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









The United States and Authentic Video in the EFL classroom – Part 4 Sharing and Debriefing


This is the fourth and last part in a series of posts on a PBL (project based learning) experiment utilising authentic video on the USA in a junior high school setting.

When 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 take 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.





The United States and Authentic Video in the EFL classroom – Part 3

 Part 3


This is the third part in a series of posts on a PBL (project based learning) experiment utilising authentic video on the USA in a junior high school setting.

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.

Below a couple of samples from the Globe Trekker videos on Youtube: