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Last Tuesday, I was fortunate to be at the British Council Spring Gardens building for an evening of ELT seminar goodness. The theme this time was definitely focused on video and film, with ideas how to integrate this into English language education more generally as well as more practical tips for how we might use (or as it turned out, not use so immediately) video in class.

James Clarke was first up, suggesting the validity of film and moving images as material for us to use in our teaching. This wasn’t very new for me, as I had studied film as part of my language Bachelors degree, but I am sure others in the audience appreciated the initiation. It’s certainly true, that with much of the materials we use, just as for still images and sound, we need a particular grammar for talking about film and giving our students the tools to do this.

However, this isn’t what this post is about, as I was much more interested in seeing Jamie Keddie presenting some practical ideas for using video in the language classroom. His talk was entitled ‘Videotelling’ – basically taking some visual stimuli, maybe a clip from a film or trailer or even a goal that you had seen, and putting it into your own words to describe it to another person. I won’t describe the examples that Jamie showed us, but rather here is my own attempt at some videotelling in the English language classroom: criminal penguins!

NOTE: you will need to decide if and how you are going to show the video in class. You could stream straight from YouTube, if you have an internet connection and a computer, and perhaps data projector to display the clip. If your students have mobile devices, you could direct them to watch the video on those. For offline viewing on a PC, you might want to download the YouTube clip using Bear in mind that you will be breaking YouTube Terms of Service if you do. Aaaaaaanyway, watching the video is the last thing you should do in this lesson and definitely don’t tell your students it’s a story about penguins.

Instead tell them this…

This is a story about a crime. What is a crime? That’s right something that’s breaking the law. But what does that mean? Is a crime a good or bad thing generally? What are some of the types of crime you know the English names for? [NOTE – be careful here. You know your students best, so explain as much or as little about this as fits your context YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!] This story is about a theft? What’s that? What’s the name for someone who commits this crime?

Anyway, more about the crime later. I want to tell you about where this story take place. It’s a very cold place. Hmmm no, England is cold, but this place is even colder. In fact, it’s so cold that on the ground there’s… Yes, that’s right, there’s ice!

Now to introduce the individuals in our story. They’re building something. What do you think they’re building? Remember it’s very cold in this place, and they need somewhere to live. What do you call a place where people live? House, good, flat, oh caravan, yes that’s a good one, but what’s the word in English to describe all these places…? Four letters. Starts with an H. Yesss! That’s right. What do you think they’re building their homes of? Glass, metal, bricks, all good guesses but not right. These homes are made of stones, in fact, tiny stones – What are those called? Like you might find at the beach… Yes! Pebbles.

Well, these individuals are all building their homes out of pebbles! Let’s meet the main characters in this story. We have one victim, what should he be called? John! Ok. And then there’s the criminal, hmmm, you want to call him Peter. Well, ok! There’s also a would-be criminal – do you think a would-be criminal actually is successful in commiting a crime or not?

So, John is there building his home, and he goes to get a pebble and picks it up and takes it back to where he’s constructing it. Do you think he’s working hard? Well, Peter is also building his home, but he’s not working hard. He’s quite lazy in fact. So Peter goes over to John’s home when John isn’t looking and he… Yes, he takes a pebble from John’s home! Can you believe it? Is that a nice thing to do?

And so on. The idea of videotelling, as far as I see it, is to engineer the way you retell the story so that the students are filling in lots of the vocabulary. For example, when I did this in class, I elicited a lot of vocab through questions (some of which are in the story text above), lots of concept questions about the situation and the characters. The follow up I got my students to do was role play a telephone call to the police, with half the class acting as witnesses to this crime and the other half fielding the call as police officers, asking questions and getting details. This could also then be written up as a report, or even a newspaper article, but I didn’t have the time to do so. Remember, this is all before actually watching the video which I can tell you are dying to see ;o)

Here it is…

If for whatever reason you’re having trouble watching the YouTube video above, you can see the same video embedded on the BBC’s site here: