How are the characters interacting?
We focused on how characters interact in everyday communicative situations, looking at the body language of the performers to give clues as to the nature of the interaction taking place. This can be a good starting point for a pre-watching activity. Are the characters in the video greeting each other or saying goodbye? What adjectives can we use to describe their emotional attitude? Are they happy, sad, angry or aggressive? Are they in a good mood or a bad mood?
Once we have formed a general visual impression we can begin to look at the language the performers are using in the video clip. Drawing on our students’ knowledge of functional language, we can ask them to create and perform a simple dialogue relating to a scene in the video, imagining what the characters might be saying and why. If the students are already familiar with the lyrics they can try guessing which part of the song is being expressed from a given sequence in the video and also decide whether the characters are transmitting information in the present, past or future tense.
Language and culture
We can also focus on grammar, vocabulary, phonetics and culture. All of these can be incorporated into some fun activities. To work on vocabulary, for example, students could note down a certain number of vocabulary items from the video clip and then give their partner a memory test. Or they can write five ‘true’ items which appear and five ‘false’ ones which do not, again to test their partner’s memory before checking with a second viewing. Description work can focus on specific lexical sets such as the clothes the characters are wearing.
It is quite easy to integrate a specific grammatical structure into the video-clip work. Questions such as What’s happened up to now?, What do you think will happen?, What did the characters say? or He kissed her, didn’t he? are all examples of how we can do this. An example of a phonetic-based activity could be to ask students to note down words which contain a certain phoneme.
Culture is something else which can be easily focused on. After all, what are video clips if not small slices of a certain culture? As many songs that teens listen to are by British or American groups, a comparison between this and local culture is an obvious place to begin. Very often urban gangs appear in music videos, but what do our students know about their culture? It is surprising what you learn from your students’ knowledge of street culture!
Comprehension and expression
We can also practise aural comprehension of general and specific information. One example is to allow students to watch the video once and ask them a few questions before watching it again in order to guide their comprehension. If the images do not convey any meaning at all (which can be the case), this will mean working more closely with the lyrics. Writing some key words on the board and asking students to relate them to the message of the song will again guide them towards the general meaning. Categorising vocabulary (words connected to a certain theme), true and false statements, ordering events and providing definitions for words that students have to listen out for are all good ways of checking understanding and focusing students on the linguistic content of the clip.
Expressing opinions adequately and intelligibly is key to effective communication and it is important to give students the framework to be able to do this by inputting or eliciting structures such as I think that …, in my opinion …, from my point of view …, I agree with …. I disagree with … Students can then respond to the music and/or the images by expressing opinions about how well different parts of the music or individual images convey the message of the song.
Last but not least, the human values transmitted through the song such as tolerance, justice, equality and respect can be analysed. Positive and negative concepts can be given to students who circle the ones which they think apply to the video clip. This could lead to an informal discussion relating the video clip to real life, again drawing on the language for expressing opinions.
Studying English should encompass the ability to interact authentically with the language and culture. Music videos are a great way of bringing such authentic language and culture into the classroom.
Alícia Gala Zamora teaches at the Institut Sant Pere i Sant Pau, Tarragona.