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It's Show Time: Video Production in the EFL Classroom

Writer(s): 
Kenneth Biegel

 

Over the past couple of decades both the English as a second language (ESL) and the English as a foreign language (EFL) environments have come to utilize the communicative approach. In Japan, the Ministry of Education (Monbusho) has advocated implementing a more communicative emphasis in the secondary schools (Goold, Madeley, & Carter, 1993). Recently, many instructors have begun to use taskbased, learner-generated materials in an attempt to make the materials used in the classroom more applicable to the needs and interests of their students. One technique of this type is student-produced videos. This article will discuss the theoretical foundations of the technique, the benefits in student motivation and language fluency, and various ways to get students around the aversion to using video cameras in class. Finally, this article will describe several ways to use studentproduced videos in the classroom as an effective means to fulfill the objectives of the communicative classroom regardless of the reluctance of the students or the proficiency level of the class.

Theoretical Justification

There have been numerous articles published in the past decade about the benefits and justifications of the communicative view of language. Put simply, it is "a process of developing the ability to do things with language as opposed to learning about language" (Nunan, 1988, p. 78). In addition, most instructors of conversational English in Japan strive to utilize some form of it not only because it is a beneficial way to instruct (Tamada, 1997), but because it is what Monbusho and most schools in Japan expect from a -- native-speaking instructor of English (Goold, Madeley, & Carter).

According to Nunan, the curriculum for a communicative classroom appears to be more beneficial if it is built around sets of tasks. He suggests that these tasks should simulate the skills necessary for communicating outside the classroom and recommends using role play. In terms of role play, Richards (1990) believes that both teaching conversation through interactive tasks and teaching strategies for casual conversation are important in providing a balance and a more realistic preparation for conversation outside the classroom. Simply, pair work and role play, which focus on completing a task, usually ignore the use of conversation "to create social interaction and social relations" (p. 79).

How can teachers in an EFL setting motivate students to perform role plays that fit the pattern recommended by Richards? Two possibilities are as follows: Use interactive tasks relevant to the students, and ensure that these "address the nature of casual conversation and conversational fluency, particularly turn-taking strategies, topic behavior, appropriate styles of speaking, conversational syntax, and conversational routines" (p. 84). Of course, connected to the latter point are sociolinguistic elements or the ability "for the learners to come to understand what is meant by the words and expressions they hear, and to be able to respond to them appropriately so that unnecessary miscommunication can be avoided" (Wolfson, 1988, p. 33).

One way teachers can motivate EFL learners to perform role plays is to use student-chosen topics as starting points. In my experience, personalizing the material increases both the students' interest and motivation. As Di Pietro (1987) writes, "the motivational value of self-generated discourse for students is evident when compared to discourse that is contrived by the teacher" (p. 40). Therefore, one solution to the potential problem of EFL students not understanding the need for a communicative class may be to create an atmosphere that is mostly student centered, because topics are chosen by the students.

Materials which are created from student-chosen topics and which balance interactive tasks and turntaking strategies may be among the most appropriate ways to motivate the learners in a communicative EFL classroom. Student-generated video projects are excellent ways to employ these elements. How, where, by whom, and what is filmed can be decided by the students. The material filmed can then be exploited in class to help with developing turn-taking strategies, focusing on sociolinguistic elements as well as anything the instructor feels is lacking in the students' overall knowledge of English.

A Basic Technique

There are many techniques which can be used in student-generated video projects. One can film the performance of mini-plays, short interviews, the making of a documentary (Shinohara, 1997), short conversations, role plays, material for a class time capsule, or even a short movie.

A project that I have used develops in students a good understanding of language functions and how they are used in various situations. I make a list of 30 frequently used language functions (see Appendix, each of which is acted out (live or pre-recorded on videotape). Functions can be grouped so that when one is acted out it is easier for students to identify (i.e., have 10 functions listed, show a function from those, and see if they are able to understand which is being acted out).

After the students have been introduced to the functions, they can (a) be given copies of short dialogs for which they are asked to identify the language functions used, and (b) practice writing the end to halfcompleted dialogs for which their peers are asked to identify the functions used.

Many similar activities can be used to get the students familiar with language functions, but once they are clear about what constitutes a greeting, an invitation, a decline, or whatever, they are ready to write short dialogs. I put students into groups of five or six and assign them to write a dialog in which they use a minimum of 10 language functions. I start this as a class activity, then for homework each student in the group writes a version of the dialog. During the next class, they share their dialogs, then each group either takes some ideas from its individual dialogs and writes a new dialog or picks what it considered to be the best dialog written by a member and uses this as their group dialog.

The next step is the videotaping of the dialogs. For the first round, I do the videotaping, but after the students get used to working the camera, I allow a student from each group to do it. This makes it possible for the videotaping to be done outside of class time. If you have to videotape during class time, it usually is possible to have the groups that are finished being taped, or have not yet been taped, work on some other project rather than watch the videotaping.

Once all the dialogs are videotaped, they can be used in many ways. One way is to divide the students into new groups (teams) before watching the videos, and explain that they are to watch and immediately raise their hands as soon as they recognize a language function. If correct, their team gets a point, and will get an additional point if they can explain what helped them identify the function. I found that the best way to do this activity was to show the video once, then go back and show the first 10 seconds, stop the tape, have the students identify the functions, and then move on.

Of course, there are many things you can do with the videotapes. Various sociolinguistic elements can be identified, variations can be suggested and practiced. With all of the information "frozen" on videotape, the instructor can exploit it in many ways to teach the nature of casual conversation. Work on sociolinguistic aspects, appropriateness, body language, use of voice, intonation, and turn-taking strategies can be done. For example, asking for repetition could be suggested as a way to make a difficult-to-understand line simpler. Of course, the instructor can use the video to highlight grammar mistakes as well.

Several Variations on the Basic Technique

Another example of a video project is the making of a short documentary. Interviews with teachers or with other students provide excellent material. One class of mine designed then videotaped a quiz show, taped a news program about activities that had happened at the school that year, and even taped general activities we did in class. They then combined these videos into the form of a time capsule they could keep as a memory of their school life.

In another activity the students write a several-scene script and make a short movie. The writing of the scenes was done by separate groups. (Group 1 wrote the first scene, group 2 wrote the second scene, and so forth.) To get students focused on writing the script, I had pairs think of a character they would like to see in a movie. They wrote up information about the character's personality and physical attributes. These character sketches were then distributed to the class and students wrote short scenarios for these characters. These were shared, and the class voted on which scenario, or combination of scenarios to use. Then, one group wrote the first scene.

This process became rather time-consuming, however, since we had too many scenarios, and it turned out to be very difficult to choose one. In another class, the group who wrote the first scene decided what they wanted to have happen in it. In other words, they started writing only with knowledge of who the characters were. From this, the second group took over where the first group ended. As a result, the story began to take on a life of its own. In the discussion sessions after each scene was written, some of the students became very demanding in what they wanted to change or retain. It ended up making for some very interesting classes in which students had to learn how to state opinions, support them, and refute others. At times the discussion became so animated that it appeared the students forgot that they were speaking in a foreigun language.

Sometimes a long script is exactly what a class wants to do, but at other times it may not be what they want. In general it is best to leave it up to the students what they want to accomplish with the video camera. However, it is important that the instructor set the stage by making it clear a video camera will be used in the class, then brainstorm with the students over what can be done with the camera. Whatever is decided, the students will be able to take from the course something interesting and real to them.

Motivational Reasons for Making Videos

As stated, student-generated video projects are excellent ways to develop interactive tasks through which turn-taking strategies for casual conversation can be demonstrated and practiced. Since the type of video production and what is videotaped are determined by the students, it becomes a motivational activity, since it is the type of project that attempts to draw from the students their most creative urges. The instructor becomes a person through whom they can get guidance concerning linguistic and sociolinguistic aspects. The instructor can help them see where something may not be working correctly, but for the most part, the project is controlled by them.

It becomes therefore, not just a communicative exercise, but one in which students can focus on language forms as well as language use. For example, writing scripts, getting feedback about them from both their peers and their instructor, then having to redraft them, give a lot of practice in using the grammatical structures of the language. In addition, listening practice is provided through listening to the instructor's ideas concerning the production of the videos and through listening to and extracting information from the videos produced by other students.

Finally, at two institutions which required student evaluations or questionnaires concerning their course work, the students consistently ranked the video work, in terms of developing their English skills, as the most beneficial task they had done.

Motivational Problems with Using Video

The largest drawback, of course, is the reluctance of many students to be videotaped and to have this tape viewed by their peers. However, there are ways to lessen the anxiety that making videos can produce. Start by having the video camera present at all times. Use it to periodically tape pair-work activities and other daily activities, or even short functional activities which can be quickly viewed by all for exploitation of the function-form aspects of the second language. Have students do more pair work and other activities in front of the class, and get students to have more interactions by having them change their partners frequently. Spend time having students proofread one another's writing so that they become familiar with one another's work and less hesitant to demonstrate their use of the second language.

These points, however, still do not lessen the anxiety of the student who is not comfortable with having his or her image frozen on video. Perhaps the best method is to take the camera-shy students and have them work as cinematographers or directors. This role may reduce anxiety. Of course, these students would still be required to help produce and discuss the linguistic information that is finally acted out on video.

Student-produced videos can be created at any proficiency level. Students below an intermediate level, however, should not be expected to write elaborate screenplays and produce long movies. Encourage students of a lower proficiency to keep their video work at a more manageable level by using short dialogs. Alternatively, use adaptations of short plays or ESLthrough-drama material.

Conclusion

Student production of videos is a very rewarding and motivating project in a communicative classroom. Through this form of project many interactive tasks can be used which provide a balance between fluency practice and the learning of turn-taking strategies for casual conversation. In addition, such projects provide EFL learners with a meaningful and creative medium through which to demonstrate their EFL skills. Finally, it is a very good way to integrate language skills. Teachers who decide to try it should not, however, think that the quality of material produced will rival Lucas Film. As yet, there is no category in Hollywood or Cannes for work produced in an EFL classroom.

References

  • Di Pietro, R. (1987). Strategic interactions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Goold, R., Madeley, C., & Carter, N. (1993). The new Monbusho guidelines. The Language Teacher, 17(6), 3-5.

  • Nunan, D. (1988). The learner-centred curriculum. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Richards, J. (1990). The language teaching matrix. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Shinohara, Y. (1997). The group video presentation project. The Language Teacher, 21(7), 39-40.
  • Tamada, Y. (1997). How should we teach Japanese learners the present perfect? Urbana, IL: ERIC Clearinghouse.

  • Wolfson, N. (1988). Perspectives: Sociolinguistics and TESOL. New York: Newbury House.

 

Appendix

The following is a selection of the functions list given to students. (Sample sentences, not shown here, are provided for each function.)

  • Agreeing/Disagreeing/Accepting/Refusing
  • Ordering
  • Anger
  • Permission
  • Announcing
  • Reporting
  • Care/Concern/Unconcern
  • Satisfaction/Dissatisfaction
  • Compliments
  • Scolding
  • Defining/Clarifying
  • Sorrow/Regret
  • Disgust
  • Surprise
  • Encouraging/Discouraging
  • Suggestion
  • Ending a conversation
  • Sympathy/No Sympathy
  • Greeting
  • Thanking
  • Help/Assistance
  • Urging
  • Illustrating with examples
  • Wants/Hopes/Wishes
  • Impatience/Annoyance
  • Warning/Cautioning
  • Intention .
  • Inviting
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