Don’t just press play: using video in the ESL classroom

Image source:
Image source:

There are a plethora of videos available to instructors and many  are excellent tools to use in the classroom.  When learners watch a video in the ESL classroom, it can transform a subtle point of language instruction from abstract to concrete.
Learners not only process information with their rational minds, but also with their emotions when they watch and listen together. Exercising more than one domain in a learning situation assists in skill development (Bloom, 1956). Watching a character on video experience a situation simulates a real life experience for the observer promoting use of the Cognitive and Affective Domains (Bloom, 1956).

According to Gibbons, McConkie, Seo & Wiley (2009), using simulation in conjunction with supplementary problem solving materials that promote learner interaction with simulation materials assists the learner in reaching the targeted language. Using supplementary materials that require dynamic conversations incorporates Bloom’s third domain – Psychomotor, and in turn heightens the skill development process.

It’s obvious that using videos to teach is a valuable instructional tool. But the most effective way to use a video in class is to integrate the concepts shown on the video with extension activities that lead the learners to use the skills they are witnessing in an authentic situation.

In light of the research that has been done in the area of instructional simulation, I strongly believe in the use of video in the classroom. There are several sites containing free videos such as Youtube and Vimeo. In addition, your institution may have a subscription to There are some sites that specifically target newcomers and finding jobs in Canada such as Essential Skills Development Canada and TRIEC (Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council).

While lesson planning as a teacher, I have spent countless hours searching for videos that contain the appropriate content on various sites. After finding the appropriate video material, it takes some time to prepare activities around the concepts addressed in the video that are meaningful to the learners.  I have found the amount of time that I spend looking for materials and enhancing them with supplementary activities to be a little frustrating. In fact, sometimes I spend a lot of time looking for content and in the end I don’t find what I need. Most teachers who have experienced this same frustration probably don’t have the time to produce their own video materials for use in the classroom.   But for me personally, knowing that there is such a gap in the availability of video resources that fulfill the needs of my students, I felt that I could do something about it.  I became so interested in developing useful material that I developed my own video resources.

Do you have any recommendations for video resources and extension activities that you like to use?


Bloom, B. S. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: Handbook 1. The cognitive domain. New York: McKay.

Gibbons, A. S., McConkie, M., Seo, K. K. & Wiley, D. A. (2009). Simulation approach to instruction. In C. Reigeluth & A. A. Carr-Chellman (Eds.), Instructional-design theories and models: Building a common knowledge base, vol. 3 (pp. 167-193). New York: Taylor & Francis.

Hi, I’m Gwen Zeldenrust. After a brief absence from the profession, I realized that teaching is my passion and the path that my career should follow. Most of my practice has been focused on teaching ESL to adults in Ontario. In addition to that, I’ve been a trainer for an insurance company, a teaching assistant for several professors at university, taught English in Japan and Core-French at the local school board. While I’ve been teaching ESL I’ve also been working on a project which has developed organically among a group of teachers. Under the name of Language Foundations, we’ve produced a video that teaches strategies for interacting successfully in Canada. The video project has inspired in me a true passion for writing. I love being able to reach out with my thoughts, share ideas and discuss different perspectives. I think writing and teaching are very complementary!


2 thoughts on “Don’t just press play: using video in the ESL classroom”

  1. Hi Gwen,
    I’ve sometimes used for quick short videos with 3 well thought out activities that come with them. But finding a lesson that suits your topic isn’t always a possibility. But these lessons make for a nice flipped class.. Students can access the activities in their mobiles and those who enjoyed it might look at other lessons on their own later.

    1. Thanks for sharing Ranjani. It is great information and an excellent idea for a flipped class.

Comments are closed.