Should You Have Television in Class?: 6 Reasons You Should Turn on the TV (and How To Make It Productive for Your Students)

Should You Have Television in Class?
6 Reasons You Should Turn on the TV (and How To Make It Productive for Your Students)

Susan Verner
by Susan Verner 3,447 views |

Television gets a bad rap in a lot of educational settings these days.

It’s a brain drain, intellectual rot, a waste of time, and the source of all corruption in young people today, some say. But for ESL students, television isn’t the enemy. In fact, television can have several uses in the ESL classroom. Besides giving students a break from the everyday, television can aid in teaching English in a multitude of ways. Here are some reasons you might want to leave the TV on in your English class.

Here's How You Can Use TV Efficiently in Your English Classroom

  1. 1

    Exposure to Real Language

    That title might be a bit of an overstatement. Actors don’t speak as messily or as roughly as the average Joe, but they probably get closer to it than you do. ESL teachers, without realizing it, modify their speech. We speak slower, articulate more, and use more simplistic vocabulary. When you let your ESL students watch television as part of your instruction plan, they get exposure to a more natural language in aspects such as pronunciation, speed of speech, vocabulary choice, and use of dialect.

  2. 2

    Getting a Leg Up on Vocabulary

    If you have been teaching ESL for a while, you might notice something in your own speech – you know how to avoid using slang. For me, my shift away from slang happened without me even thinking about it. When students didn’t understand something I said (using a more colloquial term) I just said it again with a different vocabulary choice. Eventually, the second vocabulary choice became the first choice, and slang slipped out of my classroom language use. This shift is natural. We want our students to understand us, but avoiding the use of nonstandard English actually hurts your students in the long run. When you use television in your classroom, your students will be exposed to many nonstandard English vocabulary choices including slang, colloquialisms, and less common vocabulary. All of these are good for your students to learn, particularly for intermediate and advanced students. To give your students this kind of vocabulary exposure, watch a favorite television show and ask them to note any words they heard that they did not recognize, or give them the words beforehand and see if they can guess the meaning from their context. Then make a point of using those words in class and awarding extra credit to students who use them as well.

  3. 3

    Increased Reading Comprehension

    Did you know that letting your students watch the movie before they read the novel isn’t a bad idea in the ESL classroom? It may seem counterintuitive. After all, don’t we want students to understand what they read as they read it? Won’t reading unfamiliar material show us just how much they are able to understand as they read? No necessarily. When ESL students read material in English about an unfamiliar topic, they are facing two different levels of comprehension. First of all, they are facing the challenges associated with a second language. They must understand grammar and vocabulary in the target language. But when a reading selections contains unfamiliar factual (or fictional) material as well, ESL students face an additional comprehension hurdle – the factual material. It is possible to understand the language aspect of what a person is reading but not understand the content, or vice versa. When you give your students the factual information through a movie or other video, they can focus on the language aspect of comprehension because they already have an understanding of the factual information. To give your students this comprehension edge, you can show them a movie version of a novel you will read, a documentary on a subject they will read about, or any other video that will cover factual material that they will read. Have students take notes on what they watch and review unfamiliar vocabulary. When students have completed their reading assignment, have them watch the same program again and see how much better they understand what they are watching.

  4. 4

    Research without Reading

    If you are teaching a conversation, speaking, vocabulary, or listening class, reading might not be a key goal on your syllabus. Still, you might want your students to learn about new subject areas. While most teacher’s first resource would probably be a book or an article on a new topic, you do have other choices. There are plenty of video resources (documentaries, informational television shows, etc.) that are good sources for research for ESL students. When you choose to show your class one of these programs, they will still learn the content that you are targeting, but watching a video as opposed to reading research will challenge a very different set of language skills. Try showing your class an episode of How Stuff Works, How it Works, or another program from the Discovery Channel or the Science Channel. Then ask students to summarize what they watched and see if they can summarize the process with two or three other students.

  5. 5

    Listening Comprehension Plus

    Listening comprehension can be a challenge for ESL students, particularly when their listening material is a recording on a cassette or CD. Most of the time in real language situations, English speakers have more clues than a simple recording provides. They also get visual clues – facial expressions, body language, and even a visual on pronunciation as well as the greater context of the conversation. Using television resources in class gives your students a listening comprehension advantage over simple recordings, and this type of listening is more like real life anyway. If you want to use television in class for listening comprehension, try using a clip from the nightly news. The stories are generally short, they often have more than one speaker, and on site reports give great visual clues for comprehension. You might be surprised at how well your students understand what they see and hear.

  6. 6

    Clue In on Culture

    Culture is always coming up in the ESL classroom. Just because a person is fluent in English does not mean that English speaking cultures make sense to them. There is more to a people group than the words they use. Television is a great way to bring up some cultural issues for your students. If you watch sitcoms, you will often find a relatively realistic portrayal of cultural trends, trends that may be shocking or difficult for your students to understand. Showing a clip in class is a good way to get the discussion started when you want to address a cultural issue with your students. These issues might include appropriate workplace behavior, the culture of dating, family relationships, or popular entertainment. When you use this type of material with your ESL students, talk about what they saw in the video, how it made them feel or what it made them think, their cultural values and practices on the same subject, and how the two compare. That way your students will have exposure to English speaking culture but will also have a chance to talk about their own cultural values and hopefully see that different is okay.

While some adults make a point of keeping their children from television, ESL teachers may do their students a disservice by jumping on that bandwagon. Television can be used in many ways in the ESL classroom, for comprehension, information, and exposure to new vocabulary. All of these are valuable to students who are striving toward English fluency. So flip on the switch, put your feet up, and see how useful television can be in the classroom.

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Why or why not?

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