de-For Teachers: How to use videos in online classes


Video is important to include in an online course because most students learn easier through visual channels. The fact that you will most likely find the students watching videos than reading a book (and this applies to children and adults alike) already suggests that they will find lessons with videos more interesting and engaging.

Which videos should I use?

The easiest way is to use the videos that are already in your teaching materials or in student's resources. The creators of teaching materials usually know why that exact video is there and there might be some elements you did not think about.

When you want to use your own videos, keep your goal in mind when you are looking for a video. Your goal is to TEACH THE WORDS OR GRAMMAR STRUCTURES that your lesson is focusing on. The point of the video is that the student will see the target vocabulary that he/she should learn during your lesson in a "real video world" and the student will use what you taught him/her when talking about this video. You can use various types of videos (songs, stories, parts of films or series, etc.). You don't need to watch the whole video during the class, just part of it is enough. For example:

- if you are teaching farm animals vocabulary on your lesson, use some video where this vocabulary is used, don't just look for any video with animals so you don't end up looking at pets instead of farm animals.

- if you are teaching a grammar structure Is it red? Yes, it is. / No, it isn't. Then look for a video where these sentences are used or at least a video with colours so you can ask this exact question.

DON'T use just any video if it does not contain the vocabulary, grammar or theme from that particular lesson.

DON'T use videos with other than your target language (only English videos for English lessons, with native speakers preferred).

What to do BEFORE using the video in class

The best way is when the student watches the video before the class. Why? Because:

  • the student can learn the most important words and structures before the class and will come prepared for the lesson
  • the student can watch the video more times if needed, even playing it slowly
  • watching the video during the class with the teacher in silence is a waste of teacher's time and a waste of the student's money (student is paying the teacher for the time when he actually does not need the teacher at all - if the video has more than 1 minute and if there is no interaction during the video)

What to do DURING playing the video in class

This is the most important sentence of the whole article. Avoid just sitting and watching the video quietly at all costs. Keep the student talking, singing or moving. How? Simply BY ASKING LOTS OF QUESTIONS or setting an example yourself. Not just any questions. Ask questions in a way that the student will have to say the key vocabulary or the key grammar structures from your lesson.
Do not let pass more than 10 seconds of the video in silence without at least one of you being active.
You can either ask as the video plays, or you can lower the video volume so you can hear each other better, or you can stop the video, ask the question, wait for an answer and then continue playing it. Let the student talk as much as possible.

Example: You are teaching Clothes lesson and you are playing a video. You can use any of these tactics:

  • Before playing, you can ask the student a question. For example: What is the video about? (if he/she has seen the video before the class), or What do you think the video will be about? or something connected to the theme What are you wearing?
  • Repeat: Play the video and every time you hear the target vocabulary or the target structure of your lesson, ask the student to repeat it
  • Ask questions: You can ask a question about the target word/grammar structure "What is he wearing?" (you can stop the video until the student answers), or you can ask a question about the student's opinion, connected to the word/topic ("Do you like this skirt?") Using videos to find out more about the student is the best thing you can do - students love when you are interested in them and in their opinions; everybody mostly thinks about himself so if the class is about the student, it is more interesting for that student. Build a positive relationship with the student - share your opinion, too - so the conversation is real as among friends and the student does not feel like with an interrogating police officer. So, don't just fire questions one after another, but get really interested in student's answers, ask follow-up questions or share your opinion. Just make sure that you use the words the student understands and that the student will use the target words or grammar structures from your lesson.
  • Retell the story: If the student has seen the video before class, you can play it with no sound and let the student tell you what is happening in the video. This is very good since the "narrator" can talk in the present, past or future tense so it is a great way to practice tenses.
  • Dabbing: This is possible for the videos the student has already seen, but also for new videos with better students, and it can be great fun. We used to laugh hilariously with students who like acting. Decide who plays who from the video. Then, play the video without sound and try to speak when the characters open their mouth, using the target vocabulary and structures. You don't have to follow what they really say, just make up your own sentences. For example, for this video, the teacher played the girl and said that she hated pink skirts and student found it hilarious and laughed and laughed... I am sure she will remember the word skirt from now on...
  • Translating: We usually don't use the student's native language during classes, but if you understand the student's native language and you think the student needs to learn how to translate, you can make him translate the video. Just make sure that the student will also say the sentence in the target language to practice speaking.
  • Be active if you want the student to be active: If you want the student to sing, you sing first. If you want the student to dance, you need to dance first. If you want the student to do anything, you do it first to set an example.
  • After the video: When the video ends, you can also ask questions about it, ask for the student's opinion or ask him to remember the key points of the video.
Yes, it's just a picture.
Yes, it's just a picture.

Tips and tricks

There are more ways how to play one video. Try out these, if you haven't done it yet:

  • Subtitles - some teachers prefer watching the video twice - once with subtitles and once without them. Some teachers play the video without subtitles first, some play it with the subtitles first. We recommend to watch it without the subtitles first so the student focuses on listening skills and then if you see that it would be better with subtitles, you can use them. Some videos on video sites like YouTube have the option to add automatic subtitles. Just keep in mind that these subtitles might be generated automatically and they often write different things than are said :)
  • Playback speed - are they talking too fast? Click on the settings wheel and play the video slower so the student can understand more. Then you can even play it more quickly if you want to get through an easy video faster :-) all of this without the funny changes of voices:

That's it! When you work with the video during the class by keeping the student active and you succeed in making the student talk a lot, you are already a very successful teacher!

Which of these tips do you already use and what is their impact on your students?

Do you use some other tricks that we did not mention in this article? Which ones?