Using Silent Video in the EFL Classroom

This video is the BOMB! It is captivating, absorbing, a story par excellence but also SILENT! Yes, silent films are great for getting students to produce language — and after all is said and done, that most often is the hardest thing to do, getting the students speaking and learning language by just communicating. That is our job, to get the students so absorbed in the communicative act that they forget they are learning. When we forget and are not consciously fixated on the language – we learn so much more! And silent , great silent movies do that so well.

So here are a few suggestions on how to use these with students. Also, a quick list of my absolute favorites in this regard….

Ways to use a silent video clip….

1. BACKDOOR — In pairs or small groups, one or more students view and describe to the other students who have their backs to the screen. Alternate every few minutes and circulate to give help with vocab (or just write it on the board as needed, students will see you and use to describe the action.

2. PREDICTION – Watch a small part and stop the video. Have students predict what will happen next.

3. VOCABULARY – depending on the theme of the video (for example in The Flat Life you can use action words and / or furniture) have students make lists of words and then use them to 4. RETELL the story/narrative up to that point.

4. DIALOGUE — Students watch and then re-enact the dialogue in the story. Add in a narrator if necessary. This is a great speaking/writing combined lesson. Get them even to use speech bubbles and draw cartoons of the story.

5. WRITING – Have students retell the story, rewrite the story – but with a different ending. First retell and use this as an engagement activity for some really creative writing! Make sure to do the most important part of the writing process – SHARING!

My favorite silent short videos.

1.. The Big Snit — Without a doubt, it has it all!  Find it on our NFB video page!

2. Mr. Bean videos. I love the Mr. Bean at the swimming pool! Perfect length and works like a charm. Stop at the end and get students to predict what will happen. Get them all in our Mr. Bean player! or more Mr. Bean resources here.

3. Neighbors. – this Academy award winner has a special message. Be careful, it isn’t for young kids! Get this in our NFB video section also.  The main NFB page has many other great “silent” animations I didn’t list –  try Sainte Barbe and the Apprentice for example.

What’s your favorite “silent” video for teaching languages?

PS> See Ana Maria Menezes’ post and suggestions for using Silent videos in the classroom!


Teacher trainer, technology specialist, educational thinker...creator of EFL Classroom 2.0, a social networking site for thousands of EFL / ESL teachers and students around the world.

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13 Responses

  1. “get students so absorbed in the communicative act that they forget they are learning”

    Love it! I’ve been copying a few of your sayings, and will shoot them back to you one day. Wisdom = vision :)

    The video seems like it could trigger a lot too. Thanks, David!

  2. ddeubel says:

    Brad – please don’t, I’ll never get to nirvana with you and the likes stroking my ego! He who knows the buddha, does not know the buddha …..

    I guess the key with silent video is coming up with the right sort of production prompt for your students. Also, avoiding the trap that video tends to push us into – the trap of it being so absorbing that our brain shuts down and so does the communication (it is cold in the way McLuhan suggests and can freeze us).

    But yeah, with more video equipment in classrooms, I hope teachers will do this stuff more.

  3. Fiona says:


    when I’ve done this sort of activity, I’ve used – and students have enjoyed – :
    Buster Keaton’s Nothing but Pleasure (not totally silent, but more or less, plus a great scene where a policeman gives directions but they’re impossible to hear because of a lorry revving its engine or something.
    Jacques Tati – the M. Hulot films are great resources, especially Les Vacances and Fête Nationale.

    Have fun.

  4. Chiew says:

    Hi Dave,
    Yes, videos are great. I’d covered some of these suggestions in my post on use of video last year:
    I’d mentioned Mr Bean, and I also like Wallace & Gromit very much. Also, it doesn’t have to be silent movies – just turn the volume off.

  5. ddeubel says:

    Great point – turning the volume off! I also include that in my presentation about using video in the classroom.

    I’m always surprised how popular Wallace and Gromit are with teachers/students. The ones I have on EFL Classroom are always at the top of the heap.

  6. ddeubel says:


    Sounds like your students are getting two things at once – besides English, a bit of film history! Great ideas – I’m also now wondering if Chaplin would be good…..

    The Red Balloon is basically without sound and one of my fav. films for teaching all time. It has that classic feel…

  7. Yes… the freezing cold warm media is a double-edged sword as it can be tooo captivating. I feel another reread of Postman’s books could be good for me these days.

    I don’t know the buddha… and I won’t introduce him to you either. Enjoy the weekend, David :)

  8. Cristina says:

    I used silent viewing a long time ago, but somehow the videos I used were not truly appropriate. Now this is a great video, I intend to use with my teens!

  9. Ajaan Rob says:

    At CMU we use a silent video for the mid-term exam. The ESL undergraduate students must complete in English the situational “dialog”. It is very clever and involves metacognitive language learning strategies. Very cool and I highly recommend this assessment strategy.

  10. English tips says:

    Great site and video, really useful, I’m gonna promote both on my Fan page on FB. Congratulation

  11. Wendi Laing says:

    I used Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” and did a comparitive study of it with “Life is Beautiful”. I did this with my grade ten ESL students in China, and they loved it, even though their English level is pretty low.

  12. Ana Maria Menezes says:

    Dear David,

    Thanks for linking my blog post to yours. Your work is always an inspiration to me.

  13. ddeubel says:

    Ana Maria,

    The feelings mutual – you are welcome! Lets keep slowly helping as good as we know how …. the gift of learning does make a difference (and here I’m reminding myself more than anyone – can’t be told it enough and it helps keep my batteries sparking).

    Also, I’ll be relaunching the ELT Blog Carnival and blasting some emails soon. But would love for you to host one this year or next. Here is the sign up form if interested. Larry F. and I had a talk and he’s pulled it along for long enough. I said I didn’t want it to die so here I am trying to get some recruits :)


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