Vocabulary Training
with Interactive Video


As a teacher of English as a foreign language at secondary school, I am always looking for new ways to improve my teaching. It keeps me enthusiastic and it motivates my students. It is miraculous to see what difference it makes when students get to watch a video or when lessons are illustrated with pictures on the smartboard. In this blog, you will see that interactive video can make miracles happen in vocabulary training too!

Factors influencing retention of vocabulary

Studying a foreign language is more than just cramming elaborate lists of words. It is about pronunciation, spelling, grammar, collocation, appropriateness, etc. Therefore, it has been assumed for decades that it is beneficial to learners to study words in their contexts. Modern technology facilitates the classroom with access to loads of online material. Many a teacher uses videos in the classroom on a daily basis. However good and natural this input is, it is in itself not enough to be processed, unless learners actually pay attention to it.

In other words, learning vocabulary by watching videos will be much more effective if students are engaged while watching. Richard Schmidt (1990) has provided us with six factors that influence students’ awareness:

  1. Frequency of encounter with items
  2. Perceptual saliency of items
  3. Instructional strategies that can structure learner attention
  4. Individual’s processing ability (a component of aptitude)
  5. Readiness to notice particular items (related to hierarchies of complexity)
  6. Task demands, or the nature of activity the learner is engaged in.

How to create an effective interactive video for vocabulary training

As teachers, we should stimulate the factors mentioned above as much as possible. I tried to implement them all while creating my interactive video for the acquisition of vocabulary regarding the British government.

The options HiHaHo provides us with are very useful in accomplishing this task. Besides, the programme is very easy to use. How to get started after activating your account?

1. Decide what vocabulary you want to teach your students.

Both for psychological and practical reasons, these words should be theme-based, so students can form chunks of knowledge and so you can find one video that includes these words. Of course, you only pick words that are relevant to the students’ general knowledge, so the words are not too complex. It would be best if the words occur in the video more than once, so the frequency factor is taken into account as well.

My students are around the age of sixteen. They already know how Dutch parliament works, so this knowledge can be expanded with information about the British parliament.

2. Choose a video

Click the green ‘New HiHaHo’ button at the home page of your account. Choose which source you would like to search and enter your keywords to search the video you want to ‘HiHaHo’.

I use the keywords ‘British Parliament’ and choose a video in which Britain’s political system is explained. This video contains speech at a slower pace, so students are not hampered by unclear spoken text. I click the Enrich button.

3. Provide subtitles to the video

This is not a listening test, so there is nothing wrong with helping students to recognize the words by means of subtitles. This only improves students’ individual processing ability, which in turn helps the students acquire the new vocabulary. Besides, it teaches your learners how to pronounce the written word and how to recognize it in spoken text, which is a huge advantage over studying words from a textbook.

I click the Text button (orange) at the point where I want my subtitles to start. For every new subtitle, I click the Text button again. When I scroll down, I can adjust the time during which the subtitles are shown very precisely.

4. Mark the words you want the students to learn

This way, you enhance the perceptual saliency of the word. Also, students’ attention is drawn both to the pronunciation and to the spelling of the item. If you focus on collocations, it is also possible to mark the full phrase it is used in. Besides highlighting just the word itself (and, for example, inserting a multiple-choice question in order to teach its meaning), you could also choose to add a definition of the word.

In editing the subtitles, I mark the words I want the students to learn by making them bold and red.

5. Add instructions to the video

In order to structure learner attention from the very beginning, you could start the video with a question like ‘This video is about living. What words do you expect to hear?’ to activate their prior knowledge. Further on, you can stop the video and ask a multiple choice question to elicit the meaning of a word, to have students repeat the word out loud, or to repeat part of the video as a means of dictation: students will have to type what they hear. At the end of the video, you could repeat your initial question, for example in the form of a multiple response question. By inserting different exercises with the same vocabulary items, the frequency of the students’ encounter with the items will be enhanced.

I ask an essay question at the beginning of the video. There are no wrong answers: its main goal is to have students focus on the topic. After the word ‘laws’ has been used a few times, I insert a pause screen with the text ‘Repeat the word ‘laws’. Then listen again and check whether you did it right.’ I actually want to have the video jumped back to just before the sentence including this word, but that option is not available in the pause screen, though it is in the questions. I tried the ‘jump forward’ button, but if you use it as a ‘jump backwards’ button you just get this part of the video repeated endlessly.


Halfway, I inserted a dictation exercise. I think HiHaHo gives an excellent opportunity to practise this, because as a teacher you can give as many options as you like, so you can anticipate your students’ use of punctuation marks (or probably rather the lack of them). The only problem with this is that it is not yet possible to select the part of the video this question should be about, so the students do not know which part of the text they have to write down. Also, it is not possible to jump backwards to exactly the start of the dictation. These would be huge improvements.
Furthermore, I make some open questions at the end of the video in which students have to fill in the words they just learned. By doing this, they are actively using their new vocabulary, at the same time practicing the spelling of the words. The long-term retention of words is more effective when students use them actively in writing, instead of just acquiring them by reading or listening.


For this same reason, I finish the activity by inserting an essay question in which the students have to use the words they studied. In the feedback, I show a list of the words they should have learned while watching the video, with the advice to study words they might have missed and use a dictionary if necessary.

6. Provide useful feedback

It is important that students like the task that they are doing. Positive feedback increases the fun factor, as does insight into their own performance. HiHaHo enables us to assign a number of points to each question, so students keep track of their scores and get to see how well they did at the end of the session.

Much feedback is already given by HiHaHo in the form of compliments and scores. To make feedback more useful, a teacher can give hints as to what would make the answer correct. I use this device in the question about the word ‘government’, for example, because I expect many students to make mistakes in the spelling.

Evaluation of using HiHaHo interactive video for vocabulary training

Interactive videos provide realistic material to acquire a language. It makes foreign language learning way more attractive for students than it is when working from a book. Also, the activities activate students and this will be effective for the retention of the words. However, this is only the case if the meanings of the words become clear enough from the videos themselves. It is undesirable to explain every word that has to be learned in the video, as this interrupts the storyline of the video, thus harming the contextual learning environment and annoying students who usually just want to see the rest of the video.

Therefore, interactive video cannot be used for the acquisition of vocabulary on its own. Students should have resources that explains the meanings of the words they have to study, so that they can fall back on this in case the meanings are not clearly explained by the context given in the video.

Nevertheless, interactive video is an excellent means to retain the words students have to study, as it increases the frequency the students see and hear the words in a natural context, in an engaging way.


Mariëlle Nederlof

Teacher of English (EFL)



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