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Book review
Using Authentic Video in the Language Classroom cover
Using Authentic Video in the Language Classroom
by Jane Sherman

(CUP 2003)

Review written by David Holden

Using Authentic Video In The Language Classroom, Jane Sherman, Cambridge Handbooks For Language Teachers.

"We want more videos !" tends to be that one comment students always make and teachers, resources permitting , have tried to satisfy that demand with varying degrees of success. Now, if you've ever needed more ideas for using videos in your teaching, or even if you need convincing that videos are essential in the EFL classroom then this is the book for you.

Jane Sherman divides her "Using Authentic Video In The Language Classroom into two basic Parts. Part A covers the theory, sub-divided into Video Drama and Non-Fiction Video and Part B contains a comprehensive alphabetical list of activities to do with authentic video along with a glossary of terms and an index of themes and topics covered in the book.

The introduction is engrossing, laying out the reasons for using authentic videos, describing how to use the book and providing practical hints and advice. One of the strongest points of this book is the way the author continually cross-references the ideas in Part A with the activities in Part B, with an alphabetical list of activities at the start of each individual section in Part A and the name of the activity in bold in the text. This makes the book very easy to use and dip into for ideas on say, using sitcoms. However, this book is more than just a list of useful and fun things to do with videos.

Part A is , in its turn, broken down into two main sections, covering Video Drama on the one hand , including films, sitcoms, soaps and sketches and Programmes About Real Life on the other - documentaries, news ads etc.

Many teachers might be reticent about using films etc. too much in the classroom, especially if the video part of the class is seen as just a relaxation exercise after the "real" learning has been done elsewhere. Alternatively, teachers often claim that films are too long and difficult, sitcoms are notoriously unfunny for EFL students and soaps, especially ones with "difficult" accents, are incomprehensible.

Jane Sherman is, however, adamant about the benefits of using this material in the classroom:

"The most obvious reason for using video drama is that language students want it. It is not an indulgence or a frill but central to language learning." Pg 12

Sherman convincingly argues that despite some potential problems with language, there are in fact many characteristics of Video Drama which actually aid comprehension - she mentions obvious ones like plenty of action and simple plot lines along with less obvious ones like the stylized acting of classics like Gone With The Wind and examples where language has been deliberately graded for a character's understanding as in Regarding Henry, the Piano etc.- and she makes an excellent case for the usefulness of Video Drama not just for linguistic input which is highly contextualised and authentic but to provide " a window into culture".

" …understanding video drama is an entry ticket to the English Speaking World, on a par with reading newspapers and magazines, writing business letters, having conversations and other major language activities found in EFL coursebooks. It should, like them, be regarded as a language-learning goal in its own right." Pg. 13

Later on in section B, she comes back to the idea of comprehension and discusses ways of helping our learners to comprehend the text globally, in more detail and how to focus on specific aspects of language, especially lexis.

The book contains an impressive number of useful classroom activities. For example, in the section on full-length films there are over sixty activities referred to. If I had to choose a few to focus on, the ones about plots are particularly useful and productive- for example Climax where students use arrows and circles to retrace the events which led up to the plot crisis/climax or Plot idea I where students end up inventing a film plot summary in 200 words using formulas to help them.

Language in the videos is nicely handled. For example, students focus on different speech acts, accents, verb forms etc. using questionnaires and "noticing" activities. Video is obviously ideal for this as the action onscreen reinforces students' understanding. Sherman does however make the interesting point that whereas native speakers use the words to help understand the action, non-natives are obliged to do the opposite !

Of course, whole films or episodes are useful but Sherman also covers the use of clips to illustrate or produce target language - structures, lexis and functional language. For example using the "What have the Romans ever done for us ?" scene from Monty Python's life of Brian to focus on the use of the definite article, contrasting the use of "the "roads and "the wine" ( things already present/ referred to )with "peace" and "public order" (things introduced by the Wo-mans, sorry Romans) She also refers to using videos for pronunciation work, for example "shadowing" and dubbing speakers, awareness-building on areas like comprehension of spoken language etc.

Apart from films, Sherman covers other examples of video drama- sit-coms,drama series, soap operas- discussing the rationale behind using them, and describing extremely usable activities, hints and ideas. She convincingly argues that the payoff for students outweighs the possible problems they may encounter I found the activities extremely productive. One idea I particularly liked was using soap operas for project work over a period of time using soap scrapbooks or inventing newsletters.

Video is also an obvious way to bring real world into the classroom. In the section on programmes about real life Sherman covers the use of documentaries,news, commercials , talk shows, game shows etc. She discusses their use, provides hints and a wealth of activities to use in the classroom. I found it particularly useful the way that Sherman, throughout the book, uses authentic video not as a one-off "fun" activity done on a Friday afternoon but as an integrated part of a series of teaching activities, with for example preview / prediction work done before viewing, with the actual viewing being fully exploited for language and skills work and then a follow-up which for example could be a further skill like writing or project work or…For example, with ads, students can produce their own commercial or parody of a commercial.

Apart from language and culture, another reason for using materials like films or soap operas is the sheer vastness of possible applications in areas like Skills work. For Reading students can contrast the film and the book, for writing they can produce/ summarise/ describe scenes,plots, characters, etc.- one of my personal favourites from the book was Soap Write-out where students have to write a character out of a soap opera in one scene. Speaking either scripted or fluency-based, Listening to focus on pronunciation etc. The list is endless and the activities in this book definitely help teachers to exploit video materials, which, let's face it, are often more topical, entertaining and productive than certain coursebook materials.

Jane Sherman writes very clearly and practically but is able to convey quite dense ideas in a very readable format and with good doses of humour and common sense.
The information is laid out very well with clear sections, bullet points and bold text.
This is a very good example of a textbook with bridges the gap between being dry academic theory and fun classroom ideas which are fun to do but which lack depth or background.

This book is a definite must for any teachers' room and particularly should be read by the "powers-that-be" in charge of purchasing and organising materials like videos. Without a sufficient library or resources available for teachers and students, video will continue to be sadly underused in the EFL classroom. However, that's another story…

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