Category Archives: video lessons

Short Films for Reading Comprehension – Take Three!

This is the third part of my experiment in using video to teach reading comprehension strategies.

Take One, focusing on WH questions, can be found here.

Take Two, highlighting ” support your answer” type questions, can be found here.

This exercise focuses on “main idea” type questions. The purpose is to make the following message more memorable:

The distractors given are usually true sentences (or facts) from the text. But they are not the main idea. So you must read the distractors carefully.

I used three videos though only showed the students two. The first exercise relates to the “Power of Words one we saw two weeks ago. It is a very memorable video and I see no reason not to use the same video for multiple purposes.

The second one is a very short commercial. I don’t know where I heard about this one. Here it is:

This one I learned at the conference from Jamie Keddie’s excellent talk and CD. In his talk he used it completely differently. I hope to try some of the strategies he used in the future. However, I don’t think they were designed for a class of 33 struglling adult students (note: I’m not being inconsistent with the numbers, we are now a class of 33!). In addition, I’m pursuing a different agenda at the moment.

Here is the worksheet I used:

main idea


Overall I was pleased with results. The students loved the videos and did not find them childish or unsuitable. I overheard two students discussing the fact that I show them really educational commercials. However, one student complained that the worksheet was too easy. Easy as in the answers were too easy to find (most certainly not the level of English!). I replied that I wanted the point to be clear, that they would see how all the distractors relate to vocabulary and information that IS there and that they must be careful. I added that if the examples were very hard we would have to spend a long time on the exercise (which we didn’t) and perhaps the point wouldn’t have come across so clearly.

Now I’m not as sure. I don’t know if the exercise shouldn’t have been harder. It would certainly be difficult to think of more difficult distractors.

On the other hand, only one student complained.

I’ll have to think about it. Lets see how carefully they treat the “main idea” questions in the tasks they have.



Short Films for Reading Comprehension – Take 2!

Perhaps I should temporarily change the title of my blog to “Films for Reading Comprehension”, as I’m totally into seeing how far I can take this.

Spurred on by the effectiveness of using a short film to review WH questions with my class of 32 struggling adult learners (who need to pass a high-stakes exam) I decided to use another one this week, for the second lesson.

The students need to be familiar with a number of different types of reading comprehension questions and how to answer them. I ended the lesson today’s lesson using the short film “The Power Of Words” to highlight (or rather, put a spotlight on) YES /No questions or TRUE / FALSE questions that require the students to support their answer.

This time we watched the film before reading the questions . But I warned the students that they must pay close attention to details in order to answer the questions. Then we discussed the answer to each question. There are only five sentences on the worksheet but I felt that discussing the answers in this manner really brought the message home. For example:

For the question related to the season, everyone said “winter”. When asked to support their answer,  a few students said that they knew it was winter because of the rain. I pointed out that in other countries it actually rains in the summer too so we can’t use that as proof. There was a murmur in class of “oh, I didn’t think of that”. Which is what I’m driving at – THINK before you answer! We accepted “people are wearing coats and scarves” as the proper answer.

If you think you remember reading about how I’ve used this film in the past, you are right. I have FOUR different versions/levels of worksheets for it, but naturally (is just me?) I wanted something else for today.

Here’s the film. The worksheet is below it.


Support Your Answer

A 40 sec. Ad Works for Both LOTS & HOTS

I learned about the educational value of this commercial from Kieran Donaghy, both from his excellent talk at IATEFL, Liverpool, last month and from his blog post about it on Film English.

It was a big hit in class this evening!

Today we used the commercial for LOTS – Lower Order Thinking Skills. In my first lesson of every course for adults (hearing!) struggling with reading comprehension, we review basic Wh questions and how they are to be answered. This ad works beautifully for this purpose:

* It is very short.

* There is no dialogue (can easily be used for my deaf students as well).

* It is very clear.

* It is funny!

We discussed the meaning of each question and possible answers in the  worksheet (see below). Then we watched the ad and answered the questions. Simple but effective – they were all so focused!

 Wh Q Review

I plan to use this ad for a review of some of the HOTS my students are learning (Higher Order Thinking Skills) when we return to school at the end of August. Obviously it is perfect for the skills of ” identifying different perspectives” and “comparing and contrasting”. My question to you is if it isn’t too “improper” to use the very last scene of the ad for the skill of “problem solving”. The scene seems to fit the stages we learned but considering the location of the man in this scene, should we freeze this particular one to discuss the following?

* The man has identified the problem (lack of THE paper)

* The man has identified his options

* The man has compared his options and then has reached a decision. He calls his wife, Emma.

And then he gets what he deserves.

What do you think?


When Opinionated Adults Clam Up

I first learned of The Holstee Manifesto video from Sandy Millin’s Blog (Almost Infinite ELT Ideas) last year. I decided to try and adapt my take on using the video back then, with my high-school students, for my current course with hearing adults.

So many bikes in the film, but none like these!
(Photo by Omri Epstein)

I emphasize the word “hearing” not because there is any dialogue in this video (I look for videos that tell a story without dialogue!) but because I noted how much the students enjoyed the music! When we worked on it bit by bit I muted the film and they missed the sound.  The previous film I had used (the power of words) was given as homework so I didn’t think about the musical aspect. Not used to thinking of it!

I planned a short activity for the last part of the lesson. This course of 38 adults is almost completely devoted to reading comprehension of academic texts. The students need to successfully pass a reading comprehension test in order to be accepted to a higher education program. They landed in my class because they failed such a test. For two lessons in a row we’ve had texts about depressing topics (prisons and violent ant-abortion activists) and something cheerful was certainly in order.

I told the students that we were going to do an activity that would involve an introduction to expressions of opinion. With these adults you have to be very clear about why you are doing something that isn’t reading a text.

Epstein Family Photos

For starters I just let them watch the video from start to end. It’s only about two minutes long. They seemed very absorbed and curious, some complained that the text went by too quickly. I assured them that we would be going through it slowly with me freezing the frame, which we did. But it was a shame that I hadn’t photocopied the text in advance for them – it would have been easier.

I showed a sentence from the video and then presented an expression of opinion and asked for a volunteer to give his/her opinion on the statement from the film, using the expression. My example for the students was:

Statement from film: If you don’t like your job, quit. ExpressionPersonally“. My opinion: Personally, I think it is better to find a new job and then quit my old job”.

The second sentence (the first one went smoothly, just the way I had hoped) was:  If you are looking for the love of your life, stop. They will be waiting for you when you start doing the things you love. The expression of opinion was “As I see it”.

There was a murmur of approval when we finished ensuring that everyone understood the sentence. The ages in class range from 20 to 62 (only one man is 62, certainly not the average age!) and it obviously struck a positive chord. I was so pleased!

And then I made a mistake.

The student who was supposed to give her opinion on this statement said ” As I see it, I want to do things I love”. I said that that wasn’t an expression of opinion on the statement itself. As she was one of the older women I asked if she would give such advice to her daughter and she said yes. But then someone said: “Well, its all good advice, we agree with them all and thats it”.

The students remained very interested in understanding exactly what the statements in the clip were but did not really want to express their opinions on them. Only one brave student broke away from the crowd and said “I strongly disagree (the expression on the board) with the statement “all emotions are beautiful” (the Sandy Hook School in Conneticut was mentioned). I even suggested they use their mother tongue first to say what they think as we barely work on speech in this course but that didn’t help.

Many students told me, as they left the class, that they had enjoyed the video. They did encounter new vocabulary in a meaningful context so they hadn’t wasted their time but my plan certainly backfired.

I plan to try an “end of the year film with them to end next week’s lesson. I have to give some more thought to how to use it!