New York City Quiz

I made a video version from a gamified quiz on New York City involving reading comprehension, image recognition and cultural knowledge. Could be used as end of term task or just for personal entertainment.
Personally I would use it as a round-up activity after a class research project on New York City – “the city that never sleeps”

Being a TV News Anchor

In what ways could the latest radio news or news podcasts be preferrable to textbooks in the language classroom?

  • – authentic language by native speakers
  • – real topics happening in the world right then, broadening the students’ understanding of the world and their general knowledge
  • – fostering knowledgeable citizens of the world
  • – language studies support the students’ studies in other subjects like social studies, geography etc
  • – emphasizing and improving listening skills

Why BBC?

  • – excellent, clearly articulated language using rich vocabulary
  • – by and large, unbiassed reporting on a wide range of subjects
  • – short and to the point (5 minutes in all)


  • – as a regular listening comprehension with multiple choice questions or similar
  • – or, to be worked on in detail, using all language skills, listening, reading, writing, and speaking, which is the method I’m going to describe here

BBC-news – From Sound Podcasts to TV-news in Two Steps

Step one 

Student activity: Listening, Googleing, collaborating and writing.  Level: Advanced (senior year in high school) Tasks: The podcast (this one from 2012)  divided according to topic in game generator Didactor with a final, gamified, quiz on vocabulary from all topics. BBC NewsIn each news item the student tries to recreate what is being said word by word. Some help is given, but not too much: SihanoukIn the passage on King Sihanouk’s death, for instance, the following words need extra attention and re-appear in the final task: former, crucial, turbulent, unpredictable, autocratic, install, engulf, ill-fated, abdicate. Others to appear in the later items were: parachutist, leap, descent, head over heels, chord, sculpt, raise, constituent assembly, predecessor, defeat, offshoot, representative, serve as, transitional government, key player, uprising, mosque, clash, regain control, fierce, armoured vehicles, without major incidents, pollster, parliamentary election, rebuke, first-round vote, weary, recession, reduction, public sector, rebound, Lithuanians, assassination, impeachment etc., many of them extremely useful and much more frequent than most students would be prepared to admit. Working with them like this, in authentic, coherent contexts, raises the students’ linguistic awareness, which, in turn, makes it highly likely that the student will cognitively pay attention to them the next time they appear. 

Step two 

Student activity: The same as in Step 1: Listening, Googleing, collaborating and writing, expanded with these: finding corroborative images, practising intonation and pronunciation. Level: Advanced (senior year in high school) Task: To be a BBC TV-reporter who is assigned to make a TV-newscast on the basis of a radio news podcast. For news anchor he/she can either use an avatar or an actual photo of him-/herself. Material: A recent BBC podcast – preferrably as fresh as possible, because that would make it possible for the student to use recent newspaper for help (and generally boost newspaper reading habits). News reporter kompDividing the deadlines like this, into two smaller ones – one for the text manuscript and one for the sound files – and a final one for the finished end-product, makes it more perspicuous for the student and reduces the risk of him procrastinating too much, leaving the whole work until the very last moment. Also, this enables me to review the student’s work at various points in the process and to render him/her assistance with the technology or the language if required. One student, participating in this project last year, chose to do it like this:

England, Oh England (and a little bit of Wales) – From Authentic Video to Student Video

Part 1 of an amazing three-part film on England and Wales that Ella Grangärd and Amanda Niskanen made for their English class in grade 8. This creative duo had a vision and  went all out to make it real – even their unquestionably demanding teacher is still filled with awe at the result.

      •  “That is the English Channel, a small stretch of sea that separates England from the rest of the world, and it’s got to be partly responsible for what England and the English are all about. This tiny island nation gave birth to an empire that at one time ruled the world, and today almost a quarter of the world’s population speaks its language. How did this country come to exert so much influence? Small island – big history!
      • England is a densely populated country that sits at the edge of continental Europe where evidence of civilisation dates back to 7,000 BC. I begin my historic journey at the site of the Battle of Hastings, and then I travel along the coast to Brighton and make a quick stop in London, and then on to the Yorkshire moors, and then up to England’s northernmost border. In Liverpool I take a ride on the Magical Mystery Tour, and I end my journey in the West Country, at the mythical birthplace of King Arthur in Tintagel.

History of England2These are the first lines in a Pilot Guides 50-minute video on The History of England, giving a short outline of what the viewer can expect to find. Previously I have presented suggestions on how Pilot Guides videos could be used in the EFL classroom, on Ireland (here and here) and on the USA here. Consequently, this post on “The History of England and “England and Wales” would constitute a fourth approach to what one can do with authentic video and ICT. (Obviously, the same ideas can be implemented on any video on any subject really, provided you are permitted to do so – the ideas are not limited to the Pilot Guides videos. I use them because they appeal to the teenagers I teach, and because I have permission from the production company to use them in my classroom and in teacher training.)

When it comes to the topic of England, most textbooks that I have experienced limit themselves to London, whereas the rest of the country remains virtually neglected, yet there is no end to interesting places, traditions and phenomena taking place in “this tiny island nation” outside of London, a lot of which can be found in these afore-mentioned films. The route plans look as follows:

"History of England"

“History of England”

"England and Wales"

“England and Wales”

 Whereas one concentrates on understanding modern phenomena by consolidating them in historic facts and narratives, the other is taking a closer look at famous institutions, like Eton or the Cornish pasty, for example, establishing in them the essence, if you like, of iconic Britishness. At times they overlap – for instance, they both start off with the symbolic white cliffs of Dover and both make stopovers at Glastonbury, although for very different reasons – but that is no grounds for forgoing either of them. Both approaches complement each other in giving the viewer a deeper understanding – surely useful to a the young  mind constantly inundated with concepts and cultural references that he has no means or method of really grasping, especially so in popular culture. In this particular case I would be working with 8th-graders who very well might have encountered names like Glastonbury, Avalon or Strawberry Hill  before, but  they would more than likely be absolutely meaningless to them. The goal is that these and many more mentioned in the videos would elicit associations, both visual, auditive and factual, the next time the student was exposed to any of them.

So much then for some of the reasons for choosing the videos. But what are the students supposed to do with them?

Encouraged by recent positive experiences of having the students preparing or filming their own videos (described here and here), I tried to come up with ideas for transferring those to the area of using authentic video, as well. There were several alternatives, all ending in new videos expressing both comprehension of the topic at hand as well as the students’ own creative vision.  Ella Grangärd and Amanda Niskanen


Briefly, the assignment is to make a new video on the basis of two existing ones. Facts (and to a certain extent visuals) are to be transferred into the new one, even the language and choice of words can be identical, but they must be transmitted in the student’s own voice. This means that copying here is not necessarily a bad thing at all – the student still needs to make a manuscript for himself, and to copy exactly what is said from listening is no easy task at all and requires a lot of  concentration but also advanced language skills – I would argue that it is all but impossible to “translate” language from auditive perception into writing successfully without perfectly understanding what is being said. As soon as there is any gap in the comprehension, the resulting written text will inevitably be nonsensical.

The starting point would be the same for all:  to write a manuscript on a journey of their own through England (and Wales) based on passages in at least seven of the video clips (13 in all).

The possibilities from then on were:

  • 1) taking representational screen shots of crucial scenes in the video, compiling them in Movie Maker or iMovie and adding voice-over sound of their own making (in Audacity or similar), and, finally, to synchronize the screen shots with the sound file, making it into a coherent whole where visuals support the auditive medium. Images from other sources also possible.
  • 2) substituting the original soundtrack with one of the students’ own making (working on mute versions of the videos provided by the teacher). Synchronizing visuals with audio important.
  • 3) roleplay re-enactment of the video contents.
  • 4) a combination of two or all of the above

Ella and Amanda went for the fourth option, a combination of several. Here is Part 2 of their work (the climate here could not be more un-English if  we tried –  but you need to consider that the project deadline was in February and this is what Finland usually looks like in the middle of the winter):

Teacher work

It all sounds very easy-going on the teacher, doesn’t it – the students do all the work, whereas the teacher can lean back and enjoy the buzz of student activity …?

Actually, a scenario like that would in all probability result in disappointment for teacher and students alike. It’s a huge project just considering the source material. Two 50-minute videos need at last two lessons for viewing alone, not to mention choosing what to include and what to skip, and then there is the manuscript, which in itself requires a lot of time and effort. And that is just the beginning. This means that most students would lose both heart and interest in the project before they’ve even reached the middle of the initial stage. First of all, clear stepping stones are desperately needed in order to prevent that from happening. Also, clear deadlines for each stepping stone so that the project and each student’s individual progress are transparent and  clearly outlined from the very beginning.

In addition, you might want to  produce some scaffolding in order to ensure that the students at least have the possibility of learning to understand and possibly even to produce words hitherto unknown to him, or to give him hints at good search words in order to find more information on the subject. The alpabetical wordlist below is an example of such scaffolding. Words and names from “History of England” are listed, but I don’t want to make it too comfortable for the student by adding translations in L1. Nothing in real life is given with a two-way wordlist and the sooner students learn to find out for themselves the better. Now, if he hears a word which is crucial for his overall understanding, he has been given the means of finding out how it’s spelled and having done that it’s up to him to google it and find out the meaning and how to use it. He already has the pronunciation.

WORDS1Pre-project work

  • – Cutting the videos down into 5-9 minutes video-clips based on destinations along the route. Easily done in Movie Maker Live (free) or in Adobe Premiere (pay programme)  or any other video editing programme available.
  • – Making mute versions, which I do in Adobe Premiere but there probably are good and reasonably priced Apps for this, too. Alternatively, one could leave this option out altogether.
  • – Decide on project timeframe, deadlines, assessment etc.
  • – Putting together material online for student use – in Didactor a compendium with 13 tasks in all; each with a video clip for manuscript writing.

Didactor - kompendiumEngland and Wales: 6 video clips

Didactor - E&W

History of England: 7 separate video clips

Didactor - History


Assessment criteria have to be transparent and clear to all from the outset. These are what I decided on for this particular project:

Grade 10 (stands for Excellent)
• comprehensive as to content, attention to detail
• expressing creativity and ambition
• excellent ”authentic” pronunciation
• extensive vocabulary
• mostly correct and idiomatic English
• Visuals and audio synchronized (picture supports what is being said)

Grade 5 (stands for poor, barely OK)
• covering at least one fact from each of the seven requisite video clips
• tedious structure – monotonous, uninteresting
• vacillating or recurrent downright incorrect pronunciation
• poor or limited vocabulary
• abounding syntax errors
•  Visuals and audio synchronized (picture supports what is being said)

Grade 4 (stands for Fail)
• Odd or irrelevant information not to be found in any of the video clips
• showing no sign of new learning
• no submitted work

The criteria for grades between 10 and 5 weren’t explicitly put down in writing, but I explained to the students that those grades would be given in relation to the critera for 10 and 5. It was, in fact, quite easy to grade the films eventually when I had the parameters for 10 and 5 stated.

Ella and Amanda’s work were obviously a 10 – remember, I didn’t demand perfection – I was aiming for excellence in relation to their age and proficiency level. This is Part 3 of their film:

Warm-up or tuning in

In order to later choose what to work with and what to leave out, as well as get an overall picture of the whole material, it is advisable for the students to start by watching through all the clips. I chose to do one of the films, “History of England” in class and have the students look for answers t the following 18 questions:

QuestionsThe other film, “England and Wales”, they watched online as homework and answered a similar set of questions.

The project work itself

As previously mentioned, the students have to start with the manuscript once they’ve settled on which clips to focus on. The reasons why I decided on dividing the films into thirteen separate clips were threefold. First and foremost I needed to give the students a distinct understanding of the minimum requirements: the main contents of seven clips were to be included in their own video – exactly which seven was up to themselves. Secondly I wanted to be able to monitor their progress, and it was a great deal easier in this manner where they had to work clip by clip and upload their manuscripts one by one. It also facilitated a smoother reviewing phase as they could start working on their next clip while waiting for feedback on their first. Also, when there were several small deadlines instead of one big, I would know sooner that there was reason for worry and step in if there were students who missed their first deadlines altogether.

When the manuscript stage was passed it was time to collect images to go together with the manuscript and to start getting it into one whole.  The synchronizing seems to have been the most difficult thing to get right, and I need to re-write the instructions for that part of the project until the next time I have 8th-graders. I also find that most teachers tend to assume teenagers, “diginatives” as they are, have a lot more computer skills than they actually have, so even comparatively easy computer stuff like taking screen shots or using the Snipping tool (on Windows machines), not to mention making sound files, most probably is unfamiliar to most. A lot of teacher guidance and instruction are needed here, but don’t do everything at once or the students will be really confused. Guide them how to make screenshots when it’s time to start working on the visuals and do a studio recording software when it’s time to work on the soundtrack. Movie Maker, in turn, is pretty intuitive and students usually are relatively knowledgeable around it, except for two things. First we have the moving around with it, ie. first working at school and then wanting to continue at home or vice versa. I can’t say how many times I’ve known students be absolutely dumbfounded when they’ve opened a Movie maker-file at school after saving it at home – and all the visuals are gone, only broken-image-icons left where they were supposed to be. And they ‘re obiviously not particularly used to working with sound or video editing programmes when seem to think that pressing “Save” automatically will produce the finished audio or video file and not a project file. I won’t go into explaining or solving this here and now – that will be left for a separate blog post later on.

Learning process

What did the students in the end learn? For one thing, they learnt a lot about the geography, the history and the cultural traditions of the country of the target language. As to language they learnt a great deal more new vocabulary and about pronunciation than they could ever have done through reading texts from any of the available English textbooks for language learners. All language skills – listening, reading, writing, speaking – were involved, much more so, in fact, than if the research material had been in the form of text and not video. They probably worked harder on this project than if we had had a test at the end of it instead of video production, and they did so because most of them agreed it felt meaningful to them. Hard work, yes, but meaningful hard work. But had I said at the end of it all that now would be a good time to start a new video project like this one, they would in all probability have groaned and refused point blank, quite understandably. All language skills were involved, but so were many of the five senses, and as the visuals had played such a prominent role in each step of this multi-levelled learning process, I would argue that what they had learned here had a much higher memory retention factor than most other activities in the language classroom. And for active, functional listening activities, few activities could beat using authentic video in this manner.

Because content and language in projects like this one are so tightly knit together, they will also be closely embedded together in the student’s cognitive system, in their brain. And of course, all students did not invest as much time, effort and energy into the project as Amanda and Ella did, but many did and came up with completely different productions and yet, quality-wise, exactly as impressive. And then there were those, not many – two out of  40 – who just couldn’t be bothered and did not submit a thing, and they got an F, as promised in the Assessment criteria. The thing is that these individuals do no better when it comes to studying for traditional tests either, and then I just have to admit that these students are beyond me .

Alternative versions

One could argue, with good reason, that the scope and scale of the project, as outlined here, would be too extensive, too overwhelming for any normal class of normal students at the age of 14-15. Perhaps… But these two classes of 8th-graders I pulled the project with were completely normal teenagers. They were normal students some with concentration issues, some with dyslexia, and they pulled it through, sometimes even much to my surprise. But I agree that I might have gone overboard with two videos – one could have sufficed really. And the instructions could have been as follows:

words alternative instructions









TV-reporters, Hobbies and Interviews

Ppt - hobbiesIn last week’s Cooking Show I described my first stumbling steps into the world of video production with my students. In spite of the shortcomings the experience did whet my appetite for more activities like that in my classroom., and I decided to do something similar with my older students in the German class.

In Finland we have a somewhat complicated language situation, something we have in common with several other European countries. First of all we have two official languages, Finnish and Swedish, both very “small” languages spoken by an extremely small portion of the world population. My students’ L1 is Swedish, and their L2 therefore Finnish. Their L3 is English, also mandatory for all students in the Finnish schools – both their L2 and their L3 are studied to the C1-level according to the European framework of references for languages. Additionally they have the option of an L4, which is either French or German. In recent years Spanish, Japanese and Chinese have been introduced into the language buffet for L4 or L5, but they have not reached a popularity to threaten the position of German and French, at least not yet, and definititely not at the school where I teach.

That year our full-time German teacher had taken a year’s sabbatical and I took over a lot of his classes. One of those was a large group of freshmen at our senior high school who had opted that year to start their German studies. They were not absolute beginners – they had about 40 lessons of German behind them – but they were definitely not fluent in the new language.

The text we would start working on that week was about hobbies, and I thought maybe we could do something with that. I would still work with the groups-of-three model but the roles and the situation would be different from the cooking show-scenario.

roles hobbiesThis time the students were supposed to be working as TV-reporters for an online youth magazine, and sent out to interview young people about their hobbies and leisure activities. The first stage in the process was to come up with questions to ask – they had just learnt how to use interrogative pronouns so this would be a good opportunity to practise for real. According to my guidelines they had to find out what the interviewee’s hobby was; how it was practised and what equipment was necessary; where this hobby of theirs took place; when, how often and with whom, as well as the reasons why they had chosen this particular hobby. As everbody had to interview somebody at some point they all had to work on these questions before they got down to the particulars of planning the video production and worked on the answers in their respective groups.

The group work was rather complicated because here they had to decide on the roles for each particular video, they had to decide on a hobby, discuss it with the others and refine their questions that hitherto had been construed on a pretty general level.   This time they were free to choose the locations themselves, and they did not have to remain in the classroom for  this pre-video stage – they could work in the school library where they had access to German dictionaries, or in the hallway or in the cafeteria. Or they could simply remain in the classroom. As it happened, nobody chose the last alternative – they scattered in all directions and I remained alone in the classroom, which surprised me somewhat. The curious thing was that I did not remain alone for long – as the teamwork took off there suddenly seemed to be high level of motivation and engagement for the task at hand, and there was a steady stream of students literally running back to the classroom to ask me for help with words or phrases in German, something I was more than willing to assist them with.

In the cooking show activity I did not really venture on anything more elaborate than plain shooting with their own cell phones or digital cameras. This time around I was more ambitious and “adventurous” as I opened the possibilities of editing of both sound and video clips, inserting stills or external video clips, still using their own mobile equipment with the software addition of Movie Maker Live or iMovie. They could also use voice-over or music and add captions or subtitles if necessary. The main thing was that they had to respond to the task: working as a real life TV-reporter and interviewing young people about their hobbies. Language errors or mistakes were of no consequence – the main thing was to make themselves understood and to communicate successfully.

The result was beyond my wildest expectations. There were as many different approaches to the task as there were groups in the class. In this eight-minute video, for example, Fanny Forsén, Ida Voutilainen and Lizette Krooks have made all three interviews into one coherent drama play with extra touches of humour and real life activities like making coffee and offering that to the visiting reporters.

Among the other contributions, I was also surprised to find we had a big rock star in class, one who wants to be anonymous at this point, but who made a great impression on me. Just a matter of time and we’ll see him among the other great stars on TV.

In the debriefing stage after the project the students got to evaluate the whole process and they were overwhelmingly positive about it. They had never done anything like it before, but they would definitely jump at the chance of doing something similar again – and in other subjects as well. As a teacher I was happy to write it all down as a success, too. The students had used all language skills – they had written, read, spoken and listened, and they had learnt a lot of new vocabulary and had demonstrably communicated successfully in their newly acquired L4-language. The students showed high-level engagement and motivation throughout the process, and it was a joy to observe them working together on each other’s texts and practising their lines.

Even though this idea was realised in German, it works fine in any language classroom, and I can’t think why it couldn’t take place in the ELT classes with younger (or older) students, as well.




The Cooking Show – the Next Generation Jamie Olivers

7AI was walking to school one autumn day four years ago, when all of a sudden I got this idea that would in fact later generate a whole range of other similar ideas for all ages and all levels. We had been working on a text about Jamie Oliver and subsequently on food vocabulary with my 7th-graders. The plan was to have a test on this later but for the lesson that particular day I had scheduled for us to work in the textbook with a new text on another subject. I was well prepared, as I usually is, but felt zero inspiration. Working with textbooks tends to be boring for the students – there are no surprises, nothing breaking the constant lull of the same activities over and over again. I’ve heard representative for publishing companies say that it is pedagogically important for the teaching material to be uniform, the same principle governing the whole series, but for the life of me I cannot imagine what that pedagogy could foster in terms of motivation or student engagement.  Even I, the teacher, finds it incredibly boring, and as hard as I try to come up with new ideas around the themes in the texts, at times I just can’t take any more worksheets or do a text in class the way the material writers had planned it to be  dealt with.

I thought, maybe I can postpone the new text until another day when I can muster up some enthusiasm for it, but what should I do right now then?  I love introducing authentic video into my classes, but I wouldn’t have any time to prepare it for this particular lesson. Anyway, the students needed more activation now than watching a film clip. But what if they could do their own films? It couldn’t all be done in this one lesson, but they could prepare for it today and then film it maybe next week?

Still walking, I went through what steps this scenario would include in terms of subject matter, time frame, props, technology etc. and I directly thought of  the text we had been working on, Jamie Oliver and his cooking shows. Yes, that’s what the students were going to do – their very own cooking shows. It could easily replace the written test I had planned and would be much more fun. Also, it would include oral skills which a written test hardly does. It would necessarily have to be zero-budget films, completely dependent on language and the students’ own imagination. The technology would involve their own cell phones – couldn’t use the school’s expensive video equipment, anyway, as I wanted everybody in class to make a film, not only a few protagonists. So I needed a lot of cameras not only one or two. We would use the school cafeteria and kind of play act all the ingredients in the show – couldn’t afford to buy all that food stuff anyway. And the students were free to come up with their own favourite dishes. What was important was that, like Jame Oliver, they would introduce all the ingredients while they were play-acting, and explain how these ingredients were prepared and put together – all in English of course. They would use the props available in the school cafeteria – actually nothing but trays, plates, glasses and cutlery. What remained was the problem of how to design the project so that everybody had the possibilities to come up with a film of their own. They wouldn’t be able to film and to play-act at the same time.

By now I had already reached the school building, and I was out of time. Then I got it, and this is how it turned out:

Language learning objective

1) Understanding what to do from reading a recipe in English

2) Orally explaining and physically showing how a dish is prepared

Previous learning activities

Studying a Jamie Oliver text in the textbook, learning the English names of vegetables & other food articles, watching a videoclip from Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution in America with accompanying activities, learning cooking terminology

Time frame

Four lessons in all

Group management

The class consisted of 21 students, ie. they were divisible by three: they would work in groups of three, and the groups would be put together so that there would be at least one student with a cell phone with video recording possibility in every group. Each group would produce three video clips, and there would be three roles in the group, that of the head chef, the sous chef and the camera man, roles that would circulate for every cooking show video. In that way, every single student will have served in all capacities.rolesRecipes – pre-production activities

The first lesson would be dedicated to every student choosing their favourite recipe, something they had made in the home economics class or just something they knew how to cook. They would list all the necessary ingredients and start writing the instructions in English. There would be no computers, but they could use their cell phones for looking up words they didn’t know – I didn’t want them to get any shortcuts by looking up ready made recipes in English. The teacher would also help by building up a vocabulary list on the whiteboard. If they didn’t finish at school, this would be their homework for the next lesson.

During the second lesson the students would work in their home groups of three, collaborate on each other’s recipes and making corrections where necessary. They would also plan the actual video session – who would do what during each video.

The third lesson would be all about practising (dry runs without camera) and learning their lines by heart.

The fourth and final lesson would take place in the school cafeteria for the real action – the filming. There would be no editing, what got on camera would be the real thing. Re-takes were possible though.


 Tools and props

Cell phones or digital cameras, basic cooking utensils

Post-production activity

Watching with peer evaluation in class

Student assessment of the whole activity afterwards:

Fun and much better than oral presentation in front of the class, fun to watch what the other groups had done. The students also felt the assignment had been demanding, much more effort, engagement and hard work were required than a mere written test would have done.

Teacher’s evaluation:

– Cooperation absolutely central, everyone’s activities are intertwined making it a “whole” (group formation essential)

– Students support each other

– Differentiation natural – everyone can choose their own recipe according to level of difficulty

– Choice of location really awful – though lots of space the acoustics did not work, the individual performances were almost incomprehensible because of all the other action in the room –> students need more freedom to choose their own location which is perfectly possible as they are using their own equipment.

– Problems with what to do with students who were absent on the day of filming –> the teams incomplete (I solved it by leaving it to the teams to decide when and where to film on their own time, I merely gave them a deadline.)

– Oral proficiency:  meets the teacher’s requirements. The stronger students needed little support from keywords or manuscripts, the weaker or lessconfident ones more. On the other hand, the teacher had not really laid down any rules on the use of manuscripts, so…

– Expected file format circus actually never happened. The students all brought their videos to me on memory sticks, which was an enormous relief. I had prepared for emergency conversion scenarios but I never had to put them in action.

Nowadays I actually consider this particular experiment a failure, just because the final products were so bad soundwise. This had nothing to do with student performance or the cell phones that we used. I had thought the school cafeteria would be a good location because there would be plenty of space for each team to work undisturbed by the others. I didn’t realise how bad it was until the actual filming part and then it was too late to do anything about it. Good thing was that everyone could work simultaneously and were given free hands on how much time to spend on the production, which was only possible because they were using their own at-hand equipment.

There were, however, a couple of teams that had to do the shooting at home, and that proved to be a so much better solution, as you can see here, where Christian is demonstrating how to fry an egg:

But even if this project was to a certain extent a failure, there still were so many positive aspects to it that I was definitely going to reuse the concept, but with a few modifications. I’ll return to these in future blog posts.

Project-based learning, the USA and Authentic Video in the EFL classroom

Part 1

The Globe Trekker/Pilot Guides video collection is a treasure trove for any English teacher. It encompasses extensive material from every corner of the world, and especially English-speaking countries are lavished with attention. Australia, Canada, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, England – you name it. Even individual cities are endowed with an approx. 50-minute complete video of its own, like London, New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New Orleans to name but a few.

Covering the United States satisfactorily in the language classroom is a daunting project, especially if you want to give your students more than a superficial understanding of its history, geography, language and people. Most textbooks for EFL students fall short in this respect, and it’s understandable – time available is limited and there is so much more that needs to be covered. But the situation can be remedied to a certain extent by taking your students on a virtual tour of this enormous multi-faceted, contradictory country, which, in spite of its young age, has so many fascinating stories to offer, and by giving them the visuals to go with these stories.

To date, Globe Trekker offers a range of videos on the USA, covering practically every individual state, and, so it seems, more is coming every new season.

Every video is about 50-55 minutes, which, of course, means that you have a few decisions to make – viewing all of them in the traditional classroom is a big no-no, at least if you want to keep the students’ attention. You can choose one to view in class and base all your allotted USA-time on that, but then again, which one? Which part of the country is so representative of the USA as a whole that you can disregard the rest? That’s a hard one to answer, and I won’t even make an attempt to do it. One of the other alternatives is to give every student one video plus an assignment to carry out in connection with it. That is the one I personally went for. Another option would be to have the students work in pairs with one video, which means you didn’t have to include the city guide videos but could concentrate on the states. It all depends on how many videos you have at hand, as well as how many students you have. And, of  course, what the post-video phase will be.

In addition to making this initial decision, there are quite a lot of follow-up issues to consider:

  1. 1) Should the students be able to choose what video they are going to work with, or could this choice be made for them (without the teacher being dictatorial)?
  2. 2) What will the assignment be all about?
  3. 3) How could the sharing of all the gathered information best be implemented?
  4. 4) What is the time frame to work within?
  5. 5) What tools / skills will the students need in order to fulfill the requirements?

Part 2


My guess was that if the students were to choose their own videos, there would be parts of the USA more popular than others, like for instance California and New York. This wouldn’t be quite fair to those whose turn to choose came last, or those who didn’t participate the loudest in the shouting match that would probably ensue, because they would end up with the least popular ones and that might have a negative impact on their inner motivation. I had to come up with another solution, one that preferably involved the element of suspense, which I knew from experience is an automatic attention grabber. I started the class by writing the numbers 1-17 on the whiteboard, as there were 17 students and I had 17 videos. The students were to choose one number – there wouldn’t be much fighting or shouting about favourite numbers. Moreover, it would be fair to all students as they could recognize that nobody had any advantage here, the video they ended up with was a random act of chance not a deliberate move from anybody in particular. And, as I said, they had no idea what the numbers were all about anyway. One by one, names were added to the numbers. This would work also if you had fewer than 17 students in class or if you had more than 17 videos; any remaining numbers would result in the corresponding videos being left out of the project (NB! The names shown here are all entirely fictitious and merely serve the purpose of illustration).NumbersWhen all students have been assigned a number, it’s time to show what the numbers signify. I told them that they were all going to work with one particular part or aspect of the USA and that they had, in fact, already “chosen” what that part would be.NamesThis is actually a research project like any other, but here their background material was in the form of one video instead of books or web sites. They could, of course, use Google to look up names or other facts mentioned in the video, but the whole idea was that the contents of their end product would be based on what they had seen and heard in the video. Therefore, the ever-present risk or temptation in any research project to copy/paste would be eliminated. To use video in this way has many advantages at least when it comes to the language classroom. You get a multi-sensory (is there such a word?) activity based on several language skills:  listening and writing (and the more optional one of reading if they use Google), and depending on the end product, the added skill of speaking, which leads me to what the students were actually supposed to do.  The project would for each video lead to two end products: a PowerPoint presentation with nothing but images and a poster with both pictures and captions. The PowerPoint presentation would be needed for an oral presentation in class and the poster for an exhibition on the classroom walls. Now you might ask why there was to be no text in the PowerPoints. The answer is quite simple – I want the students to get as much practice speaking freely in front of others as they can, and speaking without reading aloud is a prerequisite for any good presentation. The images they choose for their Powerpoints should therefore be chosen for mnemonic devices, to help them remember what to speak about, and not so much for looking nice, which, I have found, seems to be the only purpose pictures normally serve in student presentations. This adds real communicative speaking to the skills involved in this project. The students need to do some real attentive listening in order to get the facts straight, they need to do some real writing in the form of notes for themselves, and they need to practice their oral presentation before it’s time to step up in front of the class and deliver. Also, of course, they learn a lot about the United States, as well, and learning about target language countries is a predominant requirement in the national Finnish curriculum. In the next chapter I will talk about guiding the students as to content and scope of their project.


Part 3


The first question in any student’s mind is how long any project presentation should be. The second one is what he/she is supposed to concentrate on. The answers to these largely depend on how much time you can allocate for the project, and, of course, what you want the students to learn from it all. In this instance I wanted the students to really experience the USA firsthand and come away from it with quite a lot of new insights from as many parts of country as possible. Therefore, the project should be worked on in detail and presented as if they had undertaken the journey themselves. In order to achieve this, I felt I needed to give each of them a route plan, a guideline on what they were supposed to tell the other students. So, each student – or student pair if they worked in pairs – receives a card with listings of places or things to visit and experience (see above), but not until they’ve done step 1 – watched the video as a whole. If they get them at the very beginning, they might skip this first step altogether which might be detrimental to a comprehensive approach to the subject at hand. Left to themselves, students generally tend to take the easy way out here and go directly to Wikipedia or similar, so if you, like I do, really want to stress the listening and watching part of the process here, it might be a good idea to stress that all content in their own presentation should derive from the video, and if it is not to be found in the video, it’s a waste of time to have it in their presentations.

The ideal time frame of the presentation would be about 10-15 minutes, and every presentation is to start with a map, giving the audience a clear understanding of the geographic route for the journey as well as information on what US states will be covered. This is included in each of the videos and can be captured by pressing the Print Screen button on the keyboard or by using the Snipping tool. (All my references here are to Windows machines as those are the ones we have at my school and the ones I know best.)


The route travelled in the video "Deep South"

The route travelled in the video “Deep South”


When it comes to the actual learning and preparation work time frame one needs to consider each step of the process and allocate lessons and homework according to that. Now, as I’ve previously stated, each video is about 50 minutes, give or take, which means the first lesson of full-time project work would be spent doing an all through-viewing of the video material in order for the students to get an overall picture of their journey.

The next step is more work-intensive. They need to collect pictures, ie. screen shots, along the way, make notes for themselves, check with the route plan, google facts, maps and names; all activities that are surprisingly time consuming.  Allocated time can be anything from 4 lessons upwards, depending on how much homework you presume the students can and will manage.

Putting the screen shots or the images together in Powerpoint and planning the presentation in itself, is not altogether a piece of cake either and will demand time and effort, too, especially if you want the students to make a proper job of it all. Also, allow a lesson for practising presentation skills in pairs or on their own.

For the poster,  the students select their most representative images from the PP presentation, compose captions, and print it all on paper.  The final step is the physical putting together of the poster itself. The poster step could be left until later, as well, until all the oral presentations have been delivered, and it could be replaced by an online photo album, for instance. It might be nice for the students though to have something tangible in the nonvirtual world to look at after all their hard work.

Altogether you might need as many as 10-15 lessons, not forgetting to allow yourself ample time for the initial instruction phase. I think it’s important that every student needs to know exactly what they are supposed to do, how much time they have to do it and what will be the outcome of it all. Also, it might not be enough with oral instructions at the beginning of the project; at least my students need continuous access to the instructions and the time frame where they can go to remind themselves of all the different steps along the way. Putting the printed instructions on the classroom wall is one option here; having them online, where they can be accessed from home and by their parents, too, might even be a better one.

In the next part I will talk about the presentation phase and different options here, in order to optimize learner engagement and communicative activity.


Part 4

USA2When it comes to the final presentations there are a few things that need emphasizing:

  • 1) it needs to be interesting and enjoyable for the audience
  • 2) there cannot be any reading aloud, not from the PP itself or from a manuscript – the images in the Pp should be chosen for mnemonic as well as illustrative reasons
  • 3) check that all the points in the given route plan are present
  • 4) did you remember to include the map?

Now, a regular presentation in front of the rest of the class usually tends to be rather an angst-ridden experience for most students, even more so when it is to be delivered in a foreign language. On the other hand, it is usually taken more seriously than if you have the students sit in small groups and present to each other. 

If you want your students to take the task at hand seriously, but get the anxiety a notch or two down, there is an alternative, which is generally perceived as fun for all participants involved, practically angst-free, and concluding in having your students much more fluent and proficient speakers than before the presentation stage – based on the Gallery Walk idea. In this instance we could call it The US Travel Fair.

Let’s assume for argument’s sake that we have a class of 17-18 students, and each student has worked individually on one video, one part of the USA.

Option 1

Arrange the class  so that you have a row of desks for the number of students who are going to do their presentations in the first run. The simplest choice here would be to have half the class sitting down doing the presentations whereas the other half  moves around from desk to desk, listening and taking notes. When they have moved a full circle, the presenters and the fair visitors will change places and the second run is ready to start. That means we have two runs of presentations – but each student has only heard half of all presentations. 

Option 2

Arrange the class so that you have 6 fair stands (for 1/3 of the students – students 1-6). The other students – students 7-18 – circle in pairs from stand to stand, listening and taking notes. When they have moved a full circle it’s time for the second run, where students 7-12 go behind the desks, and the other students form new pairs. A new full circle and then the third and last run with students 13-18 taking the presenter roles. This will take more time but now each student has heard at least two thirds of the presentations (plus his own).

Gallery walk

Let’s look at it from an individual presenter’s view of the situation. With the first option he has done his presentation from beginning to end about 8 times, with the second 6 times. For every presentation he becomes more confident, more fluent in his role and at the end of the game he is pretty proficient in talking about what he’s seen and experienced in the video. One might think that this would be perceived as boring and repetitive, but surprisingly enough most students find it deeply motivating and gratifying as they themselves become aware of their progress as speakers. 

The Travel Fair visitors have come to the fair in order to decide which part of the USA he/she would like to visit based on the presentations. He’s to take notes, listen carefully and then at the end of each run make a Top 3-list, with  carefully elaborated arguments for his selection based on the presentations he’s seen. 

Final discussion and debriefing

When the fair is over, the students can sit in groups of four (Option 1) or six (Option 2) to compare and discuss their Top 3-lists, and agree on a new Top 3-list for the whole group. Each student has to defend their choices based on the arguments he has formed for himself, and verbally “fight” for his candidates to make it to the Final 3. Their own presentations will not be included in the discussion because no one in the group has heard any one else’s – they sit in groups according to their roles in the different runs of the fair. The teacher might help here with a list of things to consider (language use – how enjoyable/interesting the presentation was – how informative etc)

When they’re done or when time is up, each group will present their new Top 3-list to the teacher and the rest of the class.

Finally it’s time for the wall posters to be put up on the wall. Here it might be nice to have a formal exhibition opening, where the students are invited to walk around, discuss what they see and what they recognize from having heard at the fair. Alternatively they could be given a list of questions based on the posters and their task would be to find the answers, an activity which might ensue in a gamified quiz in class teams with prizes to win.

My end notes

The teacher’s role in this whole project has been minimized; it is highly student-centered every step of the way. The students have  used all language skills – listening, speaking, writing, and reading – with an emphasis on listening and speaking, skills that tend to be secondary in school project work. It has been a large project, both in terms of time spent and effort made, and it has been described in a very subject specific way. It can, however, very well be modified to suit any topic really in the language classroom. One might not have a 50-minute long video on 17-18 different aspects of one single topic, but one video really is sufficient to meet these particular project requirements – it’s just a matter of cutting that one video into smaller segments and have the students work on these. Alternatively the students can work in pairs and not individually which means that the need for video material has been cut in half. If the video segments are smaller, less lesson time is needed, and the whole project could be done in a week or even less.

On the whole, students find it motivating to work with authentic video. Not only do they get accustomed to hearing and understanding accents of the target language from speakers around the world, they also get to broaden their horizons and learn about things in real life, never to be encountered in language textbooks. It also stimulates more than one of the senses and a student’s performance is not dependent on their writing and spelling skills, something that is highly welcomed by students with any kind of dyslectic diagnosis. From a teacher’s point of view there is no risk for cheating by using the copy/paste functions, and everybody, shy and extrovert students alike, will have equal opportunities to shine. Laziness and failure to make an effort will, however, take its toll on the performance, and, if not before, it will be conspicuously evident in the sharing and debriefing part of the project.





Using digital video for cultural and linguistic awareness in ELT – an unofficial introduction

Technology as such and technological skills in particular are not crucial for teachers to use digital video to enhance cultural and target language awareness in ELT. The main point is actually multitasking in the sense of the students using multiple senses simultaneously in order to absorb and handle the information given. Listening, reading, writing, speaking and even getting emotionally involved are at the centre of language learning. And whereas videos, be it fictional films, documentaries or newsflashes, have long been recognized as a useful tool in the language classroom, their place in the curriculum have been marginal, because so much information is given in such a short time span that it has been impossible to utilize them effectively in ELT. Therefore they have mainly been used as complementary sources of information or as a means of tuning in to a particular subject. The reason for this has been that it’s been impossible to customize video viewing according to the differing individual needs of students trying to learn the language. The play, pause, fast forward, and the rewind buttons have been in the complete and sole control of the teacher, and the students have had little or no say as to the progress of their viewing. Technological advance in the digital area has now enabled us to offer a radical change of this situation.

The simple passing on of the control of these buttons to the students enables them to take charge of their own viewing process, and thereby giving the teachers a multitude of possibilities to vary their approach of  video in the classroom. The video content can step forward from their hitherto marginal place onto the centre of the classroom stage. This does not mean it will replace the traditional textbooks and workbooks that have looked basically the same for decades, but it will radically change their function, their appearance as well as their use. The book will now be complementary – still essential but nevertheless complementary. It is more or less useless without the video content.

Let’s take an example. I as a teacher might want to introduce my students to the vocabulary and traditions of British food and drink. I could do it the traditional way and present them with a complete text, including dialogues and descriptive passages, and an accompanying wordlist, like this: .

Food and Drink in Britain

 Deep-fried Mars bars

  • British food doesn’t enjoy the greatest reputation in the world, but at least it’s not boring, particularly here in Glasgow, Scotland.
  • ─     How can I help you?
  • ─     Well, what’s the most unique thing that you’ve fried?
  • ─     We have deep-fried Mars bars,
  • ─     Oooh! That’s a candy bar?
  • ─     Yes. You usually serve it with tomato sauce.
  • ─     What?!!!
  • ─     Okay, this is it, ketchup and all! … Mmmmm
  • ─     Very tasty?
  • ─     Very strange….

Jellied eels

  • ─     Jellied eels… Not like lollies, eels!
  • ─     Get it down you!
  • ─     That’s not bad at all! Oh, I’m starting to talk like this now – know what I mean?
  • ─     It works, doesn’t it?
  • ─     This is not good … That’s awful! It’s not even cooked! It’s raw!
  • ─     Ah, you’re braver than me…
  • ─     You mean, you don’t eat it???
  • ─     Never!

The full English breakfast

  • I just don’t understand why so many people disparage the English culinary tradition. I mean, they’ve got things that are good for you and properly named. You’ve got deep-fried fish and chips, you’ve got something called a toad-in-a-hole, but today I’m going to try a cornerstone of their nutritious diet – the full English breakfast.
  • The full English breakfast consists of a fried slice of bread, bubble and squeak which is potatoes and cabbage fried, fried black pudding, baked beans which are boiled, fried sausage, fried bacon, and, of course, a fried egg.
  • ─     Oh, ta…
  • ─     Wow!
  • ─     What is this stuff?
  • ─     That is black pudding.
  • ─     Yak! What’s it made of?
  • ─     You don’t want to know. It’s dried blood.

The Cornish Pasty

  • I’ve come here to this small fisher village of Port Isaac for one thing – this! I’m going to track down the ultimate Cornish pasty! Oh, yeah!
  • The pasty was a snack for the tin miners, and the reason why it’s always got this thick edge round it is that if you work with tin you get poison from the metals in your fingers. So when you eat your food, you don’t want to get the poison from your fingers all over the bit you are going to eat. So you hold on to the rim, eat all the good bits, and then you chuck the crust away!
  • Oh, yes, wow! Traditional pasty filling is simple and very tasty. Flaked, not diced, potatoes, skirt beef, onions, salt and pepper.
  • ─     So you never cook the filling first? You cook it inside the pastry.
  • ─     Yes, and then the gravy that is produced, stays inside.
  • ─     Wow! And that’s what gives it that …
  • ─     That moist.
  • ─     Aaaah…. Lovely! Oh, yeah! Definitely Cornish, I say! That’s lovely, ladies. That was my first real Cornish pasty on this trip… Gorgeous! Like you two, gorgeous! Gorgeous!

Tea and ballroom dancing

I’ve found refuge here in the delicate atmosphere of the Waldorf Meridien Hotel, where tea is served to 4 p.m. and guest dance in the old-fashioned way. It’s really very civilised.


  • Up north in Scotland at the island of Islay at the west coast of Scotland is the mecca of single malt Scotch whisky. Here you can take a tour of the Ardbeg distillery. Scotland’s national drink dates back to around the 15th century, in Gaelic they call it “usquebaugh” , which means “water of life”.  I am talking about whisky. Scottish whisky’s distinctive taste comes from malted barley. The barley is soaked and dried in a kiln over a peat fire – mixed with water and then left to ferment. The weak alcoholic solution, or wart, is then distilled and matured in oak barrels for three to thirty years. This process hasn’t changed in hundreds of years.
  • ─    This is 1975 Ardbeg. You will find it very smoky, very fruity and very sweet.
  • ─    Slainte Mhath!
  • ─    Slainte Mhath! What’s that?
  • ─    That means cheers.

Now these text passages are admittedly not ones to be traditionally found in an English textbook. The dialogue is too broken up, too incomplete to be presented as a representative discourse in any language textbook. But this is how we use the language in real everyday life, which is proved by the fact that this is actually a transcript of a 5-minute video clip on somebody experiencing food and drink in various parts of Britain. We have the English breakfast quite accurately described, there is high tea at a fashionable London hotel, the Cornish pasty is to be found here as well as some culinary oddities like deep-fried Mars bars. There is even a visit to a Scottish whisky distillery included here. But does language alone give the student a full picture of what the text is actually talking about. Does a sausage look the same to a Finnish 14-year-old as it does to an Englishman? No, it certainly doesn’t. So a textbook could add pictures, one could very well argue. Okay, here is one of the full English breakfast:


Can I now be certain that my students know what I am trying to convey to them? Actually no. And without more visual material most of the text information would be lost to them anyway. And working traditionally with books and paper poses another problem: how to provide the students with a lot of images without resorting to pure teacher-centered activities with the teacher showing them all the necessary visual imagery in order for the students to get a better understanding. And, as a matter of fact, they would probably have been bored to death by the time I get to the pictures, and most likely not even bothered to look at neither the pictures nor the word list in order to understand all the words probably incomprehensible to them.

Okay, let’s try another approach. Let’s make it into a problem-solving task or a puzzle task, where my vocabulary learning objectives are more defined. The same text is presented to the students in the form of separate cards., but now all food-related terms and words are missing and I have also deleted the subheadings (in order to make it even more into a puzzle I could delete the A, B, C, D, E and F of the remaining subheadings as well as the numbering of the gaps):







This results in a text with 49 gaps with Swedish (mother tongue) clues within brackets. There are also six subheadings to be filled in by the students who are to deduce what subheading might be suitable for each passage. But how can they be supposed to know what words like “torveld” or “brödkant” are in English. And if they do, what use is there to have a text like this. This text was presented in order to make them learn new words, remember? Not to test them on what they are already supposed to know. Well, let’s add the missing English words in alphabetical order –  that might make it more into a guessing game, and therefore perhaps even more motivating.

Skärmklipp ord

There are still some things missing – first of all, there are probably words impossible to guess. Secondly, there is the pronunciation which is always a problem with a language like English where the relationship between spelling and pronunciation is if anything enigmatic. So we need sound. And we still have the initial problem of visual illustration.

The video[1] is the solution to all these problems. First of all we get a context with live persons in real life situations in authentic environments behind the sometimes incomplete lines, We also get an illustration of what all these food things look like, the typical British surroundings and the culture code, for example with the High Tea passage. And the pure guessing game is gone, instead we have a purely cognitive activity where brain cells are activated in various areas of the brain: areas related to vision, listening, combining listening to reading, associating the visuals with pre-conceptions we have of what might be British, as well as complementing existing images with new knowledge, new images. And we get the writing skills involved, as well.


[1] The video clip (from Ultimate UK) cannot be viewed here for copyright reasons. By the way, if you want to use authentic video in your classroom, but are not sure whether you’re allowed to or not, it might actually be worthwhile simply to contact the production company in question and ask whether they will give you permission or not. That’s what I did with Pilot Productions, listing all the different ways I might use it, and lo and behold, they gave their consent, probably too stunned by having somebody ask insted of just doing it. I therefore have their written consent to use their videos in my own classroom teaching as well as in the teacher training, a valuable thing indeed.

Authentic video in the classroom: Ireland II

My second example of utilising authentic video in the EFL classroom is based on the same 50-minute travel video as my first. Of course, one can apply this to any video, but this time I will stick with Ireland. How I do it now will, however, differ from my last post because now I’ll concentrate on the language and vocabulary awareness in detail (but I wouldn’t use both methods on the same video in the same class, though). This approach is, however, associated with a lot of painstaking preparatory work for the teacher, because transcription of the video material needs to be done, at least for some of the clips. It takes about 1 hour to take down 5 minutes of video material, so one needs plenty of time to get a complete transcript. I rather enjoy transcribing videos and sound; oddly enough I experience the process as relaxing, especially if there is no deadline approaching. And having a transcript for a video makes the creating of tasks so much easier.

I’ve previously said that I use the gamification platform Didactor for most of my online material, and this is true for when I want the students to work with authentic video as well. This set of tasks/games are connected by following Ian Wright on his aforementioned tour of Ireland. They are, however, separated by task type and Ian’s activities. Variation is important for student motivation, and even though I might use the same game types over and over again, I try to vary how they are used.

The “game board” that the students start out with looks like this:

VideospelThe idea is that they start with task number 1A and then follow Ian’s route one step at a time until they reach the end of the journey. By then they should have a pretty clear idea of what life and travelling in Ireland is all about as well as key concepts and vocabulary needed in order to get by.

In order to illustrate the student’s journey, I’ve recorded the learning process in nine shortish video clips, because I thought those would better describe what the student is supposed to do than if I tried to do it in words. NB! In some of the tasks I’ve made use of my students’ mother tongue, Swedish, but that could be changed into any language really. In fact, Didactor can be used for any language learning whatsoever, not only English, and also for other subjects.

1. Antrim – Giants’ Causeway

There are three different steps here, ie.  two different gap texts – one based on vocabulary, the other on verbs – and a vocabulary game on the videoclip vocabulary with definitions in English for clues.

2. The Troubles

Here I’ve simply used a multiple choice task type for the first step, which therefore is simply traditional listening comprehension, whereas the second part comprises a bilingual wordlist to the video clip, with the English part scrambled. A lot of background info on the violent and bloody history of conflict between the Loyalists and the Republicans is provided here, something every student, language learner or not, should have in his bag of general knowledge when he steps into adulthood. The activity is rounded off with a take on pub life and the traditional Irish pint of Guinness.

3. The craic and nightlife in Belfast

This is quite simply a dictation kind of task involving intense listening and writing (+ spelling and grammar).  I’m a firm believer in the theory that one can’t write what one can’t understand when listening, and technology has revived the ancient language learning methodology of dictation, something that quite simply does not work in the non-tech classroom any more. But given the control over the audio, many a student actually enjoys dictation activities.

This is also the last video clip here involving two tasks, the latter on the same principle as the one described in Environmental collocations – but this time having the student provide the English translations of single words from the dictation.

4A Road bowling

This is a memory game played a little differently. First of all, hardly any of my “memory” games are played with hidden cards – I don’t think remembering where something was is as important as getting the student’s brain cells working by trying to connect one item with another. But here I’m not aiming for words, instead I have made the game consist of bits and pieces of lines from the video. The student has to actively listen for what is being said in order to connect two pieces of sentences to each other.

4B Janus the fertility god

The task type SORTER is based on the idea of  sorting words or concepts into various categories. Well, it can be used for sorting scrambled lines of text, too. I would argue that this task is impossible to solve or to score satisfactorily on without listening, which again serves the idea of active listening in the classroom, ie. listening serves a functional purpose, and not just perfunctory activity.

5A Dublin and checking into a hostel

At this stage, the flipped classroom might well come into play because this activity is very much based on a communicative situation; Ian is checking into his hostel, and the skills to successfully obtain accommodation in a foreign country is something all of today’s language learners most certainly will need at some time or another in his life. Supposing hotel bookings and checking in will be the theme for the next communicative lesson, this task might very well fill the function of “homework” in anticipation for that lesson. It’s based on a combination of scrambled lines of dialogue, clues in the form of the same lines in the mother tongue, and a hangman-type activity without the “hanging”.

6 Attending a hurling game in Dublin

No sport except Gaelic football can be more Irish than hurling and therefore a must when dealing with Ireland in the English language classroom. This is a very short and rather simple game-type activity with a time factor, but it still gives the student an idea of what distinguishes hurling from other sports.

7 Cobh – the seaside town

The Titanic, the Lusitania, World War I, and Irish emigration are all part of the history of the small town of Cobh. A true/false/doesn’t say activity here.

8 Blarney Castle and the gift of the gab

This is the very last of my demonstrations here, one on the myth of becoming a good speaker by performing the rather awkward ritual of kissing the Blarney stone. The activity comprises the unscrambling of whole chunks of sentences to be heard in the video clip. Scaffolding in the form of mother tongue versions is provided.

 The whole Ireland-theme presented this way could be finished off with the same post-video/post-computer activities as described in my previous post here, but now wordchecks or quizzes on vocabulary and collocations could be added.


Authentic video in the classroom: Ireland I

What you see here is an approximately 3-minute clip from a 50-minute travel video on Ireland. It is authentic, in the sense that it’s intended for English-speaking people interested in travelling and other countries, not for language learners per se. “Ireland” is one of many videos in the Globetrekker series produced by UK-based Pilot Productions. The series is based on the concept of having a travel guide touring a specific country, experiencing cultural highlights, meeting local people and basically learning about the country together with the viewer. The “guide” is not the expert here, the experts are the locals, and the viewer travels the country in the “guise” of the guide, which makes the videos quite entertaining and exciting – and ideal for the language classroom.

There is hardly any language classroom without the use of videos at one time or another. Youtube videos abound and you are sure to find something suitable regardless of subject matter at hand. Authentic video clips are the obvious choice for introducing real-life people, accents and situations, as well as giving the students a cultural frame of reference for the target language.

What activities are used in connection with video-clips in class? Most common, I would say, are the following:

  1. – for introducing a new subject: Watch and guess what we are going to talk about today.
  2. – to go together with a text: Watch and find similarities to what was said in the text
  3. – to go together with a text: Watch and look out for certain objects (= make a list)
  4. – for discussion: Watch and tell me (the teacher) what this has to do with the text we’ve read
  5. – to go together with a grammatical point: Watch and write down all the instances this particular structure is used
  6. – to illustrate situations: Watch and then tell me what this situation is all about. How would you react / What would you have said in the same situation?
  7. – for listening comprehension: Watch and answer the following questions

Quite a lot it would seem. However, I would argue that we could do much more if we applied the blended learning concept.

Hardly ever do the video clips replace  texts, and there is a good reason for that: the time variable that basically defines the video and audio media. Watching a video together in a class makes it rather impossible to pause, to rewind, to replay according to individual demands. By making watching video possible for all students at the same time, we make it impossible to adjust for individual needs and individual study. But if we take out the “all students at the same time”-aspect, and gave over the play and pause buttons to the students, a whole vista of new possibilities emerge, increasing the overall as well as individual student activity.

So, what could these alternative activities be? I will try to give at least a few scenarios in this blog.

Ireland I

Skills: Listening, reading, speaking/writing

Objectives: the student should be able to talk/write about life and travelling in Ireland based on the facts presented in the Globetrekker video

Pre-video phase – tuning in to the subject

The teacher writes down words having to do with Ireland on the whiteboard, eg. LEPRECHAUN, GUINNESS, GAELIC, JAMES JOYCE, CONNEMARA, THE TROUBLES etc. The students guess what country is represented and when they have arrived at the correct destination, Ireland, they can try to guess what phenomena these individual words are associated with. The answers will be found in the subsequent video.

Video phase – instructions what to do + work sheets –> student activity


The students are asked to do three things while watching the 50-minute video:

  • 1) Before watching he needs to read through all the keywords so that he knows what to listen out for.
  • 2) During the watching he is to draw the travel route in the blank map, and
  • 3) watch and listen for the given keywords on the worksheet, make additional notes in order for the keywords to make sense to him.

As he has access to the video online (in a closed community/LMS) he can pause the video whenever he likes, re-play what he didn’t catch the first time around, ie. he will now enjoy total empowerment and control over his own learning process. Neither is he confined to the classroom space – he can work from home as well.

The keywords have been sorted alphabetically, ie. they do not appear in the correct order. Thus the student has to read through the keywords several times in search for something to match what he has seen and heard. He does not have to find all of them – there is no 100% score to aim for here. The teacher decides how much  time will be allocated for this, and when he thinks it appropriate he stops the activity and calls for the students’ attention back to the class.

Post-video phase 1– Discussion in small groups

The students compare their findings in small groups, assisting each other in filling in missing information on the worksheet.

Post-video phase 2 – Debriefing

There are countless possibilities here , but I’ll just give a few, based on a simple PowerPoint slide show with ten keywords from the worksheet. 

Powerpoint1) The students work in pairs, but no worksheets allowed any more. You will show a keyword and the students take turns in telling his partner all there is to know about that keyword. If the partner has nothing to add, the first student will score a point. For the next keyword the partner in turn does the same. If none of them has anything to say both will lose a point.

2) Divide the class into 4-5 groups and give each group 10 blank papers. Explain the rules: You will show 10 keywords, one at a time, and each group should write down as many facts associated with that keywords as they can. The group with the most correct facts will score a point. The same with the next keyword until time is out or all ten keywords have been dealt with. The winning team will get a prize.

3) Let the students write down their names on small pieces of paper. Collect the names, put them together in a hat, let a student draw a name. That student will have to explain all he knows about the given keyword.

Post-video phase 3 – Final task for evaluation and assessment

Alternative 1)

Give the students a choice between 4-5 broader topics in connection with the video and have them write a composition of 200-250 words. For example:

  • 1. Music in Ireland
  • 2. Irish history
  • 3. Farming in Ireland
  • 4. Sports in Ireland
  • 5. Irish climate and geography

or a communicative topic like this one:

Imagine –

you have a friend you have met on the Internet and there only.

Now he/she tells you he/she is about to go to Ireland in a couple of weeks and as you have told him/her that you have done and read a lot about Ireland in school he/she asks for advice on where to go and what to do and see there exactly. His/her interests are very wide which means he/she is open to all kinds of activities. Write your reply to him/her now and try to uphold his/her image of you as the real expert on Ireland.

Length: about 200 words

Alternative 2)

A short test on facts related in the video. For example:



Alternative 3)

A photo album with nine stills from the video. The students’ task is to write short texts about six of them. For example:

Photo album


Random thoughts on media and a fledgling idea

After having worked all day on an expansion of the Environmental Collocations idea I wrote about yesterday into a multi-level gamified learning entity, I finally decided to call it a day, as I realized that I would not be able to finish the whole thing today anyway.


So I got myself some icecream and fresh strawberries, logged on to the RSCON 2014 web conference, let my thoughts run free while still listening to an interesting panel discussion on “Mind Blowing Media“. Also, I tried to evaluate myself and my own way of working  and creating media. I’ve seen amazing things this summer of what other English language teachers around the world are doing, and usually when I see how others deal with stuff for classes, my first thought tends to be “Oh, I see, THIS is the way one should be working!”, and feel inclined to start right over again from scratch. So I suppose the good thing for me is that I’ve now seen so many different takes on online teaching  that I’m beginning to feel it’s okay to do it my way, too. My pictures, for instance, are kind of very Finnish in the sense that they are pretty functional, no nonsense kind of things – stark and heavily rectangular in style. My favourite font that I always revert to is Calibri, notwithstanding many attempts to try something else in order to lighten up the visualisation. But I suppose I am rather stark and rectangular myself, so that will remain my layout style, too.

It’s odd that when letting your mind go sort of on its own course, new ideas might suddenly pop up from nowhere, like it did just now while I was quietly ruminating on my rather single-minded visual perception.

During the last four to five years I’ve worked quite a lot with video in the classroom, not only having students watch video clips but also produce their own video presentations. One take, for instance, on this is combining still images and their own sound files into regular video files with the help of free software like Movie maker (I am definitely not a Mac person). Over the years I’ve done countless variations on this theme, but what if there could still be something haven’t tried? What if I could have students create stories in cartoon pictures with their own avatars, put together a string of single images and add sound with them telling the story? That might actually work, hmm… Not quite their own animations because there would absolutely not be time enough for that – but something in those lines, maybe…



Well, I need to save that thought, because now my brain can’t take any more computer screens for today. Good night!