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 2


Part 2

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


The United States and Authentic Video in the EFL classroom – Part 1

Part 1

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

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?





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.