written by David Holden
Using Authentic Video
In The Language Classroom, Jane Sherman, Cambridge Handbooks
For Language Teachers.
"We want more videos
!" tends to be that one comment students always
make and teachers, resources permitting , have tried
to satisfy that demand with varying degrees of success.
Now, if you've ever needed more ideas for using videos
in your teaching, or even if you need convincing that
videos are essential in the EFL classroom then this
is the book for you.
Jane Sherman divides her
"Using Authentic Video In The Language Classroom
into two basic Parts. Part A covers the theory, sub-divided
into Video Drama and Non-Fiction Video and Part B contains
a comprehensive alphabetical list of activities to do
with authentic video along with a glossary of terms
and an index of themes and topics covered in the book.
The introduction is engrossing,
laying out the reasons for using authentic videos, describing
how to use the book and providing practical hints and
advice. One of the strongest points of this book is
the way the author continually cross-references the
ideas in Part A with the activities in Part B, with
an alphabetical list of activities at the start of each
individual section in Part A and the name of the activity
in bold in the text. This makes the book very easy to
use and dip into for ideas on say, using sitcoms. However,
this book is more than just a list of useful and fun
things to do with videos.
Part A is , in its turn,
broken down into two main sections, covering Video Drama
on the one hand , including films, sitcoms, soaps and
sketches and Programmes About Real Life on the other
- documentaries, news ads etc.
Many teachers might be reticent about using films etc.
too much in the classroom, especially if the video part
of the class is seen as just a relaxation exercise after
the "real" learning has been done elsewhere.
Alternatively, teachers often claim that films are too
long and difficult, sitcoms are notoriously unfunny
for EFL students and soaps, especially ones with "difficult"
accents, are incomprehensible.
Jane Sherman is, however,
adamant about the benefits of using this material in
"The most obvious
reason for using video drama is that language students
want it. It is not an indulgence or a frill but central
to language learning." Pg 12
Sherman convincingly argues
that despite some potential problems with language,
there are in fact many characteristics of Video Drama
which actually aid comprehension - she mentions obvious
ones like plenty of action and simple plot lines along
with less obvious ones like the stylized acting of classics
like Gone With The Wind and examples where language
has been deliberately graded for a character's understanding
as in Regarding Henry, the Piano etc.- and she makes
an excellent case for the usefulness of Video Drama
not just for linguistic input which is highly contextualised
and authentic but to provide " a window into culture".
video drama is an entry ticket to the English Speaking
World, on a par with reading newspapers and magazines,
writing business letters, having conversations and other
major language activities found in EFL coursebooks.
It should, like them, be regarded as a language-learning
goal in its own right." Pg. 13
Later on in section B,
she comes back to the idea of comprehension and discusses
ways of helping our learners to comprehend the text
globally, in more detail and how to focus on specific
aspects of language, especially lexis.
The book contains an impressive
number of useful classroom activities. For example,
in the section on full-length films there are over sixty
activities referred to. If I had to choose a few to
focus on, the ones about plots are particularly useful
and productive- for example Climax where students use
arrows and circles to retrace the events which led up
to the plot crisis/climax or Plot idea I where students
end up inventing a film plot summary in 200 words using
formulas to help them.
Language in the videos
is nicely handled. For example, students focus on different
speech acts, accents, verb forms etc. using questionnaires
and "noticing" activities. Video is obviously
ideal for this as the action onscreen reinforces students'
understanding. Sherman does however make the interesting
point that whereas native speakers use the words to
help understand the action, non-natives are obliged
to do the opposite !
Of course, whole films
or episodes are useful but Sherman also covers the use
of clips to illustrate or produce target language -
structures, lexis and functional language. For example
using the "What have the Romans ever done for us
?" scene from Monty Python's life of Brian to focus
on the use of the definite article, contrasting the
use of "the "roads and "the wine"
( things already present/ referred to )with "peace"
and "public order" (things introduced by the
Wo-mans, sorry Romans) She also refers to using videos
for pronunciation work, for example "shadowing"
and dubbing speakers, awareness-building on areas like
comprehension of spoken language etc.
Apart from films, Sherman
covers other examples of video drama- sit-coms,drama
series, soap operas- discussing the rationale behind
using them, and describing extremely usable activities,
hints and ideas. She convincingly argues that the payoff
for students outweighs the possible problems they may
encounter I found the activities extremely productive.
One idea I particularly liked was using soap operas
for project work over a period of time using soap scrapbooks
or inventing newsletters.
Video is also an obvious
way to bring real world into the classroom. In the section
on programmes about real life Sherman covers the use
of documentaries,news, commercials , talk shows, game
shows etc. She discusses their use, provides hints and
a wealth of activities to use in the classroom. I found
it particularly useful the way that Sherman, throughout
the book, uses authentic video not as a one-off "fun"
activity done on a Friday afternoon but as an integrated
part of a series of teaching activities, with for example
preview / prediction work done before viewing, with
the actual viewing being fully exploited for language
and skills work and then a follow-up which for example
could be a further skill like writing or project work
For example, with ads, students can produce
their own commercial or parody of a commercial.
Apart from language and
culture, another reason for using materials like films
or soap operas is the sheer vastness of possible applications
in areas like Skills work. For Reading students can
contrast the film and the book, for writing they can
produce/ summarise/ describe scenes,plots, characters,
etc.- one of my personal favourites from the book was
Soap Write-out where students have to write a character
out of a soap opera in one scene. Speaking either scripted
or fluency-based, Listening to focus on pronunciation
etc. The list is endless and the activities in this
book definitely help teachers to exploit video materials,
which, let's face it, are often more topical, entertaining
and productive than certain coursebook materials.
Jane Sherman writes very
clearly and practically but is able to convey quite
dense ideas in a very readable format and with good
doses of humour and common sense.
The information is laid out very well with clear sections,
bullet points and bold text.
This is a very good example of a textbook with bridges
the gap between being dry academic theory and fun classroom
ideas which are fun to do but which lack depth or background.
This book is a definite
must for any teachers' room and particularly should
be read by the "powers-that-be" in charge
of purchasing and organising materials like videos.
Without a sufficient library or resources available
for teachers and students, video will continue to be
sadly underused in the EFL classroom. However, that's