Using Videos in Class: A Framework

I know, I know. We’ve all done it: pressed play on a movie so we don’t have to do a real lesson! But using videos in class can be very productive for teaching spoken language!

But students actually can get a lot out of videos and films. When students are watching a video, they’re listening and also absorbing body language and also learning about English in context, which is important for teaching pragmatics! Videos are full of visual cues that students can pick up on. Movies often have a plot or story to discuss and some kind of moral or artistic message. Finally, films are often fun and engaging, so students want to pay attention. But without a plan, a film-based lesson can turn into kids just watching a movie.

Now there are some great sites for using films in class, such as Film English. But what if you have a film you love, and you want to use it in class, but no one’s done a lesson about it yet? I’ve developed this simple flexible framework to help you create a lesson built around any kind of video or film.

A Framework for Using Videos in Class

I’ve used Mr Bean as an example here because Mr. Bean is very popular, but this method can work with really any kind of movie or film, scripted or natural, story-driven or thematic, a music video or a scene from a film. The framework lets you get the most out of the video possible. You can look the film as a piece of communication, a story, a way to raise a theme, and more!


To use a video in class effectively, you need to break the video into shorter sections. I recommend watching the video before class to get an idea of how it logically breaks down into chapters or unit. Note the times when each section begins and ends.

You’ll also need to prepare a few sets of questions. First you need questions that students can answer while watching the film. These questions should have clear and concrete answers. They should guide the student to understand the important parts of the film such as “Why did the man go into the building?”, “Who did he see in there?” Avoid questions about small details, like “What color was the man’s suit.” On the other hand, if the film maker is using color or clothing to depict a theme, it’s good to direct students’ attention to that while they are watching.

The second set of questions should be more abstract and focus on the themes of the film or larger artistic issues. Ideally, these should be questions that require an understanding of various parts of the film, and be open to debate: “What kind of person do you think the hero is?” or “Do you agree with the mother that people are always cruel to each other?”

If the film is not one that lends itself to heavy themes, or it’s a non-fiction film, you can ask questions such as “Have you ever been in that situation?” or “What do you think would happen if something was a bit different?” You can also draw students’ attention to the way people communicate in the film. You could ask thinks like “How did the man show he was angry?” or “What tells you the woman was being sarcastic?” and the process of film-making itself “Why did the camera zoom in on the book?” “How did the music match the way the boy was feeling?”

The Procedure

1. Put students in pairs or small groups.

2. Play the video bit by bit. Have students watch and try to answer questions related to that section.

For the Mr. Bean video, I’d divide it into the parts where he makes the sandwich, eats the sandwich, and perhaps making tea/the ending. So I’d give students a worksheet with three sets of questions to answer as they are watching.

As for what would be good questions: I’d ask lots of questions about what he pulls out of his coat and why, very

 concrete questions about what he does. Incidentally, this would be a good video for practicing vocabulary or verb tenses as students describe Mr. Bean’s actions.

3. Have them check their answers with another pair.

At the end of each section, stop the video and give them a chance to check their answers with another pair or group. This lets them help each other recap what happened, too. If you hear confused students, hopefully you’ll also hear other students explaining what happened to them.

4. If the whole class is completely lost, replay that section.

If 75% of the class, can’t figure it out, give them another chance or two, before stepping in to help.

5. Discuss the questions and any other questions students have to make sure they are following the video.

Before going on to the next section, give students a chance to ask any burning questions or quickly underline any key points. You might say something as simple as, “So, we’ve seen Mr. Bean make a sandwich in a very odd way. And his neighbor, well, his neighbor is pretty surprised. He probably thinks this is pretty gross.”

6. Have students predict what will happen next.

You may also want to give them any information they might need to interpret the next section.

7. For the next section of the video, repeat steps 2-6.

8. When the video is over, review the video as a whole. Discuss questions about the general theme or objective of the video.

You might do a quick summarizing activity, such as having students write a short summary or each tell one thing that happened. I sometimes do paragraph frames with key words missing and have students fill in the missing words.

Then move on to thematic questions. For Mr. Bean, questions about intercultural understanding often work well, as well as the theme of clowning. Clowns show us why we do things the way we do them, by showing what happens if you do them the wrong way. At the same time, clowns are very consistent in their own universe. You might ask students what is the normal way to make a sandwich? Why do you think Mr. Bean does it his way? Does Mr. Bean think we are strange? Can you think of different ways to do the same thing?

You could even discuss the performance. Why doesn’t Mr. Bean talk? How does the actor use his face to make us laugh? What is the role of the straight man?

9. Move on to talking about how the video relates to something personal. This is a good time to do a writing or task where students apply something from the video to their lives. Students could also create their own scenes, or talk about a time they saw a clown or comedy performance.

I hope that framework works for you. I’d love to hear how it goes for your film-based lessons. Let me know in the comments.

If you’re looking for more engaging ways to teach pragmatics, check out our article on using memes!

Teaching Pragmatics with Memes

A flight attendant is asking a passenger "Coffee or tea?" and holding out a thermos. The passenger answers, "Tea" and the flight attendant replies, "Wrong. It's tea". It's a really funny joke!
from PunHubOnline

I recently discovered these wonderful communication-fail memes from PunHubOnline! Beyond being peak comedy for language lovers, these memes highlight a really important point: communication happens far beyond grammar and vocabulary. Pragmatics, the hidden rules that determine how we communicate with each other, is a huge factor in determining how we communicate. These memes are funny because they break those rules of pragmatics. So there’s nothing more natural than teaching pragmatics with memes.

What is Pragmatics and Why Should We Teach It?

Pragmatics is how we take into account a context and situation when communicating. Put simply, we speak very differently to our parents than we do to our friends, or when we are fighting with someone vs. when we are having a good time. I’ve written more about pragmatics and why it’s important here.

Looking at the meme above, the flight attendant is asking “Would you like coffee or tea?” Now she’s dropped the first part of the question. This might be rude in other contexts, but we know that flight attendants are busy so they can shorten the question, and we’re busy too!

And there a variety of clues that make the meaning of the utterance clear:

  1. Flight attendants often offer people food and drink.
  2. The flight attendant is holding out a Thermos.
  3. People hold things out and show them to you when offering things.
  4. They also adopt a questioning tone and may raise their eyebrows, smile, or in other ways look friendly and opening.
  5. Many people enjoy a coffee or tea after a meal.

There is no reason why a flight attendant would quiz you on the contents of a container! And yet in some contexts, the question “Coffee or tea?” might mean “Guess which one this is.” Maybe it’s a classroom and the teacher is playing a guessing game to review vocabulary, or maybe your friend has discovered a kind of tea that tastes just like coffee and he’s betting you can’t tell the difference.

The point is: the sentence isn’t wrong. The grammar and vocabulary are correct. But the context IS wrong and that’s where the communication fail happened!

Deictic Expressions

A man in a hotel lobby asks a hotel receptionist, "What room am I in?" She answers, "It's called the lobby, sir."

Here’s another example meme, one of my favorites. A man tells the hotel receptionist, “I’ve forgotten what room I’m in.”

The receptionist answers, “It’s called the Lobby!” The joke here is based on the misunderstanding of the designation, “room I’m in”. In a hotel “the room you are in” refers to your hotel room, the place you are sleeping. If we meant the room we are currently in, we’d say “this room”.

Also, there are very few reasons WHY we’d ask what the lobby was called. It doesn’t really matter if we call it a hotel lobby or reception or that big room near the door!

On the other hand, it’s plausible a guest might forget their room number and need to be reminded. So again, context is important and so is purpose. In the real world, we ask questions for a reason!

Another interesting thing is that the man’s statement is really a question. He’s not informing the woman he forgot his room number just for fun. He wants her to tell him the number.

We ask indirect questions all the time. We also ask rhetorical questions that are really statements! Rhetorical devices and their impact are a huge part of communication, but rarely explicitly taught!

Ideas for Teaching Pragmatics with Memes

There are a lot of things you can do with these memes in the classroom. I’ve attached a few above from but the PunHub Instagram account is the best place to get them-do check them for classroom appropriateness and language level though. You can share them with students and ask them to analyze them with the following questions:

  1. What is the context and what expectations do people have in these contexts?
  2. What hidden assumptions is the first speaker making?
  3. How does the second speaker break that assumption?
  4. Is the second speaker making any assumptions?
  5. What might a real conversation look like?
  6. What rules of social communication can we derive from the misunderstanding?

Students can also write their own memes. This might appear difficult but they probably have a miscommunication story of their own to share. I remember being asked how I’d rate a film once. For some reason, I though the person meant content ratings, so I said, “PG-13”! There may be a colloquialism in English that has just never made sense to them, an expression that has always stuck out for them because the literal meaning is so far off the intended meaning, or even something a foreigner in their own country said wrongly once!

Other Pragmatics Lesson Ideas

You can also help raise students’ awareness of pragmatics through short microsketches. Any dialogue that has a clear purpose can work. We have a lesson plan up on Teachers Pay Teachers, The Favor Microsketch: Learning Pragmatics Through Drama , that helps students learn about the language of asking for a favor, for example.

Feel free to browse all our Drama Resources on Teachers Pay Teachers for more help teaching spoken communication and pragmatics. We also have more drama resources and materials here.

Do you have other suggestions for teaching pragmatics with memes or other teaching ideas?

What does “I was, like…” mean?

The first 10 seconds on this clip (0:32-0:40) show the power of like and body language to communicate!

In the spring, I had the great pleasure of seeing a bit of David Crystal talk at the 2020 Digital Hay Festival. (By the way, if anyone is looking to for a great Christmas present, his latest book looks amazing!) and I was rather pleased to hear him, as a well-known and respected linguist, defend teenspeak/Valley Girl with words such as “like”.

In fact, he did a wonderful example of “I was, like,” and do a shocked face. It reminded me of the first 5 seconds of this clip reminded me of the first 10 seconds of this clip from Over the Hedge. This is meant to be a parody of a teenage girl circa 2005, but it actually makes perfect sense to me, and apparently Professor Crystal agrees!

So, what does “I was, like…” mean?

We know that when we are listening to someone, really listening, we are paying attention to their words, but we’re paying attention to so much more. We’re listening to their tone to determine how they feel about what they are saying! We’re watching their body language for the same reason. Speakers also use their tone and gestures to keep the audience engaged and sometimes we reference a movie or TV show by imitating a character. Or we even adopt the pose as we speak of a well-known stereotype in our culture: the scolding parent, the arrogant puffed up boss, a crazy person, someone who is exhausted!

In fact, it can be difficult or time-consuming to describe everything we think and feel and say in a situation. So sometimes, the body language or facial expression or pose is the best way to communicate effectively. And sometimes it’s the only way!

The word SAID doesn’t fully encapsulate this idea. So, we have this wonderful word LIKE which does. “I was, like” really means

Don’t believe me. Think about these popular gifs below. Think of how easy it is to understand what these people are thinking or feeling. And think about how popular it is to use a gif or meme like this to express an idea. Actually, these kinds of memes are just high-tech ways to say, “I was all, like…”

Using Like in Lessons

Some will say we shouldn’t be teaching like and other forms of informal speech in class. However, students certainly should be able to understand what LIKE means when they hear it. And letting students play with this expression can help them learn to use gesture and facial expression more effectively. And you can use engaging content like GIFS and memes!

Here’s a few things activity ideas for teaching what like means. Try them out, you know. It could be like, AMAZING!!!!!

  • Students come up with scenarios that might generate strong emotional reactions. It might be a whole situation or even just something someone could say to them. Students take turns saying “I was, like…” and then giving an expression. Other students guess the meaning and discuss how they might react in the same situation.
  • Have students pick a gif that uses a facial expression. They can imitate it in front of the class, introducing it with “I was, like…” The class has to guess the meaning. Extend by discussing the situation in which someone would make that expression
    Note that the expressions and gestures gifs are often exaggerated so you may want to follow-up by demonstrating a more common form.
  • Show the clip of Heather from above. Have students see if they can have a whole conversation in gesture, using expressions such as “I was, like…” or “You’re totally being…”
  • Have students find a video where a character uses “like”. Have them share it and talk about what the character means.

Share your ideas for activities below

And if you’re looking for more drama-based lessons and activities that use body language, tone, and gesture, check out our resources for drama activities.

Improvised Role Plays of Real-World Conversations

Improvisation allows students to prepare for real world situations, but often in regular role plays, the conversation runs more smoothly than in real life. In the real world, people find themselves challenged by awkward situations. In theater class, we address the pragmatics of minor conflicts through improvisation.

First, we might read a scene in which a character is trying to send implicit messages in a socially acceptable way, such as a restaurant owner wants to politely get rid of a job applicant who is trapped by a flood in Rising Water.

Scene 3: A downtown restaurant. The owner, Petra, is doing some paperwork. Ajax, a teenager, walks in.
Petra: We’re closed.
Ajax: Oh, I’m sorry. I’m not a customer. I’m here for a job interview. My name is Ajax. Ajax Cooper.
Petra: Hi, Ajax. Weren’t you supposed to be here 30 minutes ago?
Ajax: Yes, but the rain . . . Um. . . The bus was late.
Petra: (Understanding) Yeah, I get it, not your fault. Look, um, I’m sorry, but it looks pretty bad out there. I got a weather alert a couple of minutes ago, so I think we may have to put this off for another day.
Ajax: Okay. I’ll just go then. (He hesitates.)
Petra: I’m really sorry you came all this way, but if it helps, I’m impressed you made it!
Ajax: Oh, um, thanks, I guess. (He nods) I totally understand. I probably should have called, but I forgot my phone on the bus. (He turns around to leave.)
Petra: Ajax, wait!
(Ajax turns)
Petra: Do you have a ride? How are you going to get home?
Ajax: The bus.
Petra: Are you sure?
Ajax: Yeah, I’ll be fine.
Petra: Where do you live?
Ajax: The north side.
Petra: Oh! The water is rising over there.
Ajax: I’ll be fine.
Petra: (Looks at her phone.) The freeway is flooded. The buses aren’t going to be running.
Ajax: They’re not? Are you sure?
Petra: No. Is there somewhere else you can go?
Ajax: Oh yeah. I’ll figure it out.
Petra: (Doubtful) I kind of feel responsible here. What are you going to do?
Ajax: My friend is at the library. I’ll go there.
Petra: (Relieved) Oh, are you sure? Because if you can’t get there, I guess you could. . .
Ajax: No, it’s fine. It’s really not that far.
Petra: Okay then, if you’re sure.
Ajax: Yeah. My friend’s always trying to get me to go to the library, so now I’m going!
Petra: Do you want to call him?
Ajax: I don’t know his number.
Petra: Yeah, phones, right? How about your family? You said you don’t have your phone with you.
Ajax: Um, no I don’t. I don’t remember their numbers either.
Petra: Really?
Ajax: It’s okay. If I can get to my friend, he can connect us.
Petra: Right. So, you have a plan. That’s good then. (She turns back to her paperwork.)
Ajax: Yes, um, should I call you later? To reschedule?
Petra: (Looks up.) Yes, next week. This flood is going to be a disaster. We’ll probably have to close for a few days.
Ajax: Okay, I’ll be in touch. Bye.
Petra: Bye! Stay safe!

Students read the scene, discuss the intentions of the characters, and then reflect on times when they felt uncomfortable. They can answer a series of questions in pairs:  Where were they? Who were they with? What did they want? What did they say? What was the result? 

Afterwards, they share with the class, and the teacher elicits what they wanted to say to the board, for example, “Leave me alone,” and “Stop asking me questions.” Next, the teacher introduces fixed expressions that signal messages politely next to the blunt statements, e.g., “Well, I’d better let you go.” signals you want to leave. “It’s complicated,” can signal that you don’t want to answer a question. Or, a simple “I don’t remember.” Or “I’d rather not get into that right now,” might work depending on answers to what and who.

The next stage is to have students improvise scenes that challenge them to handle situations like these. Here are some examples.

At work: Colleagues – A wants to find out if B is pregnant or married without asking directly.

In the neighborhood: Two dog walkers – A wants to learn about the new neighbor, but the new neighbor, B, is in a hurry.

At school: A is trying to get a group task done, but B wants to chat.

At home: Roommates – A wants to study, but B wants A to go to a party.

You can also use the students’ own experiences, but help them reiterate them more gracefully.

It can be helpful to give students a little time to prepare their roles, but since this is an improvisation, five or ten minutes would be the maximum. Finally, have them take turns performing their improv for the class. The teacher can give notes afterwards on language, intonation, gesture, and other elements that can help students navigate potential discomfort in their interactions. Such and activity can actually be fun, as well as a way to give students confidence and skills for the real world.

Looking for more?

Browse all our free resources for doing drama in the classroom at Plays and Drama Resources for Students. And check out all of Alice’s plays for ESL students:

Play on Feelings: Using Intonation to Express Emotions

Intonation is notoriously difficult for English learners, yet it is important, particularly in English, for sending emotional messages. The role of intonation in English is complicated but generally English speakers use intonation to express emotion, as well as attitude! When we are worried about a situation, we may express that as much with our tone as our words. The listener needs to pick up on that worry in order to fully communicate. When our students speak, they also need to convey their feelings to help others understand their needs. On the other hand, sometimes we speak ironically. If our students can’t understand a sarcastic tone of voice, they will take away the opposite message from that the speaker intended.

And looking beyond communicating accurately, expressing and understanding the feelings and intentions of others, is key to making friends. Our students can’t have meaningful relationships in English unless they can speak with emotion. They do this naturally in their L1, of course, but it’s another story in another language. Often, our students are struggling with getting the words and grammar correct, perhaps even pronunciation. It’s a lot to ask them to also focus on tone. Furthermore, not every language is as expressive as English, so they have to learn the conventions of emotion and attitude conveyance in English.

So here’s a quick game to help practice using intonation to express emotions! I can it Play with Feelings!

The Activity

1. Pick a few short neutral statements. These expressions could come from a play you are working with or a TV show or film. Or they could be common conversational expressions. But you do need to choose statements that change meaning depending on the emotion or attitude of the speaker.  For example in the play Rising Water, a father returns home in the middle of a city-wide flood. He asks his wife where their son is. She answers:

I don’t know. Downtown, I think.

There are many ways the wife could say this. If she wants to convey her uncertainty, perhaps persuade the father to look for him, she might use a worried tone. However, if she wants to put him at ease and express faith in her son’s abilities, she can say this is a more casual tone. Perhaps she thinks the husband should be responsible for the son. Then she might say this quite angrily or defensively.

Each intonation carries a different emotion and requires a different response from the husband. Other expressions that work well for this include:

  • What are you doing here?
  • Can we talk?
  • I’m not sure that’s completely true.
  • I really think we need to figure this out.

2. Write the line you’ve chosen on the board. Then write three different emotions that are distinct such as worry, anger, and joy. Ensure that all three are appropriate for the line. Be sure students know what the words mean, and how to express them with their voice. You might want to model this (which can elicit some giggles and loosen students up).

3. Tell students they have to say pick an emotion and say the line with that feeling. The other students will guess which emotion they feel.

4. Encourage other students to give feedback.  They may say something like, “That’s not angry. This is angry. ‘What are YOU doing HERE?!?!” This gets them all practicing even more.

You can use this activity as a whole-class or in pairs or small groups. Students may want to start in small groups and then do some demonstrations in front of the class. It’s a great icebreaker or quick activity for the beginning or end of class.

Extension Idea

If you’re working with a script (be it a scene or a whole play), you’d then have them go through the script and mark the emotions they feel their character uses.

You can also go on to discuss each line and what the relationship and context might be. Students can go on to write a whole role-play based on a line and an emotion. Following that, have them imagine a situation from their own lives where they might use that emotion. They can role-play and practice dealing with that situation!

More resources to practice intonation to express emotions