It can be hard to find good-quality, engaging videos to use in class or for students to watch on their own. There are a ton of videos aimed at English learners on YouTube, but most of them are simply explanations about grammar points or lists of words/phrases (“Learn 10 English idioms about food!”). It’s hard to find videos that give students real exposure to the English language (i.e., comprehensible input) instead of just telling students facts about the language.
It’s especially hard for teachers of low-level learners. Unfortunately, I don’t know of many good-quality videos out there for absolute beginners. There are some websites that claim to have videos for beginners, but I haven’t found any that I would highly recommend. Therefore, most of the websites I will recommend in this post are mostly intended for English learners at the intermediate level and higher. That being said, there are some modifications you can make if you need to try to make the videos a little easier for your students. Some ideas are:
- Turn on the subtitles for the video so students can read along while they listen. This can help students understand more, and, as an added bonus, they are also developing their literacy skills.
- Slow down the audio. You can do this on any YouTube video by clicking the “Settings” button (it looks like a little wheel) at the bottom of the video and changing the speed. I usually change it to .75x. I also recently discovered that you can slow down audio in most video applications, too, such as Windows Media Player and VLC Media Player. This trick can often help a lot in making videos more comprehensible!
- Pause frequently to narrate what’s happening in the video. This is similar to the idea of MovieTalk, where the audio of the video doesn’t really matter, and the teacher simply narrates what’s going on. The teacher provides all the input. Depending on the level of your students, you might not need to narrate everything in the video, but you could still pause the video frequently to summarize important parts.
- Give students the transcript ahead of time. You can read through the transcript with the students, explain any new words, and then watch the video.
Here are some of the websites and YouTube channels I recommend that have videos specifically created for English language learners:
Chasing Time English created a series of videos that tells the story of a mysterious kidnapping. The story is pretty interesting, and it feels like a “normal” (authentic) TV show (as long as you skip over the extra parts at the beginning and end of each video where they give grammar explanations), but the language is simplified for English learners. They even have two different levels of videos, though the story in both is the same. The “Blue” level is listed as being “elementary to intermediate” and the “Gold” level as “upper intermediate to low advanced.” You can also download the scripts for the episodes on their website.
This is a YouTube channel with videos made by an ESL teacher in the U.S. She speaks slowly and uses a lot of visuals to help make her language comprehensible. I especially like her video on “6 Stereotypes About Americans“—it’s a good way to spark some discussion in class about cultural differences and stereotypes.
This is a series of videos that tell fictional stories about immigrants living in New York City. Since the series is made for English learners, the language is fairly simple and clearly spoken. Each video focuses on some kind of life skill topic–e.g., opening a bank account, standing up for one’s rights as a worker, going to the hospital. The stories are kind of cheesy and some of the plot feels pretty forced since they’re trying to work in life skills lessons. But the videos are still pretty entertaining and definitely more interesting than most textbook-based lessons on similar topics. The videos are part of a series, but each video can stand alone. Their website also has a whole section of Teacher’s Resources with materials for each video.
This series, created by VOA (Voice of America), has videos on a lot of different topics, and they are aimed at lower-level English learners. Personally, I’m not a fan of the listening and speaking “activities” that they have in the middle of the videos (they kind of interrupt the stories). But some of the topics and stories of the videos are entertaining. I’ve never used them with my own students, but I’ve heard other teachers report that their students enjoyed them.
English Central is a site specifically designed for English language learners. You’ll need to create an account to watch videos, but it’s free for the basic account. They have several different levels of videos; however, I’ve found that most of their lower-level videos are not very interesting. (For example: a video called “Women’s Clothing” simply shows pictures of women and recites isolated sentences like, “She is wearing a dress…She is wearing jeans…She is wearing a skirt.”) But many of the higher-level videos are on interesting topics. The videos all have English subtitles available, and students can click on any word they don’t know to see a definition of the word and an example sentence using the word.
VoiceTube is very similar to English Central. The site has a lot of different videos on a variety of different topics. Again, English subtitles are available, and students can click on words they don’t know to see the definition. They have a “Basic” level of videos, but even those will probably be too difficult for beginning-level students.
This is a YouTube channel from an American woman who is currently living in France, and she makes videos for English language learners. I’ve found some good videos on her channel; my students enjoyed the video “My 5 Favorite American Dishes.” She also has some videos on American holidays, such as Christmas and Valentine’s Day traditions. If your students want life-skill-focused videos, she has a lot of those, too, on topics like how to order food at a restaurant, how to check into a hotel, etc.
The following websites and YouTube channels are not created specifically for English learners, but you might be able to use them with higher-level learners:
TED Talks have a huge variety of topics, and if you go to the “Browse” section of their site, you can search through the videos based on the topic and length of video. All of their videos have subtitles (human-created ones, not just auto-generated!), and you can change the speed setting on the videos just like you do on YouTube. Most of the videos also have an “interactive transcript” on the site, so you can click on a particular sentence, and the video will start playing at that exact moment. This feature can be helpful during class if you need to go back and re-play a particular segment. I’ve recently used the “How the Button Changed Fashion” video and a clip from “The Secret to Living Longer May Be Your Social Life.” I also like “What It’s Like to Have Tourette’s–And How Music Gives Me Back Control.”
This site has short documentaries along with some discussion questions and other teaching ideas to use with each video. I recently used “From Aleppo to L.A.” with my students.
StoryCorps is a non-profit organization that records the true stories of real people. Many of the stories on their website are only recorded as audio, but there is a section of Animations, where you can watch cartoon versions of the stories. My students liked the videos “To R.P. Salazar With Love,” a love story about two people in different countries who met and fell in love because of a mistakenly sent email, and “Two by Two,” about two sets of identical twins who married each other. I also really like “My Father, the Giant,” which is a short, touching story about a father-son relationship and about accepting people with mental disabilities.
CNN 10 posts 10-minute videos that give an overview of some of the top current news stories. They are currently taking a break for the summer, but when school is in session, they post a new video almost every week day. It can be a good way to keep your students informed about the news. I usually don’t play the entire video but just choose one segment to watch at a time (usually just 2-3 minutes). The only downside to these videos is that the news anchor seems to talk very fast. But you can always just slow down the speed of the videos. (On their website, you can only slow down the speed to .5x, which I think is too ridiculously slow and just sounds weird! However, you can usually find their videos on YouTube, where you can change the speed to .75x).
Leave a comment if you know of any other good websites with videos for English learners!