Personalize Your Instruction with Home Movies and Photographs

Tim Stewart, Miyazaki International College



  • Key Words: Multimedia, Cross-Cultural Studies
  • Learner English Level: All
  • Learner Maturity Level: All
  • Preparation Time: Several hours
  • Activity Time: One or more class periods

Creating lessons from your personal collection of photos, slides, and video is a sure-fire way to activate your students. Our students want to know about us as people. They are interested in where we come from, what we like to do, and what we believe. When you reveal part of your personal life to students, you are more likely to have their attention and participation.

I have used my own photos and home videos in several classes, always with success. What I describe here is a video lesson I did recently in and "Introduction to Sociology" class. This is a lesson designed specifically for one course with a particular topic in mind, but with a little imagination, teachers can create their own lessons on topics such as vacations, childhood experiences, special places, so on based on the template below. I am the language faculty member in this team-taught course. The course unit was "The Family" and we wanted to do something on wedding ceremonies and receptions to introduce future lessons on multicultural couples. My wife is Japanese, and I have video of our weddings in Canada and Japan. I reviewed these tapes and chose two short clips from each: the ceremony and reception in Japan, and the ceremony and reception in Canada.


The objectives for this course were:

  • Content Learning: to introduce students to issues related to multicultural couples, and
  • Language Learning: to recycle previous study of question formulation and comparison/contrast structures.


The materials needed for this activity are:

  • Short video clips of 1-2 minutes each (photos or slides can also be used)
  • TV monitor and VCR
  • Worksheet for students to help them organize their comprehension
  • Blackboard or white board.
  • Previewing


Before showing the video, you need to prepare the students by

1. Introducing the Theme: Ask the class how many students had ever attended a wedding. Follow up with questions such as: "Where was the wedding?" "What did you wear to the wedding?" and "What did you enjoy most about the wedding?"

2. Building Vocabulary: Put students into groups of threes and have them do a vocabulary sharing brainstorm about weddings. To help them focus on the task, list seven categories related to weddings on the board: people, places, dress, food, actions, objects, and other. Ask each group to list as many words and phrases about weddings as possible for these categories within ten minutes. Finally, each group chooses a representative to write their words on the board for two categories specified by the teacher. Discuss the vocabulary generated and have some of the more difficult items explained through examples or via short roleplays or pantomimes.


By this time the students' interest in the topic will be high. An important part of maintaining high interest in this kind of activity is the element of secrecy or surprise. If you do not tell your students that they will be seeing you starring in a home video, the gasps and shrieks of excitement will fill the classroom as your clips are played! This is high interest content: You'll find your students glued to the screen.
For viewing the clip, there are five activities you can do:

1. Recall: Pair off your students and tell them to write down anything they see in the clip. Play clip number one. Give them time to write individually, then have them discuss their information with their partner. Let students ask questions to each other and the teacher as they gather information about the video clip. They may request to have the clip replayed. Then, play the other clips and repeat this process.

2. You might wish to pause the tape at various points and ask, or have students ask direct questions about particular scenes. Show some clips without sound and elicit the dialogue. Other clips may lend themselves to having no picture and asking students to guess what is happening.

3. After pairs have generated words and phrases about each video clip, have them compare and contrast the scenes orally by grouping similarities and differences about the topic; in this instance, wedding ceremonies and receptions in Japan and Canada.

4. Ask each student to write sentences, paragraphs, or a short essay comparing and contrasting the ceremonies and receptions for homework.

5. Ask each student to write down any questions they have about the video clips. To allow students to ask potentially embarrassing questions and to increase the number of questions, you might allow the questions to be anonymous and placed into a box at the back of the room. Take points from the questions for content and structure lessons in the following class. This questioning work can provide a springboard for other activities such as personal interviews.

Expansion Activities

Other activities that could be done in this type of unit are:

1. Teachers can bring in photographs of the same or a similar occasion and have students ask questions about these directly. You can also ask students to bring in their own photos later and describe the photo or answer questions from classmates, either orally or in writing.

2. Students can give presentation on topics such as their favorite vacation, place, pet, or family member using videos, photos, or slides.

3. Students can interview faculty, family, or friends about any of these topics once you have introduced the class to the procedure through modeling it using your own experience. This can become a short essay, summary, or presentation to the class.

4. Students can be asked to write a short narrative, descriptive essay, comparative/contrast essay, or other kind of essay about similar experiences they have had or their opinion about the topic presented in the video.


My teaching partner and I found that this activity worked extremely well in our class of intermediate level students. The material fully engaged them in lively exchanges with us and their peers. This motivating influence resulted in the generation of a great deal of communicative language, both oral and written. At the end of the lesson, each student wrote an average of three questions. We expanded on this topic with faculty interviews, oral presentations, and opinion essays on the topic of multicultural couples. All this was based on seven minutes of video! So dust off those slides, photos, and videos and put them to good use in your classroom.