ERIC Identifier: ED434539
Publication Date: 1999-08-00
Author: Burt, Miriam
Source: National Clearinghouse for
ESL Literacy Education Washington DC.
Using Videos with Adult English Language Learners. ERIC Digest.
Video can be used in a variety of instructional settings-in classrooms, in
distance-learning sites where information is broadcast from a central point to
learners who interact with a facilitator via video or computer, and in
self-study situations. It can be used in teachers' professional development
(see, for example, Savage & Howard, 1992) or with students as ways of
presenting content, starting conversations, and providing illustration for
concepts. Teachers or students can create their own videotapes as content for
the class or as a means to assess learner performance (Taggart, 1996).
This digest focuses on using video with adults learning English as a second
language (ESL). It provides a rationale for using video with these learners,
presents guidelines for selecting and using videos in instruction, discusses
some commercial videos used in adult ESL programs, and concludes with a
discussion of the future of video use in instruction.
There are a number of good reasons to use video
in adult classrooms. Video combines visual and audio stimuli, is accessible to
those who have not yet learned to read and write well, and provides context for
learning (Fazey, 1999; Johnston, 1999). For English language learners, video has
the added benefit of providing real language and cultural information (Bello,
1999; Stempleski, 1992). Video can be controlled (stopped, paused, repeated),
and it can be presented to a group of students, to individuals, or for self
study. It allows learners to see facial expressions and body language at the
same time as they hear the stress, intonation, and rhythm of the language
Videos can be stimulating to adult learners. Many videos are based on
stories, which are enjoyed by almost everyone and particularly favored in some
cultures (Johnston, 1999). Videos that use the conventions of entertainment
television (plot, character, development, and resolution) may catch the
attention of learners who do not yet read.
Because many excellent videos are produced as entertainment for native
English speakers, they generally present real language that is not simplified
and is spoken at a normal speed with genuine accents. These videos include
movies, television programs, and news broadcasts; they can provide a realistic
view of American culture, and their compelling story lines can motivate learners
to stretch their comprehension. Additionally, using authentic videos in the
classroom can provide opportunities for learners to evaluate a medium that they
use in their daily life (Stempleski, 1992). This is important because, just as
learners need to develop critical literacy skills in order to analyze what they
read to distinguish fact from fiction or to identify an author's position on a
topic and compare it to their own (Florez, 1998), they also need to be able to
do this with what they see and hear, i.e., with films and television programs.
Instructional videos for English language development have been created for
use in classrooms or in other educational settings and have additional
advantages. They are likely to already have been evaluated for language,
content, and length, and many instructional videos are packaged as multimedia
resources that include student workbooks, teacher guides, video transcripts, and
audiotapes (Stempleski, 1992).
The use of authentic videos is challenging.
Often they do not provide the best means of explaining complex concepts or
practicing particular grammar or writing skills (Johnston, 1999).
It takes time for the teacher to preview and select authentic videos and then
to prepare activities for learners. As the language use and the context of
authentic videos are not controlled, teachers will need to take time to explain
Copyright presents another challenge. Regulations governing the use of
broadcast programs off-air concern how long the recording can be kept and how
often it can be shown. Details can be obtained from "Circular 21: Reproductions
of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians" (Library of Congress, 1995).
Authentic videos may contain language, content, or themes that are
controversial, or even inappropriate in the adult ESL classroom. It takes time,
thought, and careful planning on the part of the teacher to prepare learners to
watch and discuss these videos. On the other hand, selecting only G rated films
or family programs may not be advisable, as their content and language may be of
little interest and relevance to adult learners. Furthermore, if an authentic
video meets instructional objectives and is motivating to the learners, it may
serve as a springboard for discussing differing cultural norms as well as the
issue of censorship. These discussions can serve to enhance learners' critical
thinking skills while increasing their acquisition of language and cultural
information (Gareis, 1997).
Whether using authentic or instructional
videos, there are criteria to be followed in their selection. Arcario (1992),
Johnston (1999), and Stempleski (1992) suggest that teachers ask themselves the
following questions before choosing a video or video series:
Inspiration/Motivation/Interest: Will the video appeal to my students? Will it
make them want to learn? For example, a scene from "Joy Luck Club", a movie
about conflicts between first- and second-generation Chinese American women, may
be of limited interest to a class of construction workers from El Salvador.
Content: Does the content match my instructional goals? Is it culturally
appropriate for my learners? On the other hand, "My Family/Mi Familia", a film
about an Hispanic family in East Los Angeles, may be of great interest to the
class of construction workers as they live and raise families in the United
Clarity of message: Is the instructional message clear to my students? Here the
teacher is vital. Preparing the learners to understand what they are going to
watch makes the difference between time wasted and time well spent.
Pacing: Is the rate of the language or instruction too fast for my students?
Many authentic videos move at a pace difficult for a nonnative speaker to
follow. Even an instructional video may be too fast paced and dense for adults
new to English.
Graphics: What graphics are used to explain a concept? Do they clarify it? Do
they appear on screen long enough to be understood by the learner? In some
instructional videos, graphics, charts, and even language patterns may be on the
screen too briefly to be fully comprehended.
Length of sequence: Is the sequence to be shown short enough? With second
language learners, segments that are less than five minutes are often
sufficient. A two- to three-minute segment can easily furnish enough material
for a one-hour lesson (Stempleski, 1992).
Independence of sequence: Can this segment be understood without lengthy
explanations of the plot, setting, and character motivation preceding and
following it? Teachers need to decide whether it's worth investing the time and
effort to prepare learners to understand the context of certain language and
cultural nuances, or distinctions. For example, the context of a vignette from a
television situation comedy such as "Friends", which explores the relationships
among six white twenty-something New Yorkers, is much more complex than a scene
from a film such as "Mississippi Masala", which explores an interracial
Availability and quality of related materials: What print materials accompany
the video? With videos designed to be used for English language instruction, the
accompanying textbooks, resource books, and workbooks need to be examined
carefully to see if they meet the instructional needs of the learners. With
authentic videos, transcripts may be available. If a movie has been adapted from
a short story or novel, the text can be read before or after viewing the video.
Use of videos: How will I use the video? In the classroom, a teacher can help
students tackle video presentations that are linguistically more complex and in
which the story line and characters are more ambiguous. Videos of this type
should probably be avoided when assigned for self study (Thomas, et al., 1992).
Milli Fazey of Kentucky Educational Television
(KET) (1999) suggests that teachers think of using a video as a three-part
lesson, including pre-viewing, viewing, and post-viewing activities.
"Before presenting the video", the teacher must engage the learners' interest
in what they will be doing and prepare them to do it successfully. The teacher
tells the students or leads them to discover for themselves why they are viewing
the video (e.g., to understand work expectations in the United States, to learn
ways of meeting and greeting people, to learn ways that parents can help their
children at school). Preparation may include a pre-viewing reading activity or a
discussion of new vocabulary from the video. It may involve looking at still
pictures from the video and predicting language and content to be covered.
Finally, pre-viewing preparation means ensuring that an operating VCR and
monitor is available and that the screen is large enough for all students to
easily view the film. Fazey recommends using a 20-inch screen for a class of 12
to 15 learners.
"While learners view the video", the teacher should remain in the classroom
with the learners to observe their reactions and see what they do not
understand, what they are intrigued by, and what bothers them. The teacher is
there also to press the pause, rewind, and play buttons as needed. Sometimes it
is best to leave the lights on. This facilitates the teacher's observations and
enables learners to take notes and to complete worksheets prepared by the
teacher. For example, in viewing a vignette from "Joy Luck Club", learners may
be directed to note down the words that the young European-American man uses to
compliment the dinner prepared by his Chinese-American girlfriend's mother.
"After the viewing", the teacher should review and clarify complex points,
encourage discussion, and explain and assign follow-up activities whether they
are included in the student texts and materials that accompany the instructional
videos or they are developed for authentic videos. For example, the workbook for
the instructional video "A Day in the Life of the Gonz*lez Family" (Delta
Systems Co., Inc., 1998) includes post-viewing activities that direct learners
to discuss in small groups the language and cultural concepts presented in the
video, work on grammar or vocabulary activities taken from the language and
structures used in the video, and then do a consensus-building and
problem-solving activity and complete a project that takes them to the larger
community. Similarly, after watching an authentic video such as "El Norte"-a
film that chronicles the odyssey of two Central Americans who flee persecution
in their native Guatemala to immigrate to the United States-learners might
develop projects where they interview recent immigrants in their neighborhoods
and report on their experiences coming to the United States.
SOME VIDEOS CURRENTLY IN USE
Recently, several videos for
adult English language learners have been produced for broadcast on public
television stations and as videotapes to purchase. They are published in
multimedia packages that include teacher texts, student books, audiotapes, and,
in some cases, reading texts, reproducible masters for the classroom, and
These videos may be used in library programs, community-based programs, or
workplace programs where learners meet with an instructor weekly or monthly, but
most of the learning is through self study ("@Work", 1999). The following videos
are marketed for use with adult English language learners in classroom, distance
learning, or self-study settings.
This series was funded by the U.S. Department of Education and several
states, and broadcast on public TV in 1997 and 1998. It tells the story of an
ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse group of individuals who work
at and patronize a caf. They face challenges common to many immigrants (and to
some non-immigrants as well). Two instructional segments are included in each
episode; one is on culture, the other on language patterns.
The multimedia package that accompanies the videos includes workbooks and
photostories for learners and transcripts and resource books for teachers.
Assessment packages containing video and audiotapes and blackline masters can be
used to measure student progress in reading, writing, listening, speaking,
language structures, and critical thinking. In addition, there is a partner
guide with activities for native speaker friends, relatives, or tutors to use in
working with the English language learners outside the classroom.
The video series can be purchased from INTELECOM at
http://www.Intelecom.org/cafe/html/ or 626 796 7300, or by e-mail at
[email protected]/. The print materials are distributed by Heinle
& Heinle at 800 760 7400 or at www.heinle.com. For more information on this
series, see the evaluation of the implementation of the "Crossroads Caf" in the
state of Florida (McLean, 1997).
This series on U.S. history and government was produced by INTELECOM with
funding from the Immigration and Naturalization Service and was broadcast on
public television in winter/spring of 1999. Like "Crossroads Caf", it uses a
story line. Segments on such issues as freedom of speech, due process of law,
economic rights, diversity, civil liberties, and equal rights show learners how
to exercise their rights and responsibilities as citizens.
The video and accompanying student text can be purchased from INTELECOM at
http://www.Intelecom.org/oncommon.html/ or 626 796 7300, or by e mail at
[email protected]/. More information on the package can be found on
the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) at http://www.pbs.org/adultlearning/als/.
The Adult Literacy Media Alliance (ALMA) has produced a series of 26 videos
for native English speakers that is adaptable for English language learners. The
videos are centered on the themes of parenting, health, and personal finance,
and each episode includes celebrities, personal stories, and recurring
characters as well as segments on word play and math. For example, in "Laverne",
actress Liz Torres plays a store clerk who helps a customer calculate how many
diapers to buy his triplets for one week. The fast pace and combination of
animation and live action keep the interest level high for viewers of this
series. (It has been broadcast on both PBS and cable TV.) This also means,
though, that the English language learner must have excellent listening skills
and advanced level vocabulary. The student texts that accompany the videos are
in magazine format.
More information is available at http://www.edc.org/ALMA/ or by e- mail from
This video series uses a soap opera approach to language learning, as it
follows a year or so in the life of a young woman from Boston who leaves her
home to pursue her dream of a musical career in San Francisco. "Connect with
English" consists of 25 videos, each containing D two 15-minute episodes and a
segment where English language learners express their views on the characters'
actions and on the cultural concepts explored in the videos. The series includes
study guides for classroom work, home-viewing guides if the series is used for
distance learning (without the support of a class), and reading texts. It was
produced and is telecast by WGBH-Boston. Unlike "Crossroads Caf", most of the
characters in "Connect with English" are young, native speakers. The staging and
filming of this series give it authenticity; it almost appears to be a broadcast
TV drama. Because of this, and because the level of English needed to comprehend
this video is higher than for "Crossroads Caf", "Connect with English" is
appropriate for secondary school students and students in intensive English
language programs, as well as for adult learners.
More information is available at http://www.pbs.org/als/guide/.
A video series for self study is "Ingls sin Barreras" (Lexicon, 1998), which
contains student manuals, student texts, transcripts, and audiotapes to be used
with the 15-minute lessons on the video. In this series, instructors present
actual lessons to a studio class. The language and structures are chosen to
reach adult (Spanish-speaking) learners at beginning English levels.
"A Day in the Life of the Gonzalez Family" is an instructional video with
student text and teacher's guide (Delta Systems Co., Inc., 1998) that must be
used in the classroom. The video is a spark for adult English language learners
to develop communication skills while acquiring cultural content knowledge
relevant to their daily lives. The majority of the content and language is in
the accompanying print materials. The textbook consists of 10 thematic units
that lead learners from guided language practice through project-based
activities. These activities support development in vocabulary, grammar,
literacy, and problem solving.
"English for New Americans" (Random House, 1999) is a three-video series
designed for use in the classroom as well as for self study. It includes
videotapes, audiotapes, and student workbooks for beginning and intermediate
level adult learners. Each video contains seven short lessons on such topics as
enrolling children in school or applying for a job. The video's four recurring
characters are a Chinese woman, a Russian man, and a Mexican husband and wife.
An unusual feature of this series are the unscripted clips of native and
nonnative English speakers responding to questions on the lessons' topics from
their own experiences. Transcripts of the video are available.
Educators of English language learners
are exploring the use of video on the World Wide Web (Silc, 1998) and the use of
software applications that include video on CD ROMs (Gaer, 1998). Although not
widely employed, the technology does exist to combine the two-to use video clips
in interactive websites (Davis, 1999). The capability also exists for teachers
to create interactive websites for their students and for students anywhere in
the world to practice and assess their English language development while
acquiring cultural information about the United States.
Videos are a powerful tool in helping English
language learners improve their language skills. They provide the learner with
content, context, and language. Videos will play an increased role in providing
ESL instruction to students in the classroom as well as in self-study
situations. However, regardless of the quality and sophistication of videos,
when they are used in a classroom, in distance learning, or in combination of
the two settings, the teacher's guidance is key in facilitating this medium to
improve adult English language learners' communication skills and knowledge of
U.S. culture. References
Arcario, P. (1992). Criteria for selecting video materials. In S. Stempleski
& P. Arcario (Eds.), "Video in second language teaching: Using, selecting,
and producing video for the classroom" (pp. 109-122). Alexandria, VA: Teachers
of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc. (ERIC Document Reproduction
Services No. ED 388 082)
Bello, T. (1999, August/September). New avenues to choosing and using videos.
"TESOL Matters, 9"(4), 20.
Davis, R.S. (1999, June/July). Video in the corridors of cyberspace. "TESOL
Matters, 9"(3), 14-15. (http://esl-lab.com/tutorials/lesson4.htm)
Delta Systems Co., Inc. (1998). "A day in the life of the Gonz*lez family."
McHenry, IL: Author. (http://www.delta-systems.com)
The demand for ESL instruction. (1999). "@Work, 2"(1),1-2. (Available from
Winter Springs, FL, Florida Human Resources Development, Inc.)
Fazey, M. (1999). "Guidelines to help instructors help their learners get the
most out of video lessons." Unpublished manuscript. (Available from Kentucky
Educational Television, Lexingon, KY)
Florez, M.C. (1998). "Current concepts and terms in adult ESL." ERIC Q&A.
Washington, DC: National Clearinghouse for ESL Literacy Education. (EDRS No. ED
Gaer, S. (1998). "Using software in the adult ESL classroom." ERIC Q&A.
Washington, DC: National Clearinghouse for ESL Literacy Education. (EDRS No. ED
Gareis, E. (1997). Movies in the language classroom: Dealing with problematic
content. "TESOL Journal, 6"(4), 20-23.
Johnston, J. (1999). "Enhancing adult literacy instruction with video."
Unpublished manuscript, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
Lexicon, Inc. (1998). Ingls sin barreras. Los Angeles: Author.
Library of Congress. (1995). "Circular 21: Reproductions of copyrighted works
by educators and librarians." Washington, DC: Author.
Living Language. (1999). "English for new Americans." New York: Random House.
McLean, T. (1997). "Crossroads Caf implementation: Florida evaluation."
Tallahassee, FL: Florida State Department of Education. (EDRS No. ED 416 722)
Savage, K.L., & Howard, L. (1992). "Teacher training through videos: ESL
techniques." White Plains, NY: Longmans.
Silc, K.F. (1998). "Using the World Wide Web with adult ESL learners." ERIC
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Stempleski, S. (1992). Teaching communication skills with authentic video. In
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Connector, 4," 2-3. (http://www.cal.org/workplace)
Thomas, P., Brodkey, D., & Passentino, C. (1992). An overview of
currently available ESL/EFL materials. In S. Stempleski & P. Arcario (Eds.),
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the classroom" (pp.123-142). Alexandria, VA: Teachers of English to Speakers of
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