Using TV Commercials in the EFL classroom

(Reading time: 5 - 9 minutes)

     In their quest for motivating and diverse resources for their specific teaching situation, most EFL/ESL language teachers resort to the use of authentic materials- whether in written or spoken form - as a means of providing learners with rich and original input to supplement their coursebook. It will be argued that whatever the age or level of learners and whatever the goal or purpose of learning the language,

  • By Chryssanthi Papadimitriou, Primary state school teacher, HOU MEd in TESOL student, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

TV commercials constitute an excellent way to boost motivational and participatory levels due to their very nature; that is by literally grabbing the attention of all types of learners and providing them with “slices of living language” (Allan, 1985, p.48). The arguments for their use in the EFL classroom are presented below:

By Chryssanthi Papadimitriou, Primary state school teacher, HOU MEd in TESOL student, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

·         Practical reasons: The widespread use of the Internet in today’s globalized era and the ease and speed at which one can select and view commercials on You Tube render them accessible to all teachers and learners. They are also practically inexpensive.

·         Time saving: Most TV commercials are very brief; under or just over a minute long.  This is an advantage compared to whole films, which demand much more teacher preparation in terms of designing suitable tasks and activities.

·         Authenticity: As was previously mentioned, they represent a link with the ‘outside world’, bringing contemporary society into the classroom.

·       A wide range of topics for discussion: Although most commercials aim at selling a product, nowadays there exists a wide range of high quality commercials which inform and offer ‘food for thought’ on various social or environmental issues (e.g. WWF, UNICEF commercials and campaigns).

·         Multimodal nature: They combine visual, auditory and written discourse. This co-existence of different types of discourse facilitates learning, as learners can combine what they see (moving images and text) with what they hear (speech and music). In addition, according to Kellner (2000, p.24), new technologies have marked the transition from ‘traditional print literacies’ to the covering concept of ‘multiliteracies’. Thus, whilst adopting a critical stance, it is recognized that multimodal texts capture the changes of contemporary society and foster skills-integration in a motivating manner.

·         Facilitate memory retention: Commercials are, in essence, repetitive, so learners are aided in the memorisation of language chunks, through the catchy phrases or slogans of television commercials. Consider, for instance the slogan “Just do it”; doesn’t everyone instantly know which brand is being referred to?

·         Catering for all types of learners: Visual, auditory, musical, kinaesthetic learners are more likely to be engaged through the multiple features of commercials. Variety is added to the lesson. Learners with special learning needs will also benefit from the visual and auditory input and interactive nature of commercials, which address us on a personal level.

·         Enable teachers to cultivate their students’ critical thinking skills/ Media literacy: This point being more relevant with younger learners, FL teachers assume a broader role than merely passing on purely linguistic knowledge to pupils. They act as pedagogues by communicating values and enabling students to reflect and adopt a critical stance towards commercials on their positive and negative aspects.TV commercials are learning tools, as pupils can be taught to discern or read between the lines, rather than accept whatever is presented without judgement. The cultivation of critical thinking skills through the exchange of ideas in the classroom will equip them with essential life-skills.

·         Allow the exchange of cultural knowledge: Although many commercials target at a more global market, some may portray culturally-specific elements. In such cases, comparing the similarities and differences among cultures is fruitful towards understanding and acceptance of ‘otherness’ or difference.

·         Allow the integration of skills: The receptive (reading and listening) and productive (speaking and writing) skills are practiced covertly.  Explicit grammar instruction may be favoured under certain conditions, such as in intensive courses or when preparing for examinations, yet instruction employing TV commercials is a holistic approach to learning providing practice in all four skills. 

·         Ideal for introducing learners to figurative language: This point is particularly relevant for older or more advanced learners. Commercials are rich in providing instances of figurative language that is learning about the non-literal meaning of words and expressions and figures of speech, such as metaphors, alliteration or onomatopoeic words. Indeed, commercials employ figurative language in order to ‘play’ with the language to achieve a heightened effect and to capture viewers’ and consequently consumers’ interest.

·         Entertainment: Many TV commercials are truly entertaining and fun; some are highly artistic and have a great story-line (just like reading a good book). Their exploitation in the classroom will boost participation in speaking tasks, even when it comes to quieter and less outgoing students. Finally, they can be viewed after a demanding teaching session, as a ‘gift’ to students for their efforts, for pure fun in what can be a ‘shared social experience’, just like in a teacher reading-aloud of a favourite story.

Teaching Practice: There is freedom and flexibility in the exploitation of TV commercials in the EFL classroom, depending on the aims and goals of the lesson. Yet, the careful selection and grading of commercials, according to the level and interests of one’s learners, are some of the criteria that the language teacher should consider. Another point concerns ‘authenticity’. Most commercials targeting at children (e.g. milk, cheese and sweets or toy commercials) use simpler vocabulary. Even in cases where they are just above the learners’ level, the ‘scaffolding’ provided by the visual input and the repetition of many phrases assists comprehension of the message being conveyed. One limitation concerns the ephemeral nature of some commercials, which may not be able to stand the test of time; but again this depends on selection criteria (relevance and level of difficulty).

Techniques and tips for the exploitation of TV commercials in class

     A number of techniques and ideas for use in the classroom are presented below. It should be noted that some of these techniques also apply to the use of video in class.

Pre-viewing Task 1 (Contextualization of vocabulary/grammatical structures)

Procedure:

1. The teacher pre-teaches new lexical items or grammatical points. (If the aim is to revise previously taught vocabulary or grammatical structures, skip this stage.)

2. Students are given a list of the commercial’s key words or structures (e.g. adjectives/imperative forms/ figurative language/idioms).

3. Students view the commercial and circle the items in the list when they hear them.   

4. Students report their answers and say or write sentences of their own.    

Pre-viewing Task 2

Procedure:

1. Students view a single frame from the TV commercial and guess (in pairs of groups) what kind of commercial it is or/and which product is being advertised.

2. Students watch the TV commercial to verify their answers.

Pre-viewing Task 3

1. Students are given a worksheet with pictures of the TV commercials (up to three or four) that they are going to watch.

2. Students watch the commercials on You Tube and in pairs decide which picture matches each viewed TV ad.

3.  Students report their answers.

 

During-Viewing Task 1

Procedure:

1. The teacher freezes the image and students guess the TV commercial’s ending (this is more applicable in commercials with a story-line).

2. Students watch the rest of the commercial to verify/check their predictions.

During-Viewing Task 2 (Fill-in-the-gaps viewing task)

Procedure:

1. Students are given a worksheet containing the transcript(s) of the TV commercial(s).

2. Students fill in the missing information (individually or in pairs) in the short texts provided from the commercials’ listening input.

3. Students report their answers.

(This task could act as an alternative form of assessing learners’ progress in listening skills).

 

Post-viewing Tasks

1. Class discussion on the topics presented (e.g. sports/ leisure activities /eating habits-the list is endless) and on the commercial’s impact /effectiveness (was it persuasive/successful/ did it contain any stereotypes). 3

2. Suggesting an alternative ending for the TV commercials

3. Writing extension: Students write a script for their own TV commercial (either individually or in groups).

4. Role-play/Dramatisation: Students make their own TV commercials /act in them and present them to the rest of the class. They are of course given a time frame to prepare and rehearse (this could also be in their free time). The teacher can assist and provide guidance, the scripts may be re-drafted; props or other materials and suitable music may be provided, etc. 

5. Singing: Many TV commercials feature songs by artists popular with young adolescents. Providing the lyrics of those found to be suitable for the students’ level and interests and singing the songs in class is a meaningful and motivating activity for all learners.

 

 

Conclusion: TV commercials integrate many features that are beneficial for learners’ linguistic and social development, as long as the tasks designed ensure that students assume an active rather than a passive role. Teaching through commercials is a feature which can be inserted in the course throughout the school year, just like songs, games or story-telling to increase motivation and add variety to the lesson in the process of achieving curricular goals. Teaching Young Learners or young adolescents, does not mean they should be given graded or adapted input all the time. Finally, the careful selection of authentic input establishes a link of the language with the outside world as the tasks are designed to promote communication and not merely for the sake of innovation or simply finding something to do on a Friday evening.

 

References

Allan, M. (1985). Teaching English with video. Longman Handbooks for language teachers.

Kellner, D. (2000). ‘New technologies/New Literacies: Reconstructing Education for the

     New Millennium’. Philosophy of Education Yearbook, pp. 21-36.

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