Is video inherently motivating?

Is the use of video in ESL/EFL classes inherently motivating?
You know what? I really have no idea.
(Half-hearted apologies for not defining “motivating” or “inherent” but I am using the lay-person meanings here)

As usual, (?) I have a few stories that I would like to share. Hopefully they will help me come to grips with this question while hopefully entertaining you a bit and giving you something to think about.

“Find the right clip”

It was a few years back and I was doing a day-long workshop on lesson planning for foreign teachers who had just completed the first half of a year-long contract teaching in public schools around Daegu, South Korea. As the workshop progressed I heard something I found quite interesting mentioned a few times.  This was the belief that an (the?) essential part of lesson planning was finding the right clip on youtube. I got the sense that the “right clip” should be vaguely related to the topic of the lesson and the funnier the better. I did not  hear anything about the clips relating to target language or specific tasks for students to do while watching the clips. I wondered what beliefs this idea that we *should start class with a clip rests on.

I suppose an argument could be made that funny and interesting clips lower affective filters. Fine. I also suppose that we could say that showing a clip related to the topic might activate schema. Sure. I guess we could also say that we can learn culture from videos. Ok. What else?

What I found most surprising was the notion (as I interpreted it) that the default mode for starting a class is to show a semi-related clip for motivation. Is video the only way to create interest in a lesson? Is it the best way? Is video inherently motivating?

“A model lesson”

Just yesterday, while “researching” a future blog post, I came across clip of a  demo (“open class”) lesson.  [Please email/DM/add a comment if you’d like the link] In the clip, which I gather is a model lesson for teachers to follow, the first 5 minutes of the lesson (after students read the objectives aloud) are spent watching a some scenes from Home Alone 2

After students watch the clip the teacher asks, “Did you enjoy the video?” My assumption here is that the video is offered as motivation for the lesson that is to come (along with perhaps schema activation as mentioned above). It is possible that I am reading too much into it but…since the teacher asks if the students enjoyed it I am guessing it is important and expected that they do so.

After students say that they did enjoy watching the clip the teacher asks some comprehension questions what they saw. I can’t be sure if they were given the questions before watching  but it doesn’t appear that way.2  My training and beliefs tell me that asking questions after watching such a clip can make it more of a memory challenge than a listening/understanding challenge. But if the point is motivation I am not sure how much this matters.  I also wondered if watching a clip for 5 minutes without a task might make it a bit difficult for students to focus their attention. I don’t have much proof of this being a problem because I couldn’t really see the students in the clip (I could just see lots of Macaulay Culkin).

“The video motivated me”

Two weeks ago, I was watching a teacher peer teach some fellow Korean English teachers. She introduced the topic and shared a video. I think her instructions were, “Please enjoy the video.” This caught my attention and somewhere in the back of my mind there was someone screaming, “That is not a task! ‘Enjoy’ is not a task!! What is the task?!” Anyway, after the session one of the “students” (who, again, is actually teacher by trade) said that the video really motivated him. He said that he wasn’t sure where the lesson was going and then when he saw the video his interested was piqued and he was motivated for the class.

So here was a student saying exactly what I didn’t expect to hear! It sounded like the act of watching video itself motivated him for the lesson. My only interpretation here is that for this student video is in fact inherently motivating. Do you have other interpretations to share?

Questions/conclusions 

I can’t help but think that I have been taking the “must have a task” thing a bit too far.  I wondering when/if “just enjoying” is ok?

I am also wondering if perhaps there is a cultural element at play here? Have Korean students come to “expect” a video and has this turned into making using video clips the “default mode” to start classes for both Korean and foreign English teachers?

Another thing that comes to mind is that Korean students are typically accustomed to teacher fronted classes (read: lectures) so perhaps videos are a great break from this which makes them seem motivating.

I am still wondering if videos are inherently motivating. What do you think? What am I missing?

Random notes 

Special thanks to my friend for arguing with me that one time about using such clips in training. If not for this I would have linked to the clip here. Our conversation gave me something to think about. Much appreciated.

Since this is an “open class” it is highly possible that the students were heavily prepped for the lesson. “Open classes” and the culture of such classes are  perhaps rants for another day.

If you have not seen the “Gangnam Style” music video yet I strongly recommend it. It might be motivating.

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21 comments

  1. Rachael Roberts

    Great post. I so agree with @MrChrisJWilson when he talks about the ‘Did you enjoy the video?’ meaning, ‘You did! Say it!’.

    In answer to your question, I think it’s fine to just enjoy something once in a while, but too often and the activity starts to not ‘pay its way’.

    • mikecorea

      Thanks for the thoughts, Rachael.
      Your thoughts on “pay its way” reminded me of the expression “go to the well too many times.”
      At this very moment I am thinking that simply enjoying once in while is fine but possibly problematic when this becomes the standard.

      Tangent: I was once reviewing a textbook and the (friend) person sharing it was really excited about the weblinks that were included and focused on. My thought was that students can and will find their own cool links and probably don’t need their EFL textbook to be the place for that.
      (not to say that books shouldn’t be interesting of course but you already know that)

      Thanks again and “welcome back” from vacation!

  2. Willy C Cardoso

    Good reflection there!
    I just want to say that “just enjoying” is okay in my classroom. In fact, that is my main aim with most videos I show, or when it is sometimes requested by students. The relevance is tested online, and the language is given attention to if relevant to students and if a) they notice something that caught their attention and ask me about it or b) if I notice something I feel it will be useful to them. If none of these happens, fine, we enjoyed the video for the sake of our enjoyment, and then move on to something else.
    A couple of examples:
    – There was a major detour from yesterday’s lesson topic when the question of accents came up, and then students wouldn’t stop asking questions about accents and stuff. I incidentally mentioned the awful series Desperate Scousewives to tell an anecdote of a time when I was purposefully training myself to better understand Scouse English. One students asked me to show them a bit of the series on YouTube, which occasioned in us watching two other videos related to accents.

    – In the afternoon lesson (right after lunch), I often play a short sketch of old British comedy, such as Monty Python, The Two Ronnies, or Laurie and Fry. Just for the hell of it, and students enjoy it more often than not, well they laugh; therefore, I think they enjoy it.

    • mikecorea

      Hi Willy,
      Thank you so much for stopping by and for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I like your idea of having some fun “just for the hell of it” and I am sure that the laughs that come out during this time would make the class more comfortable for everyone.

      I also like your idea about giving attention to language when a) Ss notice something that caught their attention and ask about it or b) if you notice something I feel it will be useful to them.

      My sense here is that perhaps you are comfortable with (and even hoping for/expecting)such questions. This is to say that your students know such questions are appreciated and will be dealt with. I suppose this is something different than “just” watching a clip and then a bunch of questions about it.

      Thanks again!

      Cheers,
      Mike

      ps- I promise I won’t watch it but it was interesting to learn that there is a show called Desperate Scousewives. I have heard of Geordieshore but this was a new one for me.

  3. breathyvowel

    Hey mate,

    I assume the experiences you’re talking about here relate to public school teaching, so I thought I’d share mine.

    I used to start a lot of classes with a video, for reasons of motivation but principally because it was the most effective way of getting the students to focus (not quite the same as motivation in my book). Given my former students levels (extremely low, to the point where it was difficult to give instructions) it provided a bit extra context to the lesson as well. Both these things made trying to explain things afterwards that little bit easier on me and the students.

    As for just enjoying it, I used to do that a lot too. Usually, if the clip was short enough, I’d play it once with no task (or a gist task at best) and then do it again and ask for a bit more engagement, much like you might choose to do with a reading text I suppose.

    Can’t wait to hear Walshy on this one 🙂

    • mikecorea

      Last things first- Walshy (aka @AlexSwalsh) didn’t disappoint with his comments which are floating around here somewhere (and which I will respond to later when I am feeling a bit more courageous)

      I really like your point about focus (and how this is not exactly the same thing as motivation). I guess
      my sincere questions would then be:
      a) Why (or why does it seem) has video become the default for capturing attention?
      b) Are there other ways? Better ways? (whatever better means here)
      c) Are there ways that are more focused on language? Does it matter?
      d) Why am I such a grumpy old man suddenly?

      I am surely not going to argue against context (or even enjoyment for that matter).
      Actually perhaps I shouldn’t argue against much without actually seeing it done.
      Mostly I have just seen lessons on training courses (live) and sample lessons (online) so perhaps my perception is skewed.

      First things last–I guess I was half talking about public school and public school teachers but your thoughts are very welcome no matter what the case.

      thanks again for sharing your experiences and thoughts. Very helpful for me!

      Cheers (and see you face to face soon),
      Mike

      ps- I am not sure if it is important but I wasn’t sure what you meant play/do “it again and ask for a bit more engagement, much like you might choose to do with a reading text I suppose.” Perhaps I am so indoctrinated into requiring tasks for reading I wouldn’t do this and can’t even understand it. Maybe I just don’t know what “engagement” means here.

      • breathyvowel

        Again, in a public school context, with a class of 30+ students I didn’t find many better ways to settle kids down, but there are undoubtedly more language focused ways to start a lesson. Someone mentioned downthread just starting with some discussion questions – I’m not sure this would have worked so well in my public school classes, as students would have taken the opportunity to have a discussion about something entirely different in Korean I imagine. Maybe this just reflects badly on my classroom management, but I am of the opinion that teaching large public school classes does not closely resemble the way a small group of learners would be taught. Focus and presentation were almost more important in my classes than language – I don’t think this was a good thing by the way, but it does seem to be a reality for a lot of people.

        PS I meant that you could treat working with video like you would a traditional approach to a reading text, with a gist task and then something more detailed. I was rambling by that point so it clearly didn’t make sense 🙂

        See you Friday then?

  4. gwennieA

    I’ll be teaching Cinema English for sophomore+ uni Eng majors this semester…So there will be a video clip almost every class (planning to use mainly ‘shorts’)…Hummm, wondering if my end-of-term evals will skyrocket (if…I choose the right…funny??…clips) – ?!?

    • mikecorea

      Funny you should mention evals…. in a previous job (you likely remember the one) where evals were extremely important there were certain courses that tended to get higher evals and the the wisest and most experienced among us always ended up teaching that class. The class? Video English. 🙂

      What you are talking sounds a bit more like how I imagine video being used in class… like every class with a purpose other than just for entertainment in a more general English class. Thanks for the comments and best of luck for the fall term!

  5. Kevin Stein

    Hello Mr. Griffin,

    I see Willy’s point in how videos can provide a quick and interesting answer to students’ questions and think that’s a fantastic way to use media in the class. But the idea of opening a video which has some kind of connection to class content, just to start class with a video seems a little strange to me. I’m thinking (and you can bop me on the head if you disagree), that starting a class with some challenging (and challenging enough to be fun, not beads of perspiration hard) language work is also a great way to get students into the groove of class. I do use videos without sound for things like getting students thinking about the importance of lip reading, videos that have some fine examples of target language, and videos of short scenes with good dialogue to use as a base for drama class. But I haven’t used clips very much as conversation starters or to contextualize a topic. And 5 minutes seems like a very long clip to use in class. But maybe, like you, I’ve just kind of boxed myself in when it comes to the purpose of videos in class. Videos as fun, videos just to catch students interest…maybe it’s time to be a bit more flexible.

    Thanks for the read,
    Kevin

    • mikecorea

      Hello Mr. Griffin,

      I see Willy’s point in how videos can provide a quick and interesting answer to students’ questions and think that’s a fantastic way to use media in the class. But the idea of opening a video which has some kind of connection to class content, just to start class with a video seems a little strange to me. I’m thinking (and you can bop me on the head if you disagree), that starting a class with some challenging (and challenging enough to be fun, not beads of perspiration hard) language work is also a great way to get students into the groove of class. I do use videos without sound for things like getting students thinking about the importance of lip reading, videos that have some fine examples of target language, and videos of short scenes with good dialogue to use as a base for drama class. But I haven’t used clips very much as conversation starters or to contextualize a topic. And 5 minutes seems like a very long clip to use in class. But maybe, like you, I’ve just kind of boxed myself in when it comes to the purpose of videos in class. Videos as fun, videos just to catch students interest…maybe it’s time to be a bit more flexible.

      Thanks for the read,
      Kevin

      • mikecorea

        Sir,

        Thanks for the thoughts. I am also feeling like I have boxed myself in a bit in terms of using video in class.
        One thing I didn’t mention that just occurred to me now is that is I generally just don’t feel like messing about to find a clip and set it all up and go through all the potential hassle just for a minute or two clip. Lazy? Perhaps. I guess I try to find other ways to motivate/capture attention.

        Although I appreciate the offer to bop you on the head I think that starting with some (reasonably challenging) language work is a great way to get students into a class. A friend and colleague was recently telling me that most of her warming up type things are just some questions to think/talk about. I thought this was a brilliant idea. What I actually end up doing a lot of the time is asking students to think for a minute or two about a question/topic related to the day’s lesson and start from there. My sense is that this kills a few birds with one stone.

        That said, perhaps I will think about trying out a video in such situations in the future. It might be a nice experiment to show a video without a task and see what it does to my blood pressure. I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes.

        Take it easy,
        MG

  6. Alex Walsh (@AlexSWalsh)

    Well I think you know I have a massive passion for the use of videos in the classroom, I have a whole section dedicated to it.

    Regarding your actual questions here, can a video be intrinsically motivating? it depends on the context. 6 months ago I would have said using a video with no task to start a class isn’t a great idea, but I tried it myself with this lesson plan (http://www.alienteachers.com/3/post/2012/03/best-job-in-the-world-efleslelt-lesson-plan.html) and it really seemed to connect with my high school students and connect them with the topic. If we think about it, what is the point of a warm up activity? I would say it is to activate a students schemata on the topic, to get them ready to think about and discuss the topic of the day’s class. I wouldn’t start every class with a video, but if it feels right and will meet your objective for a warm up activity, why not? 5 minutes to have students awake and vaguely interested for the next 45 minutes can be a pretty good trade off I reckon.

    By the way if anyone is interested in introducing videos to the class, I wrote a short guide on practical ways to use them…… I should add using them as a warm up activity isn’t on there!!!! :p

    http://www.alienteachers.com/40-simple-ways-to-use-video-in-the-eflesl-classroom.html

    We now live in a world and have students that simply require visual stimulation. To be honest, I don’t think it’s necessarily a good thing, but that is what’s happening.

    • mikecorea

      Ohh Alex,

      Thanks for being so reasonable and level-headed. This is not the response of a video loving zealot! This a thoughtful response that I think there is a lot to take away from. There is not much to disagree with (not that disagreeing is the point!) Your comment about the purpose of warmers is well-made and I’d have to agree with you. I guess I am still not totally convinced that just watching a video without a task is a great way to get/keep students awake and interested in class (but I do believe it is a possibility now!). I suppose that I still think giving some sort of task might help students focus even more rather than the “just watch and enjoy” that I saw in the lesson I mentioned. As for a 5 minute investment of time for keeping students awake and interested for the other 45 minutes I can see your point there but I guess I would be a bit more greedy and think about getting some language learning/focus in there too if possible.

      thanks again for the comments and insights,
      mg

      ps- You wrote, “We now live in a world and have students that simply require visual stimulation.” I guess my thought is that Ss get a lot of this outside of class so that maybe in class this is not something that is required. Just a thought though and you (as all teachers) know your students far better than me!

  7. observingtheclass

    Hey Mike,

    I love this post, because, as you’ve noted, it seems every teacher in the country uses video. I have one friend who also likes to implement songs. He says it seems to motivate as much as a video.

    I myself show videos and play songs, but only in context of “task oriented” as you have mentioned. I think it is important to be task oriented, but not critical. In reality, the best part about videos, in my humble opinion, is that it exposes students to real life English, has pictures that can help reinforce the language, and can lower the affective filter. All good points already made.

    I would point out that in my classes, students seem fairly motivated for my class. I have never started with a video, or anything of the like to “get their attention”. Usually, I take the first five minutes to act goofy, talk to a few students and generally get students attention by interacting and sharing my thoughts (I have drilled long and hard that I want students to ask questions in addition to answering, so most of the time they have a ready made one to ask). I then use that time to shift discussion towards the topic/lesson/whatever of the day. If I have chosen an interesting topic for the kids, it usually goes well. If I haven’t, not so much. In the end, as always, knowing our students really is critical to motivation. That said, videos to motivate work, I’ve seen it, and for teachers new to a class, with unknown students, or whatever, a video might just be the ticket to a great class!

    One further opinion, if I may. Video is a great medium for teaching, and there are many other good ones, and if we allow enjoyment, through these, to come into the classroom, learning will follow. At least as far as I have seen in my short career. Happy students enjoying their time are infinitely more likely to work/do/learn without thinking that they are working/doing/learning.

    • mikecorea

      Hello “Observing the class,”

      Thanks for the comments! I think you summed up and brought out a lot of good points here. I guess what I was really ranting about is video being seen as the only way to start a class (in the “motivation stage”). I guess I have already hammered this home in my responses to other comments. I think my other main point is (still?) that there is a lot that we can do to exploit the power of video (including some of things you have mentioned) but that perhaps “just watching” doesn’t exploit this power as much as possible. I think your sentence, “Video is a great medium for teaching, and there are many other good ones, and if we allow enjoyment, through these, to come into the classroom, learning will follow” is right on point.

      Thanks again for stopping by.

  8. Ebefl

    Enjoyed the post! I’ve worked ukba few unis and am a bit dismayed by the use of videos by language teachers. There quite often seem to be huge task less sections or even -something I can’t stand- “last day video class!” I might be a bit of a killjoy but aren’t the students paying us to teach them?

    • mikecorea

      Cheers!
      You know what? As I was writing it I wondered if it was something you might be into!
      Ohh thanks (sort of) for reminding me of the last day of class video business. That is a good one. My thought is that if it is a good idea it is a good idea any time (and not just at the end). I am feeling particularly like a killjoy because of this post but that is something I can’t really get my head around. I think your point about being paid to teach is a great starting point. Others have mentioned the benefits of video and occasionally just watching without a task (some good points I’d say) but I think that if we are just rolling out the video cart (or whatever it it these days) and choosing the video there are easier and cheaper ways for Ss to watch videos in English.

      Thanks for the comments and I am looking forward to seeing more of your blog posts,
      Mg

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