Proceedings of the 2002 KATE International Conference (pp. 256-259).  The Korea Association of Teachers of English.

Video in ELT—Theoretical and Pedagogical Foundations

Johanna E. Katchen


Language teachers have been using video technologies for at least the past twenty years.  From videotapes to DVDs and streaming video from the Internet, the visual mode is still powerful and popular.  Far from being mere entertainment, carefully chosen films can be a useful and extremely motivational teaching tool for both practicing listening skills and stimulating speaking and writing.  This paper reviews some of the principles on which the use of video in ELT is based.  It is divided into two major sections reflecting two kinds of video use—showing videos to students and videotaping student activities.  Within these two categories, specific pedagogical applications are summarized and educational foundations elaborated.

Showing Videos

What do we mean by video?  There are videos made for ELT and for other educational purposes, video broadcast on the Internet, and even home movies, although here video will refer primarily to movies and television programs.

How do teachers use video?  Most often it is used either to present students with spoken language input for listening practice or to elicit student language output via speaking or writing.  Videos may also illustrate cultural and nonverbal behaviour and can also be used for teaching a variety of content (e.g., “about” linguistics) and skills (e.g., media literacy, literary criticism, comparing book and film versions). 

Authentic Language

A great advantage of video is that it provides authentic language input.  Movies and TV programs are made for native speakers, so in that sense video provides authentic linguistic input.  Students in East Asia in particular have traditionally been taught to memorize grammar rules and vocabulary; actual ability to use the language may or may not follow.  When faced with a real native speaker, they panic.  Where the friendly native speaker who is patient and willing to use foreigner talk is unavailable, as in many EFL contexts, the film/TV show can be a substitute. 

There are a number of features found in real spoken language but not found in typical teaching materials.  Real people mumble and talk with food in their mouths; some speak rather rapidly and use nonstandard forms; they incorporate different levels of formality and colloquialisms; they talk in incomplete sentences and use all sorts of pause fillers, hesitation phenomena, and the like.  Differences in speech may be found from those of different regions, ethnic groups, social classes, ages, even gender.  Speech is full of variety and ambiguity and students need to develop some ability to deal with this, even if it’s just to learn how to ask for clarification when they don’t understand something.  Using video examples, we teachers can slowly guide students do deal with language as it is really used.

If our definition of authentic refers more to tasks, then watching films and TV programs are indeed authentic tasks.  Normally, however, just watching and listening is usually not enough in the classroom (though possible occasionally).  Teachers create activities, yet there is a danger in overkill—in picking over the transcript too thoroughly: such activities are not usually authentic.  But what are authentic activities?  We often summarize the plots of movies or entertaining TV shows such as situation comedies to our friends; we may even describe specific scenes or characters in detail.  When we watch news or information programs, we are interested in locating specific information by looking for the answers to WH-questions such as What happened?  To whom?  Where?  With some other stories we are interested in finding out What is the problem?  What are the effects?  What caused it?  Are any solutions suggested?  A travel show may stimulate our interest in finding out what we can do in that place, where we can stay, and how much it will cost. 

These activities incorporate listening and understanding, perhaps writing down key information, and talking about what we heard with others.  The activities might take the form of comprehension questions (multiple choice, ticking off, or completion), note-taking, and discussion.  But students also know that there are certain kinds of activities that are authentic in a classroom context.  Thus we have students fill in blanks in the transcript while listening or focus on certain lexical and grammatical usage. 

Strategy Use

Another activity often used with video is prediction: the teacher plays part of a video, stops it at a specific point, then asks students to speculate and discuss (or write for homework) what they think will happen next.  In our everyday lives, we probably do not actively predict and discuss what will happen next as we raid the refrigerator during the commercial breaks, yet prediction is an authentic activity.  We may observe the way a male student behaves toward a female student and tell another teacher of a budding love affair, for example.  That is, by having students perform prediction activities, teachers are showing students that they really do use their knowledge of the world and of genre types (e.g., the good guy always wins in the end) to help them follow the happenings of a film in their L1, and that this is also a useful strategy in L2. 

Students often depend too much on linguistic input to decipher meaning, yet in life we take cues from the context.  In L1 people mumble and we don’t hear correctly, yet we go on what we think they said even if we don’t hear all the words clearly.  Films are ideal vehicles for drawing students’ attention to the nuances of setting and nonverbal behaviour.  A popular activity is to turn off the sound and have students glean as much information as possible from the visual images.  Or we may point out how the combination of the paralinguistic (e.g., intonation, pace, volume, pitch) and nonverbal behaviours reveals meanings rather different from the meaning denoted by the words alone.

Comprehensible Input

From Krashen’s famous i + 1 to Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development, we are told that the ideal input is comprehensible but slightly challenging.  If the input or task is too difficult, the student will give up in frustration.  In order for learning to occur, there should be some feeling of success.  But teachers may argue that authentic video is simply too hard for their students, that they won’t understand anything and experience only failure.  How can we counter this argument?

There are at least three remedies for this situation.  The first is careful selection; teachers can choose more familiar topics and a clip with language use that is more standard (Katchen, 1996).  This does not mean that the students have already learned all the vocabulary and structures found on the clip.  Second, the students should be able to perform the task or activity successfully.  For lower level students, we can ask them to find out some more obvious information for which a high level of linguistic expertise is not necessary.  Moreover, instead of writing out full sentence answers in English, they can check off the items they heard mentioned or pick out the correct answer in multiple choice. 

A third way of making the material more comprehensible is to provide helpful pre-teaching activities.  In this way, students will be able to perform the task with a little help from the teacher.  We use the same sorts with video as we do for other materials.  We may activate students’ background knowledge on the topic, introduce the main characters, teach some necessary new vocabulary.  The purpose of these advance organizers is to lessen the gap between the students’ knowledge and the knowledge necessary to understand the material so that they can jump over the challenging gap successfully.

Multiple Intelligences

The more times and ways we are presented with information, the more likely we will learn it.  The recent emphasis on different preferred learning styles and multiple intelligences has shown us that all of us learn in different combinations of ways.  While video uses primarily the modes that are also used most in the classroom—the visual and the aural, classroom visual activity often centers on texts and aural activity on teacher’s lectures.  Film is richer in setting and nonverbal behaviour and spoken language is more varied.  Moreover, although the input is still via visual and aural modes, we can at least observe elements of movement, music, and texture and discuss how they contribute to the effectiveness of a scene. (See Tatsuki, 2001 for how video can address multiple intelligences.)

Videotaping Student Activities

Recording has long been used to improve performance in many fields, from athletes to artists.  Video cameras have become familiar tools in some ELT classrooms, too, and are most often used for recording student speaking activities, such as role plays, speeches, group work.  Students and professionals alike can use the camera as a rehearsal tool for future public performances or presentations.  Trainers videotape both pre-service and in-service teachers for subsequent analysis.

Taking Charge of One’s Own Learning

When students write a composition, they may submit it to the teacher, who writes comments and returns it to the student.  The composition exists.  But when we speak, the words disappear into the air; we may remember the essence of what we tried to say but recollection of the exact words eludes us.  How can students make any effort to improve if they do not even know what they have said?  This is where the video camera helps because it turns the speaking activity into something concrete.

Most of today’s students have seem themselves on video, if only briefly while passing a shop window equipped with a camera for advertising purposes.  Nevertheless, they may still experience some surprise at seeing themselves as others supposedly see them; therefore, the initial activity might be something like a role play, where students take on other identities, to reduce the possibility of shattering their own identities.  That is, there is a risk here, but it can be minimized.  Above all, teachers have to avoid criticizing students in front of their peers.

When we have something concrete, we can make an objective analysis and we can show students how to analyze their own speaking performances, and then ideally let students do this outside of class.  Students usually see their own nonfluencies and may be more critical judges than their teachers are, so a little encouragement is in order.  Fortunately, fluency is an easy area to remedy in prepared presentations; students just need to be reminded that more practice will make it better.  Therefore, videotaping should be done at least two or three times though a course so that students have a chance to see their improvement.  From my experience of videotaping student speeches for nearly 15 years, I have seen students quite happy to chart their own progress using their own ability as a yardstick, not some unknown professional native speaker.  And are we not the only yardstick that matters, particularly at the tertiary level of education?  Students critique themselves and compete against themselves, and they gain satisfaction from setting and subsequently reaching their own goals.


Here it has only been possible to touch briefly on some of the principles behind the use of video in ELT.  One aspect not yet mentioned is motivation.  Students in many contexts have said they like video activities because they provide a break from the usual textbook-based activities, and even when the activities challenge students, learning with video is more enjoyable.  Students do not always take the easy way out.  We have shown here that video use is based on sound pedagogical principles.  While a daily dose may be excessive, a regular, well-prepared video lesson may provide a healthy addition to the student body.


Katchen, J. E. (1996). Using authentic video in English language teaching: Tips for Taiwan’s teachers. Taipei: Crane.

Tatsuki, D.  (2001).  Multiple intelligences and video.  Small Screen 14(2), 5 – 6.

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