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The role of television and televisual literacy in
language teaching and learning
by Dr Richard Kiely
- 3


The table below has a range of activities which the language teacher might experiment with or develop further. The focus in the three columns relates to

  • A focus on language use:

The focus here is the development of listening comprehension skills, particularly the skills required where aural data is augmented by visual data in ways which both facilitate comprehension and present information overload challenges.

  • A focus on language forms:

The focus here is the phonological, lexical and grammar (morphology and syntax) forms of the language. Typically, in a communicative teaching framework, the focus on forms is developed after the comprehension stage.

  • Television as social practice:

Activities in this column explicitly exploit televisual literacy, instinctive understanding of the purpose and context of events such as sports interviews, interactions in drama programmes, and politeness (or increasing, absence thereof!!) in game shows. The learning derives from analysis of language to understand how intentions are realised and identities are performed. The three rows in the table present three contexts of language teaching and learning:

  • whole class;
  • project-based; and
  • individualised learning.

Theses are not wholly separate contexts: rather, they represent classroom organisational perspectives for the teacher, which become organically blended as activities develop and learning journeys progress.



Focus on language use
Focus on language forms
Television as social practice
Whole class activities

Comprehension activities (e.g. worksheets with questions);

Writing activities (e.g. scripting news stories, interviews, dialogue from soap opera)

Work on transcripts (e.g. gap-filling) focussing on the article system, tenses, prepositions, etc Activities based on silent viewing: identify news items (yesterday’s news), character relationships and types (drama and soap operas), words and themes (advertisements) from visual data.
Project-based learning Presentation in the classroom of analysis of transcripts by groups of students, e.g. tense forms in narratives viewed outside the classroom, e.g news stories; sporting event summaries, clips from drama or soap operas; question forms in interviews. Follow-up activities to those in cell on left, with more explicit focus on discovering patterns, and re-writing rules

Who watches what; review of television reviews;

Develop outline and scripts for new soap opera, or reality television show;

Develop ideas for advertisements to appeal to specific groups;

Analyse for presentation to the whole class, the reasoning behind choices based on cultural and pragmatic knowledge and television literacy.

Individualised learning

Select a television programme to view and write a review or weekly journal, linking language and other behaviour to social context and interactional intention;

Prepare a transcript of a brief section;

Prepare a quiz of comprehension questions for other class members.

Follow-up activities to those in cell on left, with more explicit focus on grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation issues Follow-up activities similar to those above, and also including comparisons between television practices in different social contexts, and personal, reflexive reponses (say, from a gender, age, or socio-economic perspectives to TV clips.


Television material represents an embarrassment of riches for the language teacher. It provides an extensive range of material, which always involves language in a social context. Comprehension activities can be based narrowly on the language used, or more broadly, engage understanding of the social and cultural issues which our shared televisual literacy increasingly facilitates. Television material can be a mainstay of a course, especially where the learning goals relate to intercultural learning and communication skills, or an occasional activity, supplementing a coursebook-based programme. Either way, it is likely to ne most successful where some consensus to work with television data is forged in the learning context;

  • the technological demands in terms of recording and playback for both teacher and students are met; and
  • there is an interest in culture learning as an integrated part of a language programme.

© R.Kiely August 2005


Richard Kiely has taught English and trained teachers in Zambia, France, Malaysia, Mexico, Hong Kong and Poland. He is a Senior lecturer in the Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol where he coordinates the masters in TESOL, directs the CREOLE Research centre, and teaches and supervises research on the EdD and MPhil/PhD programmes.
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