TV Commercial Retelling

Matthew Wilson, Miyagi University

Quick Guide

  • Keywords: Speaking, authentic video, learner-centered
  • Learner English level: Intermediate to advanced
  • Learner maturity: High school to university
  • Preparation time: 25 minutes
  • Activity time: 10 – 15 minutes 
  • Materials: Computer, projector, worksheet, TV commercials

TV commercials are a great language learning resource as they are short, high quality, culturally distinctive narratives, and are already sometimes used in English classrooms as a form of cultural exposure. However, rather than simply showing the commercial to students, a more engaging modification is to stop the commercial before the product and/or product name appears, and have students guess what is being sold. Advertisements can often be abstract and obscure which makes this a challenging, yet entertaining activity. The following pair-work activity provides one such variation that emphasizes oral production and listening in a fun, motivating, yet low-anxiety situation. 


Step 1: Put together a selection of five interesting TV commercials that are appropriate for showing in class: one example commercial to introduce the activity, and four commercials for the pair work activity. 

Step 2: Prepare “A” and “B” handouts that have different sets of at least five or six product choices, either in words or pictures, for each commercial (see appendix). Handout A will have product choices for commercials #2 and #4, while handout B will have options for commercials #1 and #3.

Step 3: Preview the commercials to choose an appropriate time to pause before products or product names appear.

Optional: Upload all the commercials onto presentation software (e.g., PowerPoint) to smooth the timing of the activity. Also, depending on the class level, a vocabulary list for each commercial could appear on the handouts or a preceding slide. 


Step 1: Show students the example TV commercial. Pause it at the appropriate time, and have students think about what product the commercial is trying to sell. After hearing some ideas, show the end of the commercial and clarify what the commercial was selling.

Step 2: Have students make pairs and choose A and B roles. Distribute the worksheets accordingly. 

Step 3: Have the B students close their eyes or look away for the first commercial. (Note: It is OK for them to listen to the commercial.) The A students watch commercial #1. Stop the commercial before any brand name or product images are shown. Have each A student explain what they saw in English to their partner. B students listen, look at their choices for commercial #1, and circle the product they think the commercial was selling. At this time, students should not look at or discuss each other’s answers. 

Step 4: After all the B students have chosen their answers, show all the students the complete commercial and confirm the answer. Alternatively, before showing the end of the commercial, replay it from the beginning with the sound off, describing in simple English what is happening in order to give students feedback on their language usage and provide a language model.

Step 5: Repeat Steps 3 and 4 three more times, alternating roles so that each student has two opportunities to both explain and listen.  


TV commercials have great potential in the language classroom as they can provide a wonderful stimulus for English oral production and listening tasks. Having students retell a TV commercial in a low-anxiety pairwork situation not only allows them the chance to practice speaking with fluency and accuracy, but also lets them exercise the microskills involved in conversational speech, such as self-correction, delivery variation, and backtracking for clarity.


The appendix is available below.