5 Surefire Videos For Eliciting Target Language

I love using videos in my university conversation classes in Korea. I frequently incorporate enticing 1- to 3-minute clips or short films to set the context, activate schema, and elicit and model the target language. Using videos promotes student engagement and allows students to make connections between the target language and the actual situations in which it can be used.

When properly integrated, videos can encourage creative or critical thinking, don’t require much time, and can generate sufficient examples of the target language that grammar instruction can become more inductive.

I tend to prefer videos that are easily understood, with minimal or no dialog, so students can focus on the situation. In no particular order, here are five of my favorite videos for function- and grammar-based classes, along with a few ideas for grammar and functions they might suit:

1. Shark vs. Octopus (comparatives, predictions)

If a shark and an octopus got into a fight, who would win? Why?

Did you just pause for a moment to wonder about it? I’ve found this question immediately grabs students’ interest and gets them talking animatedly with a partner. It naturally elicits a wide variety of comparatives—or observations that can be turned into comparatives. These, in turn, can be used to guide students to the rules for comparatives. Best of all, it’s not a hypothetical question! The debate can be settled with this video.

2. Egyptian panda commercials (excuses, explanations)

This is a little bit of a cheat, because instead of a single video I’m including three videos that can be used back-to-back. There’s actually a whole series of these commercials from Egypt; these are my favorite three, in the order that I show them. I love these (video 1, video 2, video 3) because the punchline is immediate, obvious, and needs no translation.

I usually stop the first two just before the commercial’s true purpose is revealed, and I ask my students, “Why did he do that?” At the end of the second commercial, after students have speculated about the panda’s purpose, I show the end of the advertisement. The third commercial is just a fun conclusion to the saga.

3. The Black Hole (second conditional, modals, sequencing, predictions)

Watch just the first part of this. Stop it at 1:15 and ask yourself, “What could he do next? What should he do next? What would I do next?” Or just try to guess what happens next.

4. Jumpstart (comparatives, predictions, emotions)

Watch the first 55 seconds of this simple video, then stop it and ask your students to guess what’s going to happen next. 

5. Wallace & Gromit’s Cracking Contraptions: The Tellyscope (giving instructions, sequencing)

Explaining how to do something can be an interesting and practical challenge for students. There are thousands of instructional videos online that can serve to model and elicit this kind of target language, but here’s my favorite. I ask students to watch it and explain how to use Wallace’s machine.

When students try to explain how to use the “tellyscope,” their responses naturally include useful vocabulary such as “push,” “pull,” “button,” and more. To achieve their goal, they also require new vocabulary such as “release” and “lever.” They have to use sequencing words combined with commands. It could be an excellent introduction to a more creative production activity, such as building and marketing an invention.

Sometimes the “instructions” units in textbooks focus on cooking and ask students to explain how to prepare their favorite recipe. In that case, I use this video, instead.

Do you use authentic videos in your classroom? Do you use them in conjunction with a workbook, or on their own? What do you do with them?

Want to incorporate music into your class? Read Lindsay's other article: 4 Dynamic ESL Activities for Pop Songs.

Lindsay Herron

Lindsay Herron has been a visiting professor at Gwangju National University of Education in Gwangju, ROK, since 2008. Prior to that, she taught at a boys' high school in Jeju-do, ROK. She loves stories of all kinds: movies, books, anime, operas...and the ones her students give her.

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