You’ve decided to do an English lesson using a video topic. It’s a great idea, especially because a well-selected and well-integrated video can be packed with useful new vocabulary for your students to learn.  No matter how advanced the student or class you have, most likely there will be new words, terms, or expressions in the video. Let’s take a look at an effective method and key steps how to teach vocabulary in ESL lessons using video.

For new vocabulary words, expressions, or phrases, it’s always best to go through definitions, context examples, and CCQ to make sure they understand these terms before watching. You’ll see how effective it is to teach vocabulary by spending time on specific vocabulary words before they hear it in the video. After watching the video it’s always good to discuss or do written / speaking activities about how the word was used in the context of the video and then get them using the words in a practical situation. At the beginning of the next lesson, go back and review these terms from the video with more examples and activities. Let’s break it down, step-by-step.

(1) Introduce the vocabulary word to students in a specific context

A really great way to introduce the target vocabulary before watching the video is to show them examples of it in context. You should come up with some context examples which are similar, but not exact examples of how it is used in the video. In the example below, the target vocabulary expression is take a toll on. Below is an example of how the expression is used in the video that you’ll watch with your students, and then the example you could use to introduce the vocabulary to your students before watching. Click here to find the full lesson plan and video which features this vocabulary term.

Example from the video:

“Those long, grueling hours in cars, on trains, or buses can really take a toll on a person’s health.”

Your example: (before watching)

“Sitting in a car all day really takes a toll on my back.”

This is a similar example, but not quite the same as the example in the video. The reason you want to show a similar example and not the same exact example is because then the student gets exposure to two different contexts in which they can use the expression. You also want to give them an example where you’re sure that students understand the other vocabulary words in the sentence. In the example from the video, students may not understand the word “grueling” in which case you’d have to teach two terms in one sentence, which may get confusing.

(2) Ask students to think of a synonym / definition for this expression

For take a toll on, hopefully you’ll hear synonyms from your students like “have a bad effect” or “hurt”. However, if your students’ synonyms or definitions don’t align with the actual definition, give them one more example of the expression used in another context and see if they can get a better grasp of it. Whether their definitions are accurate or not after this, you’ll still want to share your own definition and synonyms with your students to help them gain a more comprehensive understanding.

(3) Give your own definition / synonym for this expression

Have your own definition or synonym ready for students. Share it with them even if your definition is a bit different from theirs. Often your students’ definition will not be the same as yours. For take a toll on, your definition could be something like “to have a cumulative negative effect on” and you can explain that we use it when something slowly causes pain or damage over a long period of time. This is something your students probably wouldn’t have gotten from the initial context, but should help clarify the meaning and usage for students. But to really check their understanding of the concept, you need to do some CCQ.

(4) CCQ – Concept Checking Questions

Some CCQ examples for take a toll on could be:

  • Does commuting to work or school take a toll on you? Why or why not?
  • What habits do people have that can take a toll on their health? 
  • How can natural disasters take a toll on a city?

Check out this article here to learn everything you need for CCQ. Essentially, the main point of CCQ is that you want to make sure that students clearly understand the target vocabulary word or expression. Simply asking the question, “Do you understand?” isn’t effective because many students may think they understand the term when they really don’t, or they may be afraid to admit that they don’t understand.

For each target vocabulary word or expression in the video, you’ll want to repeat the same 4 steps listed above before watching the video.

(5) Watch the video with students

After CCQ for all of the target words and expressions, play the video and watch it together. They’ll now hear all of these words / expressions in the video, in a different context than the examples you gave. They should now also have a grasp of what the words mean since you went through some examples, definitions, synonyms, and CCQ. This is really important – think about if you didn’t spend any time on the vocabulary word before watching. There’s a high chance that your students wouldn’t understand a lot things from the video. Doing work on the vocabulary words before watching gives students a really solid foundation and allows them to understand the video dialogue much better.

The video will also give students a visual context for the vocabulary word in action. In the video, the woman says, “Those long, grueling hours in cars, on trains, or buses can really take a toll on a person’s health” when she is hitting her head against the steering wheel – this visually shows the negative effect that driving has on her. Visuals and imagery are very effective for teaching and learning new vocabulary. You can read more about this here.

(6) Do an activity where they recall the vocabulary usage in the video

After viewing, it’s important to make sure that students now use the vocabulary actively. A good way to do this is with activities where students recall how the vocabulary word was used in context of the video. In these video-based lesson plans, you’ll see how there are fill-in-the-blank exercises for students to do after viewing. Basically, in these exercises, they have sentences and then a gap-fill where students must think about how to put the new vocabulary terms in the right context. This is effective because it’s the first time the students get to use the vocabulary term.

(7) Put students in a cooperation activity where they use the new words

Then put them in a real-life situation where they use the vocabulary word in a cooperative, active, and practical context. These lesson plans, which are all based on real-world videos, contain cooperation activities in which you can instruct students to use these new vocabulary words in real-world practical contexts – interviews, role plays, creating websites, presentations, vlogs, and much more. The value is that students have to find a creative way to use the new word that they just learned. All of these steps combined give students multiple instances of both passive and active engagement with the vocabulary word, which proves to be highly effective.

(8) Review the vocabulary terms in the next lesson 

At some point during the next lesson, do a review of the target vocabulary words that you focused on from the video. You can do this in a number of different ways:

  • Have students create their own sentences with the vocabulary term
  • You say the vocabulary term out loud, and then students have to either (a) give the definition (b) recall how it was used in relevance or context of the video
  • Prepare another fill-in-the-blank activity for students with different examples than last time
  • Give students sentences without the target vocabulary word and then they have to find and replace the part of the sentence where the vocabulary term fits

The Take-Away – How to teach vocabulary in ESL lessons using video:

Teaching vocabulary using video can be incredibly effective if executed the right way. I’ve taught vocabulary using this system many times using these video-based lesson plans. I’ve had really great success with it and I can see how well the student develop their vocabulary with this.