TESOL Video News

TESOL Video News, Volume 17:1 (February 2006)

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In This Issue...
Leadership Updates Editorial Note

Kenneth Chi, kennethchyi@gmail.com

Welcome to the January issue of TESOL Video News. On behalf of the VDMIS, first, I want to say Happy Chinese New Year to you all. I also want to share with all of you some exciting news: Jeanne Grogan-Tannebaum, RN, PhD, our coeditor, is now fully recovered from her breast cancer. We are so happy for her.

My grandfather, from my mother’s side, passed away a month ago from cancer. We were very close, and he always tried his best to provide me with the best. During the time he grew up, opportunities for study were very limited but he never gave up hope. He finally got to study at British King’s College though he couldn’t finish the program because of the war. To this great man, who has always been my inspiration, I dedicate this issue.

In this issue our VDMIS chair, Daniel Walsh, offers a message, as does our chair-elect, Donna Tatsuki. Also included are two articles based on presentations at the Video Sessions in San Antonio, Texas, in March 2005: “Sustainable Video Production in Short-Term Courses” by Barbara Morris and “Let’s Try TV in the EFL Class!” by Carmen Chacón and Fabiola Reyes.

The Video IS is soliciting articles for future issues of TESOL Video News. Submit articles or announcements to kennethchyi@gmail.com. You may also send opinions and suggestions at any time to the leaders (see the last page of this issue for contact information) or to the e-list. We look forward to hearing from you.

Note from the Chair


Daniel M. Walsh, Hagoromo University of International Studies, Sakai, Osaka, Japan,   walsh@hagoromo.ac.jp

In the last newsletter, I spoke of the travails of planning VDMIS events for TESOL 2006 amid the sweltering heat of an Osaka summer. Well, the summer eased into a warm and prolonged autumn that featured maple foliage (remember, I’m Canadian!) right up to the beginning of December when winter winds arrived rather suddenly. As winter break approaches, I have taken some respite from the heated planning activity of last summer.


I recently arranged for a VDMIS booth in the convention exhibition area and welcome your help in staffing it for a few hours; it is an opportunity to promote and expand our interest section. Also, I have received a more-or-less finalized program for VDMIS at TESOL 2006. I plan to share details of the exciting array of events with you in the preconvention newsletter. But if you can’t wait to hear more, then by all means visit the TESOL Web site.

We all undoubtedly have been busy in the past months. In Japan, December is traditionally referred to as “shiwasu”—the month of the year when “even teachers are on the run”! But maybe it would be a good idea to take some time now to start planning your TESOL 2006 experience. Balmy spring days in Florida seem to be far off butbetter make reservations soon if you do not want to miss out on this TESOL convention. I look forward to meeting you again, or for the first time, in Tampa.

Daniel M. Walsh

Note From the Chair Elect, 2006-2007


By Donna Tatsuki, dhtatsuki@rapid.ocn.ne.jp

Greetings to fellow Video and Digital Media Interest Section members!

Since I moved to Japan to teach in 1987 (first at a junior high school and later—for the sake of sanity—at a university), films, television, and other forms of video have been central resources in my teaching. After attending a lively session by Susan Stempleski, Barry Tomalin, and Paul Arcario at TESOL 1989 in San Antonio, I was completely convinced that video is a crucial resource for language and many other kinds of learning. So, 16 years later, when I went to San Antonio again for TESOL 2005 and attended the VDMIS business meeting, I was deeply honored to be nominated as chair-elect for VDMIS. I want to sincerely thank the VDMIS officers past and present who have helped me transition into this exciting role.

TESOL 2006 in Tampa will feature a strong VDMIS program—over 90 sessions including an academic session, three InterSections, six discussion groups, and numerous colloquia, demonstrations, and workshops. And don’t forget to attend Video Theatre to see some of the best examples of video use for and by learners.

Articles and Information Sustainable Video Production in Short-Term Courses

By Barbara Morris, University of Delaware English Language Institute

Would George Lucas have made  Star Wars  if he knew he could show it to an audience only once?

Maybe. After all, it’s hard to contain creativity. But he probably wouldn’t have produced a sequel.

My first forays into student video production involved whole-class projects––four weeks of discussion, writing, storyboarding, rehearsing, filming, and editing––with much of the last two steps taking place outside of class hours. The finished product––a news show, a take-off on the movie  Fame,  or some other type of entertainment video––was shown to students and teachers at graduation and then put on the shelf.

The process was exhilarating––and exhausting.

Each time, my students––doubtlessly enriched both linguistically and emotionally by the experience––moved on to other classes or to other lives. I was left two days later with a new group of students beginning another eight-week session.

Despite the drawbacks, I found student video production such a compelling experience on both the educational and human levels that I was reluctant to give it up. I tried a number of variations––shorter videos, smaller groups, more student autonomy––in an effort to find a model that would satisfy students’ desire for expression and my need for a life.

Then something happened that revolutionized the way I thought about video production. My class failed a quiz, and I took it personally. If they didn’t know the difference between “The house is  on the corner of  Fourth and Pine Streets” and “The house is  around the corner from  here,” it was because I hadn’t taught them well enough. I needed a new method to help them see the difference. I turned to video production.

That first batch of mini-videos concentrating on prepositions of location turned out to be effective, and I had the pre- and posttest results to prove it. I suddenly realized I could use video production to target specific language skills. And there was an unexpected bonus: I had a set of videos to use again with my next eight-week class. Suddenly making videos no longer seemed like a time drain, but a time saver.

I was eager to apply this method to other areas of the curriculum, imagining a stockpile of videos to address my students’ every language need. The next area I decided to attack was a pesky list of decontextualized phrasal verbs.

Other problems emerged, however. The first was motivation. A 30-second clip on  turn off  or  put away  is just not as exciting for students as a 20-minute remake of  Mission Impossible . Even putting eight phrasal verbs into a skit does not guarantee a compelling performance. And along with more independent student production came issues of technical and quality control: camera angles, lighting, sound. I was not teaching a class on video production. How could I expect my students to be able to foresee or solve these problems on their own?

As I was struggling with these issues, I had an “aha” moment. I realized a way to solve the tension between my students’ desire for creativity and self-expression, and my goal of targeting very specific language needs. I discovered the key to producing dramatic content in only 30 seconds. I also came up with a system to overcome most of the technical problems without placing too many extra demands on my own time.

Perhaps I should put my name on it and patent it––but instead I’d like to share this model with you. Consider it a kind of open-source recipe for video production, which you may modify for your own needs.

How to Make an Effective and Reusable Mini-Video

Provide for student expression within a narrow structure.

A mini-video lasts between 30 seconds and one minute and focuses on a single language target: a lexico-grammatical item or a language function, for example. To challenge students and provide sufficient variety of language use and interaction, I adopted the following procedure. I divide my class into teams of three or four students. Each student becomes the director of his or her own video. In other words, a group of four students will produce four videos. Each director decides which of his teammates will act in his or her video and who will be operating the camera. (Small teams may have to borrow a cameraperson from another team.) The director is generally responsible for writing the script. With this system, each student becomes writer, actor, and cameraperson. Individual students feel ownership for the video they direct and also must collaborate with their teammates. The multiple roles allow everyone to shine.

Second, create dramatic tension.

A video needs to be interesting. Otherwise, everybody falls asleep and nobody learns the target language skill. How can you make a 30-second video about  start over compelling to watch? By making the phrasal verb the center of a strong emotion. Requiring students to incorporate emotion into their scripts guarantees dramatic tension and can lead to some amusing performances. Witness the following sample student-written script:

Start Over

Two male students are in a classroom. One is doing push-ups while the other holds a stopwatch and counts. A female student enters the room.

First male student:                     45, 46, 47…

Female student:             Hi, Seung-hwan. What are you doing?

First male student:                     We have a fitness test. So I’m counting push-ups.

Female student:             Oh, I see. Don’t forget the number. Bye.

First male student                       Have a good day. (turning to his friend)

Oh, my gosh. I’ve lost count. Sorry man, we have to start over.

Second male student:                 Start over? Oh, no! (collapses)

Ideally, after watching the video, the class audience can be asked a question about the emotional content, the answer to which contains the target language.

Question:          “Why is the student doing push-ups so upset?

Answer:            “Because he has to  start over .”

This particular mini-video was exceptionally funny to make because, in the process of rehearsing and filming, the poor student really did have to  start over  several times when doing those push-ups!

Time management and quality control.

I have each group come after class to do the actual filming. Production for three to four videos can be kept to under two hours if, early on in the planning and writing process, students are told to storyboard. Storyboarding means planning the visual content along with the text, or audio, content. It can be as simple as drawing a line down the center of the page and labeling the left side “Video” and the right “Audio.” Each time someone says a line, what will be in the camera’s frame? A carefully prepared storyboard helps filming go much faster.

When explaining storyboarding to students, I take the opportunity to discuss different kinds of shots––long shots, medium shots, and close-ups. As a rule of thumb, I tell my students to include at least two different types in a 30-second video. That visual variety adds a lot to the impact of the video.

Another big timesaver is in-camera editing––even if you have a digital camera and editing software. Basically, if you make a mistake, you rewind and do it again. But to avoid multiple takes as much as possible, on film day I always have students go through the performance twice before we film it: once without the camera and once with the cameraperson looking through the lens, but not filming. This second take is particularly helpful if you can attach the camera to a TV monitor so everyone can watch. Then we film it and watch the video to make sure it’s okay. All these takes are of course in addition to previous rehearsals done in class.

Quality control has a lot to do with what you see in the frame and especially what you hear in the audio. Unless you are using external mikes, try to film inside whenever possible. If you must film outside for a shot, keep the camera as close to the actors as possible and turn the volume up on the camera if you have that option. Beware of noise from traffic! Again, watch the scene after you film it to make sure voices are audible.

If you follow these guidelines, the odds are high that you will end up with a quality video that your students will have enjoyed making, that will have taught them the target language skill very effectively, and that you can reuse with future classes. Have fun producing your own video teaching materials!

Barbara Morris teaches at the English Language Institute at the University of Delaware, where she has worked with student video production for more than 10 years. She is the former chair of the Video and Digital Media Interest Section.

Let’s try TV in the EFL class!

By  Fabiola Reyes, fabirey@ula.ve and

Carmen Chacón, ctchacon@cantv.net

If you are teaching English in a foreign context you know how difficult it is for students to be exposed to authentic input outside the class. Based on this reality and taking advantage of the advance of satellite technology, we decided to incorporate TV watching as part of the curriculum. As English learners we recognize that TV watching is a useful source of input that helps get the gist of messages from context while learning real-world vocabulary, pronunciation, and culture. So, why not using cable TV—which nowadays is accessible to many homes—to encourage your students to listen to English through movies, sitcoms, videos, and other shows of their preference?

Thinking about the lack of input outside the class, a year ago we started a project in collaboration using cable TV to provide our students with such input out of the classroom. We thought that it was a challenging activity but at the same time was innovative to have them develop the habit of watching TV at home as a task to improve their listening and vocabulary skills. To achieve this goal, we needed the students to keep a record of their listening and the time they spent watching TV, so we required them to write a weekly journal to summarize the activity. Thus, we negotiated with the students and set some guidelines they needed to follow. We wanted them to be at ease and get used to watching TV as part of their daily routine, as a fun activity; therefore, we let them know that the journals’ goal was content rather than accuracy.

Getting Started

We gave students freedom to select their favorite programs, the time when they would watch them, and the choice to join their classmates for the activity. Besides, we asked them to watch at least eight hours a week. They were required to hand in the journal with entries including the name of the program, channel, schedule, summary of the plot and major characters, and a brief comment on them. At first, it was not easy to get them accustomed to the activity, since they wanted to understand everything, but it was not possible to do so as they were not trained, and they did not know what strategies to use. They complained, so we supported them with written feedback and strategy instruction.

Strategy Training

We followed Oxford’s (1990) classification of leaning strategies and explicitly instructed the students about metacognitive strategies (paying attention to the way they got the message), compensation strategies (how they overcame limitations in listening and writing), affective strategies (how they encouraged themselves or lowered their anxiety), and cognitive strategies (taking notes, summarizing, repeating, etc.). They seemed relieved and a few weeks later their writing entries showed improvement and their testimonies suggested that they were getting more comfortable in doing the activity and some of them came up with strategies that reflected their individual differences and learning styles.

Weekly Feedback

We read the journals within a week and returned them to the students with written feedback about content and supportive comments. In our weekly review, we kept track of the major accuracy problems (e.g. subject-verb agreement, verb tense, gerund after prepositions) to take care of them in the Grammar class, which the students were also taking.

From the experience we have described, we encourage other EFL teachers to use cable TV as a handy source that may help students with their listening skills in the first place, but also with vocabulary and writing like in our students’ case. Through this experience we realized that the students gradually increased their skills to comprehend English and write extensively, making progress not only in content (sense and coherence) but also in accuracy. In addition, they learned about cultural aspects embedded in the social context of each program; no doubt television is an authentic source of input that provides aural stimuli, nonverbal cues, and real life vocabulary.


Oxford, R. (1990). Language learning strategies: What every teacher should know. New York,  NY: Newbury House/Harper & Row. 

Carmen Chacón is an associate professor of English at the University of Los Andes Táchira, Venezuela.  She holds a PhD from The Ohio State University in Foreign/Second Language Education. Her research interests include critical practice in language teaching, TEFL methodology, and teachers’ self-efficacy.  Her research has appeared in The TESOL NNESTS Newsletter and the Journal of Teaching and Teacher Education.

Fabiola Reyes is an assistant professor of English at the University of Los Andes Táchira, Venezuela.  Her research interests include TEFL methodology and academic writing. For the last two years, she has incorporated TV watching and journaling into her English Writing class .