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How I Teach the Response Process Using Videos in My Secondary ESL Class

I always try to find new ways to inspire my students. That is why I have chosen to include more video-based lessons in my curriculum. Since I started using TED talks, short videos and TV shows, they have literally transformed my ESL classes. My students pay more attention in class and their performance is a lot better because they are obviously more willing to complete classwork that is interesting and they can relate to. Although I do not use these authentic materials to simply entertain my students, but also to develop their critical thinking skills and engage them in the response process more efficiently. To avoid confusion, please note that I use the umbrella term “texts” when I am referring to videos, images or written texts. 

I prefer using TED Talks because these speeches are not only enjoyable, but also educational. Before using any video in the classroom, it is important to formulate our educational intention clearly. Do we want to use the video to activate learners’ schemata and introduce a new lesson? Do we want our learners to listen for specific information or just for global understanding? Do we want to use a video to introduce a new grammar concept? Do we wish to show a video to make our teens reflect on a specific issue by listening for detailed information? Setting the purpose for watching a video is a crucial step before planning any specific tasks we want our students to carry out before, while and after listening/viewing. We should remember that listening and reading should be both instructional and pleasurable, as Jeremy Harmer points out in his book The Practice of English Language Teaching. Our aim is to use videos purposefully as valuable teaching tools. 

From the point of view of purpose, Harmer identifies several types of listening and reading:

  1. identifying the topic

  2. predicting and guessing

  3. reading and listening for general understanding

  4. reading and listening for specific information

  5. reading and listening for detailed information

  6. interpreting text

Planning is the second crucial step after choosing the purpose for any listening activity. When I design a lesson to go with a specific TED Talk or YouTube video, I always like to create a complex task because I want to guide my students through all the phases of the response process. These phases are: 1) prepare to listen/watch, 2) explore, 3) connect to and 4) go beyond/generalize (draw conclusions/reinvest understanding). To be thorough, I use a response to text planning sheet to make sure I properly plan my lessons. You can download a copy of this planner and use it for videos, TV show episodes, movies or texts. Click here to download these freebies: Response to Text/Video Planner and Response to Video Bell Ringer/Exit Ticket from my VTT shop. If you are a subscriber, you may download these resources from the free resources library.

Here are the steps I follow when I am planning listening activities to go with short YouTube videos or TED Talks: 


First, I want my students to predict the topic. I usually use either a brainstorming activity such as an anticipation guide, one-minute challenge (Students need to come up with words they associate with a certain concept.), a K-W-L chart or a conversation leading us to an essential question (guiding question) learners will be able to answer once they have watched the video.


After predicting what the text/video will be about, I want my students to focus on content. The first time I play the video, learners need to listen for global understanding. The purpose of this first listening is to find the main topic or the issue the video is exploring. Once learners have found the main idea of the text, they watch the video for the second time to find the answers to the questions verifying comprehension. During this explore phase of the response process, the questions should elicit some specific information about the subject-matter to assess students’ understanding. It is important to confirm and adjust learners’ comprehension of the main points presented in the text before asking them to listen for more detailed information and connect to the text. 


To challenge my learners more, I also want them to connect to the text. I always select content my teenage students can relate to. When listening for detailed information, learners should process information more in-depth and relate to the issue, for example, by agreeing or disagreeing with the information presented. 


The last phase of any listening/viewing activity includes the generalize phase where students reinvest their understanding by making judgments and drawing conclusions based on what they already know and the new information they have acquired from the video. I love this part because it encourages learners to think critically, process information from the video and apply it to their reality. Not only do they establish personal connections between the text and their experience, but they also use what they know now in a new context.

Overall, my goal is to guide my students in questioning themselves how they may use the new pieces of information they learn from these videos in a new context, how they can transfer knowledge across disciplines and acquire new transferable skills that will be useful not only in school, but in their life, too. 

The images below show the types of video response journal templates I prefer using to cover all the phases of the response process. My favourite type is the two-pager video response journal template because it is smaller in size than standard letter-sized worksheets, it is different from what learners are used to,  and it is also more printer-friendly as you use only one sheet of paper. 

However, you may also opt for a worksheet template like the one below:

On a last note, if you want to use videos to teach the response process to your ELL learners, I recommend you starting with Richard St. John’s speech, The Importance of Focus, which might be a great listening activity during the first week of school. I use this TED Talk at the beginning of the school year not only to revise reading strategies (response process), but also to show my students the importance of setting goals (purpose) in life and working diligently toward success, whatever that success means to them. The ideas you can explore and discuss with your students using John’s speech are the following: focusing on one thing, working hard, eliminating distractions, focusing on one’s goals, having short-term focus and long-term focus, doing one’s best, etc. This lesson highly appeals to my learners because it helps them set their minds for success and gives them the necessary boost to successfully get through their last year in high school. 

In brief, we can exploit videos as texts to expose learners to authentic English as it is spoken outside the classroom. They are practical to increase learners’ language proficiency, and they also represent a rich source of information we can use to explore important issues and motivate our  learners.

I would love to hear from you. Please share how you use videos in your ESL class.

Happy teaching!

Kynga C. 


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