video becomes a means of giving them a 'language bath' in the classroom.
In our homes we associate the small screen with entertainment. We expect to enjoy the experience of viewing. Learners bring the same expectations to the experience of viewing video in the classroom and we can encourage this positive attitude by using video in a flexible way. It is a medium of great variety, with a wealth of different kinds of software which we can use to ring the changes in our teaching. This book suggests many ways in which we can use video in a different way to viewing television. We can also at times use it just like television. Video helps us provide a richer and more varied language environment within which learning can take place. The combination of variety, interest and entertainment we can derive from video makes it an aid which can help develop motivation in learners.
The integration of video into your syllabus will depend on the kind of video installation you have. If you have video playback available in your classroom whenever you want it, along with a good choice of materials, you can afford to use it in a variety of ways. In some lessons you might use it for five minutes. In others it could be the springboard for a two-hour session. If you only have access to the machine once a month in a special video room, you will want to make it the centre of attention for that session. Whatever access you have, it is much better to plan video sessions into the syllabus. If it is left as an optional extra, it's too easy to forget about it or to decide not to bother. It helps everyone get started if there are notes indicating where and how video materials would fit into the syllabus.
On what basis can this syllabus integration be organised? There isn't always an obvious link between the materials you have and the syllabus in use.
The link through language is the most obvious and most straightforward one to make if your syllabus is based on linguistic items such as language structures or functions. Published materials for ELT normally reflect trends in language teaching and the current language-focussed series can generally be linked to the syllabus through the language functions or structures they present. In non-ELT materials you can look for situations which are likely to feature highly predictable language: scenes set in restaurants or shops, at parties, the reception desk or the dining table can sometimes be picked out of a longer programme and used in isolation to give an example of particular language functions in operation. (However you might be surprised at how often these settings don't include the language you expect to hear.)
Once you've found a video sequence you could use to present specific language items, you then have to decide when you will introduce it in your teaching of a unit. There are several possibilities:
We return to these uses in the last part of this chapter, when we look in detail at roles for video in the lesson.
Topics are a feature of some language syllabuses. A unit of work might be based around a topic like ecology or the leisure interests of young people in Britain or the education systems of different countries. A video programme about the same topic could be a welcome addition to that unit. It could put a different perspective on the topic; it could introduce new information; it could invite comparison of the ways the same subject can be treated in different media or from different points of view.
Another way of linking through topic is by means of subject matter introduced in the textbook for language practice. For example, talking about the jobs people do is often used to practise describing daily routines. There may be video materials on your shelves showing people at work which you could use to extend practice of this kind. An exercise in describing places could be based on a video sequence which showed a particular town. All of this uses video to introduce variety and interest to classroom work.
Your syllabus may include slots for the development of certain skills such as listening to lectures or writing reports. You could think of using video material occasionally as an input to these activities. A video recording of a meeting could give practice in taking notes of main points. A documentary programme could form the basis for discussion in the weekly slot for communicative activities. Viewing an interesting story requires the exercise of listening skills.
You do not always have to have a specific link to other items on the syllabus. Some sets of video material are self-contained and come with their own activities: a serial story, a training series for management skills, a set of business meetings. Any of these could create their own regular slot on the timetable: a Sherlock Holmes story once a month, perhaps, or a weekly session for the Business English group to view the next episode of Bid for Power. Alternatively a range of different video materials could be used in a period earmarked for video. The important thing is that the slot be timetabled in, so that even where video provision is very limited, everyone is encouraged to think about how they can use what there is.
This brings us on to thinking about how you can integrate video into your lesson. The rest of this chapter looks at how you might do this, using examples from a range of video materials, ELT and non-ELT. The Video Plans in this chapter are taken from Teacher's Guides and other print support produced for published video materials. Although the suggestions are for a specific piece of video, they have been selected because the ideas are transferrable to other materials.
Is video better suited to one stage of a lesson rather than another? With materials designed to highlight language items, we have an indication of how materials designers approach the question of video's role in the lesson.
I will look at this in relation to the traditional stages of a language lesson, presentation, practice, reinforcement, and to the elicitation stage some teachers introduce before presentation.
(a)Video for elicitation
There are times when you want to encourage talk within the classroom group, with students drawing on their own language resources to express thoughts they want to communicate. There are also times when you need to find out how much your students know or can do with language. You may have a new group for whom you have to work out a syllabus, or you may want to check to see whether a revision session is necessary or not. For all of these reasons you may want to hear your students talking with as little prompting as possible from you. Students often find that their ability to produce language which is appropriate for a particular situation is less than they had expected. The technique of getting them to supply the missing dialogue after a silent viewing of a scene provides a good opportunity for you and them to find out what language they have at their command and how flexibly they can use it. When this is your purpose you might use a short sequence for as little as five or ten minutes at the beginning of a lesson.
(b)Video at the presentation stage
In a sense all video material is presenting examples of language. I use the term here in the language teaching sense of the presentation of new language items which will be the focus for the next unit of work. How appropriate is video for this stage of a unit? In language teaching we are accustomed t using dialogues which present very restricted examples of language. This is acceptable in the textbook, and can even be made to work on audio, but it is more difficult when we can see real people in a real setting on video. The scene looks awkward and unconvincing if the language is so controlled and repetitive that the interaction becomes quite unnatural. Because of this the language in video materials, even for elementary level, tends to be a little more varied than it would be in the textbook. Most ELT series are intended to supplement what is in the textbook not to replace it and they are intended to be used to consolidate the learning of language that has already been presented in another form.
The Follow Me course is one which does aim to introduce new language items through video. This is done within the programme itself by using very restricted examples of language and by recycling these examples through the programme and through the course in a range of different short scenes. The fact that Follow Me was designed for broadcast meant that it had to do its own presentation, as it were, for home viewers. A teacher with a video machine in the classroom has the choice of when to use video material and could for example use a sequence with an appropriate setting to establish a context before new language items are introduced.
It's very unlikely that video will be your only means of presenting language so you do have a choice. Assuming that all the materials you have are equally suitable for your students, the main distinguishing feature of the video materials is likely to be that they provide the most realistic examples of the language in use. Your choice therefore could be boiled down to whether you want to start with the `real thing' on video, as an example of what the unit is about, or whether you want to keep the most realistic example for later, to reinforce what has gone before.
(c) Video used for reinforcement
This is a good use of video because it capitalises on video's naturalism to present more realistic examples of language, and the visual support video offers can lighten the additional language load. Video Plan 6 on page 53 is taken from materials intended to be used as language reinforcement.
In this treatment a variety of techniques is used to elicit the language learners already know before they reach the 'View, Listen and Compare' stage. By then, known items have been recycled and summarised and any new ways of asking permission in the sequence can be highlighted. A lesson of this kind would be appropriate as the final stage in a unit of work on ways of asking permission. It could also be a revision session. What proportion of class time should it take up? We are always interested to know how much classwork any material can generate. It's a factor in assessing value for money and we also need to have some idea of how the material will fit into our normal teaching pattern.
Most of the suggestions made in Teacher's Notes that accompany ELT video materials would lead to a full lesson built round each video unit. The way the video fits into the lesson varies from one publication to another. In Video Plan 6 we have an example of very intensive treatment of a very short sequence (26 seconds) where the video is repeatedly returned to as a stimulus to another activity. Its use is woven through the bulk of the lesson. Video Plan 7 illustrates a different approach to a longer sequence (about 15 minutes). Here the viewing of the sequence is used as a springboard for a set of activities which follow it. Most of these refer back to the content of the video but repeat viewing is not suggested.
Lets Watch returns to a viewing of the whole sequence at several points in the suggested sequence of activities. Each unit also includes a second, silent sequence, which provides a basis for exploitation of language presented earlier in the unit. Video Plan 8 is taken from the Teacher's Notes and suggests several ways of treating a short silent sequence of about two minutes.
I interpret 'practice' in its broad sense of the practice of a range of skills. This section looks at examples of different types of skills practice suggested for video materials.
(a) Use of visual prompts
Several video workbooks for students feature still pictures taken from the video sequence. They are sometimes used for previewing activity, or they can be used as recall devices for language study and practice as they are in the 'Focus' section of Family Affair (see Video Plan 7) and in the example in Video Plan 9.
If you don't have still pictures for the video materials you are using, you could still adapt these ideas by using freeze frame on the video itself. With videodisc it is possible to select the frame precisely and speedily so that a set of stills on the screen could very easily be used.
Video Plan 10 gives two further ideas for tasks which exploit the visual element of the sequence as it is played.
This activity is suggested with several sets of material and at different stages in the video-based lesson. In Video Plan 6 we saw roleplay introduced after silent viewing and before students listened to the dialogue. It was suggested again as a final recap of the video sequence.You can also stop the tape at a dramatic point in a story and ask your students to devise their own ending to it. Several teacher's books suggest a real move away from the situation portrayed on the video to other, similar situations.
(c) Video drills
Some video materials have a practice stage built into each unit. The course Its Your Turn To Speak uses laboratory drill techniques, with gaps left for the student to supply parts of the dialogue. The camera leads the viewer into the scene and a symbol appears on the screen as a prompt for the viewer to speak. Lets Watch includes video exercises which are similar to traditional audio-cued drills. The Follow Me guide suggests the use of a VCR similar to the use we sometimes make of audiocassette players in the classroom: the 'listen and repeat' technique of pausing the machine after each utterance for students to repeat it. This is simply using your control of the machine and could be applied to any video material.
(d) Comprehension exercises
Comprehension is involved when we look at video and so the techniques for developing and checking comprehension with audio or print are equally valid for video. The examples we have seen include multiple choice and true/false questions, gap-filling tasks, re-ordering jumbled sentences, filling in information on worksheets. All of them treat the video sequence simply as another form of text and are familiar exercise types. This is a useful reminder that video is just another aid at your disposal. Even if you are new to it, you probably already have a range of ideas for language work which could perfectly well apply to video.
We turn now from materials with a focus on language to materials you choose because of the topic they present. This could include ELT and non- ELT material and will mostly consist of documentary programmes or extracts from current affairs programmes. Topic-based programmes present information and opinions. You can use them to stimulate discussion, or as sources of data for tasks or projects.
(a) Collecting information
An information-gathering task serves the purpose of directing viewing. This is a good activity for small group project work as it lends itself to the pooling of information and sharing different elements of the task. Video Plan 11 is drawn from worksheets prepared for Danish teenagers to use with a programme from a Thames Television series: The John Smith Show. This series took four British families, all with the surname Smith, and used it to look at aspects of life in contemporary Britain. Television English also applies classroom techniques to off-air material. The Teacher's Notes suggest a variety of activities which take learners back to the video 'text' several times. Video Plan 12 above, from the introduction to the book, gives a summary of the most common activities.
(b) Debating a topic
Choose a topic which you know will interest and involve your students. If possible it should also be a topic about which your class will have differing views. Video Plan 13 shows how topic-based material can slot into debate which takes place before and after the viewing.
(c) Producing a commentary
Video Plan 14 is taken from a course developed in the Free University of Berlin which used a range of texts drawn from different media. These were grouped according to theme and accompanied by a variety of tasks. This is one example of a task related to an extract from off-air documentary material within a unit on drugs.
A different approach to video materials is to look at how they communicate their message. This is particularly relevant to non-ELT materials since they were produced to convey a message to a particular audience. They can be studied as examples of uses of the medium in the context of the society that produced them. In language programmes which include an element of project work and with students who are interested in contemporary issues, this flavour of media studies can be very motivating. All film, video and television production is an example of the use of tools other than language to communicate to an audience. One way of analysing video programmes is to look at the film techniques employed: editing decisions, camera angles, the way images are juxtaposed all have an effect on the viewer, who is often unaware of it.
The group tasks in Video Plan 15 on page 62 encourage students to think about the way a programme was put together.
A study of this kind can be related to texts in other media too, giving a comparison of, for example, different ways of approaching the same topic. The treatment of off-air material outlined in Video Plans 14 and15 could form the basis for discussion of this kind.
There are three things to look for in a story: the characters, the plot and the style of telling the story. This is a useful basis for thinking about how you could use a story in class. You will certainly want to make sure your students can follow the plot, and an appreciation of the characters is usually very closely linked to our understanding of a plot. How far you discuss the style will depend on the interests of your students.
Interesting stories are good material for developing the skill of gist listening. You can set a clear goal: the ability to retell the main elements of the plot. It is usually possible to follow the plot without understanding every word in the story and you can choose stories on video which have a strong visual contribution to the storyline. Look particularly for information about characters: attitudes are often indicated by facial expressions or movements. Below is an example of the way you could organise your notes as you preview a story.
The camera can take us into people's homes and lives and places of work and lay before us evidence of what life and work is like in another country. You would probably choose to use materials of this kind because the aspects of the culture featured are of relevance to your students. Perhaps they are soon to go to Britain or the States to study or as tourists. Or perhaps they are working in Britain and having to interpret the culture that is all around them. If these are your reasons for using video material which highlights aspects of a society, use the video to find out what your students want to know about it.
Different people will notice different things and some of them may surprise you. Leave it as open as possible and encourage them to ask questions, by setting preview questions such as 'What differences do you notice between British/North American customs and those of your own country?' 'Does anything seem strange to you in the scene?'
We said at the beginning of this chapter that you would have to choose when to use video rather than another classroom aid. It's fairly clear when you would use a book or an Overhead Projector or a magazine picture in your teaching and it's not difficult to see that video makes a different contribution. The aid that we are most likely to use for the same reasons as video is the audio tape or cassette recorder. We are accustomed to using audio to present examples of language in use. It lets us bring into the classroom different voices and different accents and a skilful use of sound effects can suggest a setting. We can do all of these things better with video. So, if we had the same range of materials on video as we do on audio, would we continue to use audio in language teaching? The answer is yes, but it would have a more limited role. It would be limited to the function it is most useful for in the language classroom: intensive listening.
We have established that video is a good medium to use for extensive listening. It is not however so well suited to an intensive, detailed study of spoken language. The present generation of videocassette machines does not respond speedily or accurately to the stop, rewind, replay sequence you go through in intensive listening to identify every word. There is the added irritation of having the picture interfered with and the screen takes a moment to settle down after a restart. If you want your students to listen intensively to a dialogue, don't do it on video. The ideal would be to have the soundtrack on an audio cassette. Then, after using it on video, any intensive listening tasks could be carried out on audio. Where this is not possible, it is best not to attempt intensive listening. You don't need to treat every dialogue in the same way anyway, so keep that kind of work for audio materials and try to use video for the work it is best suited for.
Now try the exercises: Exercise a, Exercise b, Exercise c, Exercise d, Exercise e
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