6 generic, productive activites with YouTube


One learner watching, two listening

One YouTube clip (no sound) + one watcher and talker + two just listening and asking questions = so much language

In my workshop at IH Barcelona on Friday, I suggested the following generic activities to be done with YouTube clips.

I'm a huge fan of Kieran Donaghy's Film-English.com, with its brilliant selection of YouTube and Vimeo clips and accompanying lesson plans, but sometimes you just see other clips that look just so amazing for class — except that you don't have a lesson plan.

Below, generic ideas that lead to the production of a lot of language without your requiring any more material than the clip itself.

1 | Commentators and listeners
With this one, you put learners in 3s, and have two sit with their backs to the video (sound initially off) while their partner provides a running commentary, with as much detail as possible, as in the illustration, above. The example I gave:

Here's another Simon's Cat clip and a more detailed outline of such a lesson, with a similar activity here.

Look for videos (like Simon's Cat) which have plenty of action in them, the more bizarre the better (Mr Bean, someone suggested in the workshop), as in this crazy ad.

2 | Brainstorming a better list
Everyone loves lists, don't they? YouTube does too!

But before you get your learners to watch (and before you start typing up and photocopying a True/False exercise for them!),  give them the topic, and get them to (1) brainstorm their own list in small groups; then (2) watch and check off which things on their list are mentioned; if they then (3) list everything mentioned in the video they can then (4) compare lists: theirs, the video's, and those of other groups; and finally (5) discuss who produced the best list.

Here's the hilarious video I suggested as an example:

Here's another example, with a fuller outline of the lesson. Look for "how to" videos, or just about any video with a title starting "7 things…", "10 ways…" etc.

3 | Summarise and present
The brilliant Joe Hanson [ YouTube channel ] has lots of clips this idea will work with:

I suggest having the learners watch at home, with each group picking a different video (their choice), and working on their summary outside class (think Edmodo small groups, WhatsApp, shared Google Drive presentations, etc).

What they're then doing in class time is making the short oral presentations (I suggest 60-90 seconds, maximum 3 slides), with Q+A time at the end to ensure maximum participation of the whole class.

Look for videos with lots of information and/or presenting ideas, with TED being another site with videos this will work with.

4 | TED feedback
If you watch videos on TED, you're probably familiar with how their rating system works. If you choose to rate one of their talks, you get a pop-up window with a selection of adjectives you can use:

TED ffeedback

With any video — not necessarily from TED — you can do the same thing. It works particularly well with videos that divide opinion and reaction in your class (like this one, for example) and if you allow your learners to come up with their own adjectives to "rate" it.

If you then pool the adjectives they're come up with and have them pick which 3-5 best describe it, you've got the basis of a class debate.

5 | Video clips as storytelling prompts
One of the things apart from YouTube that we looked at in the workshop was digital storytelling. I'll return to that in a separate post, but mentioned that video clips that tell stories are great as writing (or speaking) prompts for kick starting ideas (and language) to be included in digital storytelling projects.

In Friday's workshop I suggested this Springsteen song but they tell me Taylor Swift is kind of more popular now 😉 :

The Taylor Swift song has worked well (thanks, Kim) with teens who (1) brainstormed a list of what they guessed would be in a Taylor Swift love song clip; (2) checked that off in a first watching (sound on); (3) listened to the lyrics on a second watching; (4) in 3s, used the song for a dictogloss activity, with their versions then being checked against the actual lyrics; (5) debated what exactly happens in the story — clip and lyrics; before (6) recycling the language that had come up in class into their own collaborative stories (some produced in text, some in audio form).

Look for song video clips that tell stories, which then also give you a text (the lyrics) you can then exploit in the usual ways.

Here's another brilliant song clip story, with an outline lesson, and another with Norah Jones.

6 | Football (etc.)
One not mentioned in the workshop, but football is always a winner in class, isn't it? My son (one of my key sources for video clips for class) showed me this amazing Facebook page with sports clips the other day.

Generic lesson plan? Pick the right clip (look for controversy!) and you probably don't need one! With certain learners, they'll talk endlessly (possibly not always intelligently 😉 ) on the subject…

Personally, out of choice, I'd dump my coursebook and just talk about football…!

See also

More from the workshop coming. See also these links.

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  1. The "brainstorming a better list" idea works well with things other than video, of course. Try it with a text — or an infographic like this one on bad eating habits.

    You could then have your learners turn their own list into an infographic (piktochart is great if your learners want a tool for that) or a list perhaps using list.ly as a tool.

  2. Can I add something there Tom that I know you always suggest and is so great with the "commentators" task? Once they've (not) watched it, getting those that DIDNT see it to produce a script of what happened, with the aid of the commentator. They get so much fun out of that!

  3. Yes, you're right, thank you Kim, I should really have included that. Fun AND language — which is the important thing.

    Pick a good video and the partners hear this crazy, puzzling story which they then have to imagine and reproduce in writing afterwards. It's like the perfect information gap!

    No idea of the original source of this one but it's been around for as long as VCRs as I used to do it with those but it remains one of my all-time favourite classroom activities.

    Sources of the others, that I can recall the ideas are my own, but thanks to the people (Toni especially!) who suggested some of the videos.

  4. Beyonce, If I were a boy. It has a great video with a story in it. I just heard it on the radio and remembered.

  5. I guess everyone has seen it by now, which kind of spoils the surprise…

  6. Yes! Thanks for that, Kim. Great video, though yes, so far seen 158m times on YouTube.

    Don't think that necessarily spoils it.

    Nice story (which is what we're looking for, I think) and a great surprise half way through.

  7. Great ideas about using videos and ads to teach Engilsh. I realized that my lessons were too teacher-centered with too much talking and last year I started using more images and videos in my classes. They catch the student's attention immediately, you can use them in a wide variety of forms and also contribute to the cohesion of the group. Thanks for so many ideas!!

  8. You're welcome, Glòria 😉 !

    For ads, this Ad Break Guardian column is brilliant.

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