I’ve been building the video lesson library of ELT Buzz these days and I got a message on LinkedIn that I think might be a common question other teachers have. This Iranian teacher asked, “Why are so many videos silent? How is it possible to use them in a language classroom?”
I’d like to respond here, for other teachers that might have the same question. Find HERE an older post with more info. about silent video.
Why silent videos/films? Principally, instead of a listening focus, the videos allow students to do the “language creating”. That can be in many ways; retelling the events, predicting what’s going to happen, writing the video narration, roleplaying the video scenes etc … Also, just use as a “hook” for your lesson topic, a way of prompting students’ schema and eliciting background knowledge. There are so many ways.
There are so many ways to use silent video and focus on student language production instead of language reception. But make sure as with all use of video – you follow some hard and fast rules. See our recommended rules HERE, free to download in our Using Video In The Classroom Handbook. Lots of free helpers for teachers there.
Here is a rundown of many ways to exploit silent video. I’ll briefly explain each activity and offer up my recommended silent video that fits well with the teaching technique. Download the PDF.
1, Narration: Use the silent video as a pure speaking or writing prompt. Students on the fly or after watching, write the narration. Then playback and as the video rolls, the students do the voiceover narration. Who can make the best script for the video? See Simon’s Cat. Or this Chaplin-style Google Doodle.
2. Roleplays: Many silent videos have imagined conversations between characters. Select one scene and have the students roleplay the conversation. You’ll be surprised at their creativity! See the fabulous City Lights. Or The Bridge.
3. Writing Prompt: Many silent videos generate much thought on a topic. Why not get the students to do some writing about the content of the video? Either, extend or finish the story – where does it go from the end? Or use the topic for students to write personally and connect with the story and characters of the silent video. The students can imagine they are a character in the video. See Land & Bread.
4. Description: Silent videos are “silent” so why not have students describe the action? Like radio men of old. One good way is to have a few students with their backs turned to the screen. I call this, “backdoor”. The other students tell them what is happening. Switch mid-way. Watch the end together! This is important with all activities – don’t kill them with over-teaching. Allow everyone to enjoy as a group. See any Mr. Bean video. They work perfectly for this.
5. Prediction: Prediction should be part of any teacher’s toolkit. Be it for reading or video. Works wonders with any content that tells a story, has a narrative. At selected parts, pause the video and then ask students “What will happen next?” Take some predictions, hit play and then see if the predictions were true. Then pause at the end part and predict again. See The Present.
6. Remix & Make: The Maker Movement is truly inspiring. Students based on the original, make their own. In doing so, they’ll learn and use so much English. Remixing is a great way to exploit quality content. Students take the media and go one step further and make it their own. (interested in remix culture? See this seminal documentary about it). The key is to let students lead the way with their creativity. How will they take the original idea of the video and twist it, contort it, cut it, snip it, and mold it to be something that is their own. Or even copy it. It could be as simple as using their camera to record their own styled version of the silent video or maybe they can use video editing software to change things in the video and add subtitles, add their voice etc … Make sure you do have copyright and free use educationally to do so with the video, in your classroom. See this Lemon Tree remix students made!
7. Retelling: This is so wonderful to do with the right silent video. Storytelling is organic and embedded in all of us. Students watch it (preferably a story) and then have to tell a student who didn’t watch it – what happened, the story details. I like to send some students out to watch another video and then the groups meet and tell each other their stories. Retell the stories again as a group, it will fortify the language acquisition as students continue to fill in their story and their language gaps. See George & Rosemary. Or Lou.
8. Sequencing: All silent videos will have organic parts. Set parts that can be used for students to piece back the material, the story. Make some simple cards with information of each part and while watching, students put them in order. Or watch the video and have students identify the different parts to the story or content. See Restoration: A Ghost Story.
9. Analysis: Silent videos can be interpreted by students and get students to analyze the video. Why did the producers choose that soundtrack? What is the meaning of the video? Why did X character do Y? Dig deeper into the video. What would students change to improve it? Also, have students note the different aspects of the silent video – setting, characters, plot, problem, tension, atmosphere, and denouement. Also, get Ss comparing the video with similar other videos and noting the differences – draw up a chart with criteria – watch the video and fill-in. See some commercials to analyze.
10. Appreciation: Students can be reviewers and provide students with simple criteria to evaluate the video and have them after, discussing their ratings. Idea. Sound. Animation. Character development. Costumes. Filming. Special Effects. Storytelling etc … What is their rating, why did they rate it X stars? See Snack Attack.
11. Vocabulary: Silent videos show a world of vocabulary that you can get students to notice and “pull out”. Give them a simple task – example: all the things the characters … . Review after. See Words. NPR video showing collocations. Or Ikea: Homes.
12. Enjoy: As I mentioned, always try not to overkill with activities and take a great, inspirational video and destroy it with “death by teaching”. Try to always either at the beginning of the lesson or at the end, just watch the video and enjoy it. Let students take in the video and experience it first, is a great idea. Then do your activities. Maybe also just watch the video and then have a discussion, see where it goes. See Enough!
13. Your own way! There are so many ways to exploit the malleable material that is video. What is your own special way that you’ve come up with that works with your students? What do they enjoy doing as activities related to video content? Maybe survey the class about their film, video watching preferences? See this survey example.
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