Learn How to Use YouTube in the ESL Classroom

Videos can expose students to everyday English in a variety of situations

Smiling ESL student at laptop in classroom
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YouTube and other video sites, such as Google Video and Vimeo, are highly popular, especially with young adults. These sites also provide English learners and ESL classes with tools to improve listening skills. The advantage of these sites from a language learning point of view is that they offer examples of everyday English used by everyday people. Students can spend hours watching videos in English and quickly improve their pronunciation and comprehension skills. There also are specific English learning videos. Using YouTube in the ESL classroom can be fun and helpful, but there must be structure. Otherwise, class might become a free-for-all.

A potential downside is that some YouTube videos have poor sound quality, bad pronunciation, and slang, which can make them difficult to understand and less useful in an ESL classroom. On the other hand, students are attracted to the "real life" nature of these videos. By carefully selecting well-made YouTube videos and creating context, you can help your students explore a world of online English learning possibilities. Here's how you can use YouTube videos in your ESL class:

Finding an Appropriate Topic

Pick a topic that your class would enjoy. Poll the students or choose a topic yourself that fits in with your curriculum. Select a video and save the URL. If you do not have an Internet connection in class, try  Keepvid, a site that allows you to download videos to your computer.

Preparing for Class

Watch the video a few times and create a guide to any difficult vocabulary. Prepare a short introduction. The more context you provide, the better your ESL students will understand the video. Include your introduction, the vocabulary list, and the URL (web page address) of the YouTube video on a class handout. Then create a short quiz based on the video.

Administering the Exercise

Distribute copies of the handout. Go over the introduction and difficult vocabulary list to make sure everyone understands what will happen. Then watch the video as a class. This will work better if you have access to a computer lab, so students can watch the video repeatedly. Students then can work on the quiz sheet in small groups or in pairs.

Following Up on the Exercise

Most likely, students will enjoy the video and will want to watch more. Encourage this. If possible, give students 20 minutes or so at the computers to explore YouTube.

For homework, assign your ESL students to groups of four or five and ask each group to find a short video to present to the class. Ask them to provide an introduction, a difficult vocabulary list, the URL of their video, and a follow-up quiz modeled on the worksheet you created. Have each student group exchange worksheets with another group and complete the exercise. Afterward, students can compare notes on the YouTube videos they watched.