Summary of talk: The three i’s of video

Title of presentation: The three i’s of video

This is a summary of my presentation on using video in the classroom. This article summarises the key points of the session. The actual presentation also includes video extracts and practical activities from the new courses series Life (published by National Geographic Learning). as well as video from National Geographic’s video resource.

Abstract of presentation: Authentic video has the power to inspire learners but graded video also has the ability to inform learners at different language levels and it’s easier to integrate into your lessons. In this workshop I’ll illustrate the three i’s by using National Geographic videos and trying out some practical video activities you can use in the classroom tomorrow.

Summary of presentation

When I started teaching in the early nineties, using video in the classroom was an often clumsy and impractical pastime. Schools owned a VHS player with a large TV that lived in one particular classroom. You had to book the room, take all your students there and, having done all that, video lessons often consisted of putting in a long video that took up the entire length of a lesson with a worksheet for students to fill in. It could be a notoriously unsatisfactory type of lesson.

Fast forward to the year 2012 and ease of access in the classroom and at home allows teachers and students to use video at the push of a button (or press of a screen). We can show ten second clips, one minute interviews, five minutes documentaries and successfully integrate them into our lessons. On top of that, it’s easy for students to make and show their own videos.

To not use video in the classroom is almost like not using a written text. Recent statistics from You Tube highlight how common video is in our everyday lives. Statistics for You Tube show that there are 4 billion views a day, 24 hours of video uploaded every minute and it is the third most visited website.

But other than highlighting how much we all watch video, these statistics don’t actually explain why video is good for learning. Why do we use video? Our answers usually include responses such as, ‘it’s motivating…it’s provides variety…students enjoy it…it’s real English…it’s authentic…’ These are all valid points and you can probably add a few more.

For me, you can sum up the use of video with three i’s: It’s INSPIRES student interest and engagement, especially at the beginning of a lesson as a lead-in to a topic. Secondly, it’s a way to INFORM. Students can learn something new about a topic as well as learning English. You can play videos about geography, history or science which makes video a useful tool for CLIL teachers or teachers who want content-rich lessons. Video is rather like bringing in an outside speaker into the lesson or an expert. Anyone who has used videos from TED talks will know about this. Thirdly, as I mentioned, ease of access allows us to really integrate video into our lessons and into students learning in a way we haven’t been able to before. Now let’s look at these three i’s in more detail.

The first i: INSPIRE interest and engage students with video

You can engage students and grab their interest with a short video extract. Many teachers are familiar with simple interest-grabbing and language-generating activities such as playing the video with the sound off or the screen off and the sound on. Students predict what they think the sound track is saying or predict what is happening on the screen. You can also increase the challenge by playing it on fast forward or rewind and then predicting the main content. Or, simply, ask students to watch and answer comprehension questions about the facts or ask students to personalise and give their opinion on the content.

However, there is also an interesting brain-related reason for using video to engage and interest the students. Recently neuroscientists have discovered mirror neurons. For more information on this area you might want to watch VS Ramachandran give a TED talk on the subject.

But in short, mirror neurons in the brain allow us to watch behaviour and repeat it ourselves. But they also affect our emotions and encourage us to be engaged in what we see with an emotional response. One experiment in this area included asking a group of people to come into a room. Scientists gave them bottled smells. The individual opened the bottle and reacted to a bad smell. The scientists scanned their brains and measured the activity of their brain neurons. They also filmed each person. Then, the next day, different volunteers came and, again, the scientists measured their neurons. But this time the person watched a video of a person from the day before smelling the bottle and reacting. The brain activity of the person watching was very similar to the person who smelled the real smell.

Much of this research explains the fact that we cry at a sad movie or smile when characters on the screen smile. The importance for language teachers is that we can show videos in the class that create activity in the student’s brain and engages them which must be good news for learning.

The second i: INFORM

Another brain-related theory also supports the view that we should use video in the classroom to transfer information or inform so that students learn something new about a subject. It’s called ‘dual-coding theory’ and, briefly, it argues this: The brain receives and processes (or codes) information in two ways; firstly, through images and secondly through language or verbal cues. The man behind this theory, Allan Paivio, argues that the most effective communication occurs when these two channels work together. So if we only ‘lecture’ with no visual then students are only using one channel to take in the information and this can lead to a cognitive overload – the student can only take in a certain amount of information. The same could be true if we only provide a visual explanation of topic with no words. However, when we join the visual and verbal together, the learner can take in much more cognitively.

Concrete examples of dual coding working effectively would be the presenter who talks and uses slides with a minimal number of words and a large amount of related images. It’s more effective than reading off slides with whole paragraphs of words. But the theory also supports the use of documentary video as a method for informing because it so successfully informs with the use of visuals on screen and the verbal narration and speech. (Click to see a brief video summary about dual coding theory or see the bibliography for Paivio’s work).

So, in practical terms, using informational video means selecting video which makes effective use of both visual information as well as language (listening)-based information. When you use it, it’s worth setting students a task which focuses on the visual information first and watching again to listen. For example, on the first viewing students might number a series of objects in the order they see them or watch with the sound off and describe what is happening on screen. Then, on the second viewing, they concentrate on listening and make notes or answer comprehension questions that focus on key information.

The third i: INTEGRATE video with language teaching

Following on from inspiring interest and engagement and then using video for its content and information-rich potential, language teachers need to integrate the video into language learning. The interest in using video in lessons has never been greater. Access to classroom technology (e.g. IWBs) makes video easily-accessible. The arrival of sites like James Keddie’s excellent is more proof it is needed of use of video in the classroom. And when teachers select a new course book they often check that it has accompanying video materials.

The reasons for integrating video into language teaching are varied. With regard to listening skills, video seems to be a more satisfactory and authentic medium than playing an audio recording with no visuals. It can make teaching and recycling vocabulary more immediate and relevant.  It also provides a useful prompt for speaking tasks including information gap and follow-up discussion.

I also think it lends itself to blended learning with more static media such as reading. In an article by Nicky Hockly (ETprofessional Issue 63, 2009), she reports on a survey which suggests that the average Generation Y student reads 8 books a year, 2,300 web pages and 1,281 Facebook profiles. This doesn’t mean students are reading less but what and how they read is changing. Often, they read shorter texts online, then perhaps write a response or comment and perhaps watch a You Tube video. In other words, they integrate reading as part of many other activities so it makes sense that we do this in the classroom. In other words, when we want students to read a text, it makes sense that we accompany this with video. One activity I’ve used for this is to take a reading about a topic and show a video linked to the same topic. Students have to read and then identify new information given in the video or identify information in the reading text that wasn’t in the video.

Authentic vs graded video

To end, it’s worth looking at the importance of using both authentic video in the classroom and also graded video. By graded video I mean video which visually remains the same but the voiceover is changed to reflect the language level of the student. The arguments for graded video are very much the same as they would be for using graded readers.  Graded readers remove barriers to a student’s comprehension and increase motivation. So too can graded video. By grading the language you can also ensure vocabulary is targeted and recycled and so you increase the likelihood of students meeting a new word more than once. I also think that graded video has the advantage that although it’s graded, the content on screen remains the same so students don’t feel they are being talked down too. The content remains cognitively demanding.

For two more related posts on using video, visit:

Further reading

Paivio, A. 1986 Mental Representations: A Dual Coding Approach. New York. Oxford University Press

Sherman, J. 2003 Using Authentic Video in the Language Classroom Cambridge


© John Hughes 2012

Categories: ELT issues

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7 replies

  1. Interesting stuff, thank you. And the links are really helpful too.

  2. The list of potential benefits of using video in the classroom seems infinite. After two years of TED based lessons the feedback I received from one of my students was the best compliment i have ever heard in my 18-year teaching career. ‘Most of what I know about modern science, architecture, culture, psychology, technology and the world in general comes from our English classes. And what’s great about it we do it in English”. Using a video is actually doing things in English and therefore more of acquiring the language rather than learning it. The variety of tasks, skills and activities makes the learning process very involving. Additionally, it provides the element of repetition in a friendly and painless way. I highly recommend it.

  3. Hi! I use TED videos and show them to my students. TED speakers are very good models for speaking. I ask my students to analyze why they are effective speakers. The topics are also very good. And best of all, they are free!


  1. Integrating video with all four skills | elteachertrainer

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