Interactive Video Makes Students Enjoy Speaking Foreign Language
In foreign language education, the main goal is to improve students’ proficiency in perceptive and expressive skills. Grammar and vocabulary training are just means to achieve those goals: we want to train our students so that they will become excellent readers, listeners, writers and speakers in the foreign language. Unlike grammar and vocabulary, these are elements of language learning that cannot be mastered by studying; students need to practice to improve.
Speaking might be the skill that is hardest to control for teachers and teenage students might feel embarrassed when they have to practice, but this does not mean that we should spend less time on the matter. I actually love practicing this skill in my classroom, as it has so much room for creativity.
Activating speaking exercise for foreign language education
My experiences have taught me that teenage students really need inspiring exercises to keep speaking in the foreign language for more than a minute. Usually, they feel the freedom to switch to their first language for some chit-chat, because of the noise in the classroom.
However, if they like the exercise, they can go on for half a lesson or even more, because they just want to take part. Today, I am producing a fun speaking exercise, using interactive video.
Inspiring speaking activities
So, what makes an inspiring speaking activity? What is definitely not inspiring is a pre-written role play exercise. In my experience, students just carry out what they are asked to do as quickly as possible, do not see any fun in it and start chatting in their native language as soon as they have finished doing it.
Besides, language usage will be minimal and it is often not natural language use: in real situations you have to think about what you are going to say in a conversation, instead of producing a sentence which has been written for you. That is why we have to give our students more freedom.
There must be a reason to talk: there has to be an information gap.
Also, students need to know what they have to talk about, especially when the assignment involves giving opinions. So, there should be some valuable input before the speaking can begin.
How to build a speaking exercise with interactive video?
(1) Decide what kind of speaking exercise you want to make.
Do you want to have discussions in which different students have different information? Then, you will have to find two videos which provide that information, or you could split up a video so that both participants in the conversation will have their own information to share.
Or do you want students to do a presentation on a topic? Then choose a video with a lot of good-quality information and insert links to websites or other videos which elaborate on the topics being discussed in the main video.
You could also create an exercise in which students have to discuss their opinions on a certain topic. In that case, choose a video about something debatable. It is important here that you choose something that interests students, a topic students will have already formed an opinion on.
Otherwise, it will be too difficult; if students do not even have an opinion about the subject in their native language, how do you expect them to express an opinion in a foreign language?
I decided to make a speaking exercise in which students have to discuss their opinions, so I am going to look for a video which deals with familiar and inspiring topics.
(2) Choose a video suitable to your aims.
Usually, teaching materials work around a specific theme. This means they study vocabulary, grammar, chunks, and so on, that are centered around that theme, so it is useful to make a speaking exercise about that as well.
This way, students will not be hindered by a knowledge gap: they will be able to use the material they studied and that will give them more confidence in using their speaking skills.
My fifth year students (aged 16-17) are working on the theme of ‘Trends’ this term. I found a video dealing with the top twenty lifestyle trends of the year 2017. I typed the URL in the search bar on the ‘New HiHaHo’ page and clicked ‘Enrich’. Twenty topics is a lot and not all students will have an opinion on all those items. However, with HiHaHo, I can solve this by making the items optional. The fact that the video includes so many topics creates automatic differentiation: students pick the items they think is most interesting.
(3) Watch the video and decide what interactions you would like to add.
Depending on the aim of your exercise, interactive video offers many different useful tools to turn your video into an interactive speaking prompt.
(a) Information gap exercise
In order to create an information gap, you could for example split up your video by adding the Jump to interaction. You just make two interactive videos of the same basic video, adding a Jump to interaction half-way the first interactive video (having it jump to the very end of the video).
You also add the same interaction at the very beginning of the second video (having it jump to the same point half-way the video where you broke it of in the previous one). This way, student A only gets to see the first half, whereas student B sees the second half of the video.
Roald Dahl’s The Ant Eater (Part 1)
Roald Dahl’s The Ant Eater (Part 2)
In the end, you could insert a pause screen with the instruction for the speaking exercise. This could be as simple as ‘Tell your classmate what happened.’ for student A, and ‘Listen to the first half of the story. Then tell your classmate how it all ended.’
If you take an exciting video, students will be eager to hear the other half of the story, urging the other person to tell it and to use the foreign language. The animated videos of Roald Dahl’s stories could be helpful.
In class, you just pair up the students, with pairs consisting of a student that has received the video A and one who has video B. See below for instructions. This option is, however, most useful if students have their own device and earphones, so they can watch the video in class just before the speaking exercise.
Alternatively, you could have the students watch the videos at home, as a preparation for the speaking exercise in class. However, a lot of the enthusiasm will have gone when so much time passes between watching the video and telling the story.
If it is a fun story, students will be eager to see the full video, so you could decide to show this on the smartboard in your classroom as a reward.
(b) Give your opinion-exercise
In order to create an exercise in which students have to give their opinions, interactive video provides several useful tools. You could, for example, stop the video by asking a multiple choice question to which the answer must be one both students agree on. In order to get this agreement, they need to discuss the question first.
Also, you could instruct them in a pause screen to discuss a particular statement, based on the video input. If you wish, you can even assemble all their answers by putting the statement in an essay question interaction, in which students write down the conclusion they came up with.
I chose this type of activity for my lesson about trends. As discussed in a previous paragraph, I think it is important for students to get valuable input before speaking, freedom in what to discuss and what language to use and they should see the need of the discussion: there should be an information gap.
Let’s discuss the valuable input first. There are many videos on YouTube dealing with trends, but most of them deal with fashion. This is highly subjective and only part of the group will be invested in the topic as it is displayed in those particular videos. Therefore, I picked a video which deals with trends in all fields of modern life.
Furthermore, I personalized the exercise by adding a menu after the introduction. In that menu, I categorized all twenty topics, so students can choose which of the topics they want to discuss. In the pause screen at the same point in the video, I ask my students to choose at least 5 of the topics.
I want them to briefly discuss what they saw in the fragment, to make sure both students understand what the trend is about. After that, I want them to discuss the questions I will include at the end of the fragment. Again, I use a pause screen for that.
When I had set all pause screens with questions for all twenty fragments, I started to create the menu. I wrote the category names in the ‘menu item’ fields. Then I set the video time that I wanted the students to jump to when clicking on the specific menu items (switch on ‘Link to specific time in the video’).
For that, I simply used the time of the pause screens of the fragment before this menu item, plus 1 second, so that the students will not see the question of the previous fragment first. It is easiest to have two HiHaHo screens in front of you, one with the menu to set, and one with the overview of all the times of the pause screens.
I did not include any feedback screens, as I do not think this is useful for speaking. My students like this best and have most confidence if they can just practice without being interrupted.
During the exercise, you can walk around the classroom and take notes of what went right and what went wrong. This enables you to give feedback after finishing the speaking assignment.
Top Twenty Trends in 2017
(4) Publish your interactive video
For publishing your interactive video, go to ‘Video settings’ and select the option you like best in ‘Publishing’, ‘Availability’ under the ‘General’ tab. In case you want your students to pair up and watch different parts of the video, do the following:
(1) Go to ‘Optional variables’ in ‘Video settings’.
(2) Click ‘Allowed viewers’ and ‘Download allowed viewers template’.
(3) Enter the details of the students you want to see that particular video.
(4) Click ‘Import file’, select your list and click ‘Submit’.
Now, you can see whether your students watched the video and if they succeeded (in case you inserted questions). The only thing still to do is embed your video in your e-learning environment, so students can find the video. You will find the embed code under ‘Video settings’ > ‘General’ > ‘Embedding’.
Application in the classroom
Speaking with interactive video is most useful if students have their own device with their own earphones or their own space in which they can both watch and discuss the video fragments.
Students will be able to choose the topics they personally like best and to work at their own speed. However, it can also be used in a traditional classroom setting, using the smartboard.
The only disadvantage to that is that it limits the ability to personalize the exercise: students cannot individually choose which topics to discuss. However, teachers can give students turns in choosing their favorite topics, so it is more ‘free’ than when teachers just set the topics.
The advantage to this approach is that advice can be given after each topic discussion: all students deal with the same topic so your information will be relevant to all.
Measuring students’ progress
In my opinion, speaking in a foreign language is not to be assessed by counting mistakes. It is much more about confidence and fluency, which are less easily measured than mistakes in pronunciation and grammar.
Therefore, I think that students’ progress should be monitored by the teachers themselves and this cannot be done by technology (yet!).
Just walk around the classroom, encourage students to keep talking, help them if they cannot find the words they need and give feedback on what you heard at the end of the session. And, probably most important of all: compliment them wherever possible!
My colleagues and I used the video in a classroom setting as described above and had great fun. I used it as a start-up exercise to lead students into both the topic and the language, as secondary school students sometimes have to switch from one second language to another, for example if they had a lesson in French before my class.
I had two students choose topics from the menu on the screen. We all watched the video twice, as the fragments are really short and the presenter speaks really fast. This is quite easy to do, as you just click the topic in the menu again. Goodbye time-consuming searching sessions for the exact point in the video you need!
It is efficient the students get to see their instruction for speaking immediately after watching the video. Their attention is still fully aimed at the screen, so they read the exercise and start speaking in English about the topic straightaway, without being distracted by me or anything else in the classroom. The fact that the students could choose the subjects themselves motivated them to carry out the conversations.
As soon as I thought my pupils had discussed all questions, I commented on the use of English I had heard, had somebody choose a new subject and the process started all over again.
I think the two greatest advantages of interactive video for speaking are the fact that it is easy-to-use (and therefore time efficient and motivating) and the freedom it offers students by enabling them to choose their own topics.
Choosing the right video for valuable input and creating information gaps by splitting up videos or asking the right questions make your exercise meet the requirements for creating successful speaking exercises. Have fun!
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