The Internet TESL Journal

Ten Task-Based ESL/EFL Video Lessons

David Graham McGill
dgmcgill {-at-}
(Seoul, South Korea)


Traditional, accuracy-focused lesson planning is here to stay, but it is increasingly finding itself sharing attention with Task-Based Learning. Task-Based Learning is characterized by various factors: a focus on fluency, a high degree of learner autonomy, review of previously learnt language, and the importance of relevancy. Relevancy can be established through sharing, group presentation, and the use of authentic materials. This article will suggest a variety of fluency-focused activities, that may be used with videos.

Videos can be valuable classroom tools if they depict interesting, authentic scenarios in which relevant English is used. Effective videos should grab students' attention; they may do this a variety of ways. Students will be interested in videos that are aesthetically pleasing, present useful information, deal with pertinent social topics, have engaging characters, and are short in duration (viewing breaks should be given every two minutes). It is also important to consider authenticity when choosing a video, and this principally means that teachers must not overuse speeches, lectures and monologues. ESL/EFL students may encounter these types of discourse in real life, but they are far more likely to spend time in informal, conversational settings. Finally, teachers should choose videos that use suitable, level-appropriate language.

Video selection affects ease of task completion and the degree to which students will be engaged in the task. This article will suggest how videos may be combined with ten task-based activities. It is assumed, for all of these activities, that the teacher will allow students multiple viewings of short video clips early in each class. Regularly limiting the viewing segments to two minutes seems a bit dogmatic, but it is certainly preferable to overwhelming students with ten consecutive minutes of viewing time. For most of the activities, students should be at the pre-intermediate (or above) level. Unless otherwise stated, it is assumed that the these activities will be done in pairs, or small groups, so as to maximize students' talk time.

The Judge

In this activity, students will make evaluations and judgments acting in the capacity of a judge. Teachers should choose videos that present opposing arguments or depict opposing sides. During the viewing stage, students should note all of the arguments used. Next, they should rank these arguments in terms of validity (like a real judge). Finally, students should write a decision on the matter, choosing a "winner" and specifying a solution. This solution need not be particularly realistic, as creative responses will do much to liven the class atmosphere. Of course, the students must present their verdicts at the end of class.


While students sometimes have difficulty expressing their own opinions, it's usually easier for them to weigh the opinions of others. A famous adage states, "Everybody's a critic." In this activity, students should evaluate a short news clip that depicts a controversial issue. While first viewing the video, students should record key arguments related to the issue. They should subsequently rank these arguments in terms of importance. The students' main task is to write a newspaper editorial that argues for one side of an issue. This editorial should have a form similar to that of an essay: hook, thesis, concession, body arguments and conclusion. The most important argument should be placed at the start of the body. The second most important argument should be placed at the end. To avoid a lengthy feedback session in which students read their papers aloud, editorials may be exchanged within small groups.

Travel Brochures

Resort commercials depict exotic locales that many students would love to visit. These commercials can be great sources of information for travel brouchures. During initial viewings of a video, students should note the region's principal attractions and activities. In subsequent viewings, they might focus on the specific adjectives used to describe the locale. The students' main task is to design a travel brouchure for a fictional resort. Teachers should encourage students to use pictures and maps, because these visual aids make brouchures much more interesting. Artistic students will enjoy drawing maps themselves. After constructing brouchures, students can do a role play in which travel agents attempt to persuade tourists to visit their respective resorts.

Advice Columns

Many people think of themselves as experts in giving advice. In this activity, students will give advice after watching a video displaying a personal complaint, or problem. Thanks to webcam technology, personal complaint videos can easily be found on websites such as YouTube. First, students should be given an example advice column and guided through its form. Columns typically include the following ingredients: restatement of the problem, challenge of assumptions, consideration of other perspectives, a suggested course of action, and mention of resources (such as crisis hotlines). While watching the video monologue, students should make note of all the persons involved. Afterwards, students should write their own advice column, that adheres to the form discussed at the start of class. Finally, students should share their advice columns.

Fan Letters

The news media is saturated with information about celebrities. Celebrity interviews and biographies may be used as an attention-getting lead-in to the writing of fan letters. First, students should study the form of a sample fan letter. Fan letters typically include the following ingredients: information about the author, compliments, stories of positive influence, questions, wishes, and requests for autographs. While watching the video, students should note the celebrity's accomplishments and future plans. Next, students should write their own letters adhering to the previously studied form. Students will enjoy reading or hearing each others' letters.

Quiz Show

Television shows like "Jeopardy" and "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" have demonstrated that contests of knowledge can be fun. In this lesson, a classroom quiz show will be based on the contents of narrated stories, news broadcasts, or educational videos. First, students should be instructed to make five questions based upon the information from a watched video. Each student should make a "Who, What, When, Where, and Why" question. For example, if students are watching a biography of Michael Jackson's life, they might make questions such as, "When was Michael Jackson born?" and "When did he first become famous?". When questions have been collected, students should be divided into two or three teams for a "Jeopardy"-style game. In order to ensure that questions are not answered by their authors, the teacher can select one representative from each team to answer a given question. Presumably, students have not read each others' questions. The success of the quiz show depends upon the quality of the questions and the competitiveness of the students. Bells and play money can make the experience more authentic.

What Happens Next?

Television dramas are famous for their surprise endings. It's often the season finales that most tantalize and torture viewers. In this activity, students will create their own endings to unfinished scenes. While viewing the video, students should note the topic, setting, characters, level of speech formality, and recurring key phrases and vocabulary. Next, students should prepare their own dialogues or role plays to show "what happens next." Teachers should allow students to express their creativity and create new characters who weren't in the actual scenes. Group presentations should be given at the end of class, and students might vote on the best ending.

Character Diaries

Character diaries allow students to write in the personas of famous characters. Short film and television segments can be used as the basis of these diaries. While first viewing the video, students should identify the different characters and main events.  In subsequent viewings, students should specifically observe one character, noting his or her emotions and goals. These observations should be developed in the subsequent writing activity. To assist students in the writing process, teachers can suggest a general form for the diary entry: review  events, hopes, fears and future plans. If there is time at the end of class, then students should read their entries to the class. Otherwise, they may simply exchange diary entries with other students.


Even students without artistic talent occasionally like to draw.  Usually, storyboard sketches precede the creation of a film or television show. In this activity, students create a storyboard after viewing a series of events. Before the class, the teacher should segment a chosen video into six to twelve parts. Each part will serve as the basis for a storyboard sketch. While first viewing the video, in its entirety, students should create summaries. In subsequent viewings,  the teacher should pause the video, for thirty seconds, after each pre-defined segment. During a second viewing, students should draw stick-figure representations of the characters. During a third viewing, students can add dialogue bubbles.

During a fourth viewing, they can note the background scenery. At this point in the lesson, teachers can ask students to make a final draft on poster paper.

Poster Advertisements

Companies spend a great deal of money to ensure that commercials grab your attention, and these same commercials are likely to grab the attention of your students. However, one thirty-second commercial may not provide enough information for students' projects. Thus, teachers should consider presenting several different commercials of the same product. While viewing these commercials, students should note slogans, key visual images, and benefits of using the product. The students' main task is to create a poster advertisement. The poster need not contain exactly the same information depicted in the commercials. It should have both pictures and text. At the end of class, the students may attempt to "sell their products" to the class.


The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. XVI, No. 1, January 2010