subtitles on/subtitles off

I absolutely embrace use of new technologies in the language classroom and time, research and experience have made a wiser teacher when it comes to integrating use of mobile phones and interactive whiteboard in the classroom setting. If I were to sum it in a short and direct way I would go along with these words: at times, in small doses and with a clear learning goal in mind.

You may not be in a situation to try out this activity, for instance if you happen to be a teacher in France but I am providing an alternative way if that is the case (although this alternative will deviate from the keep-it-simple nature of the blog…).

Find a short news story with subtitles on the Internet. I will recommend “CNN Student News”  or “United News International” channels on Youtube. You can find news stories averaging one to three minutes in length, which are ideal for classroom exploitation. The subtitles can be activated by clicking on the icon on the bottom right corner of the screen.

Have the students get their mobile phones and tell them to access the video you want to play. There are different ways in which you can provide this information. You may give them the direct link, as in “”, which isn’t very practical. You may shorten the link for them using a URL shortener like (, which you can easily write on the board. You may simply write key words for the video on the board (go to youtube and then type united news france ban mobile phones schools), which is what I would do.

It is important that the students have their own set of headphones. Divide your class into As and Bs. As will watch the news story without subtitles. Bs will watch it with subtitles on. The playing time of the video below is 55 seconds. I would give students about three or four minutes to get ready and then be able to watch the video a couple of times.


Students B are encouraged to write down any words from the subtitles that they may not know. Then pair off students and have them exchange the information. Is there anything that Students A mostly missed? At B1-B2 levels these are some of trouble areas for this video:

  • plans to enact the ban
  • barred from using their phones
  • extend schoolwide
  • will apply to
  • logistical details
  • sorted out
  • displeased
  • raised concerns about
  • how the ban will be enforced

Once the students have exchanged the information, you can ask them to tell you the words that posed a problem, write them on the board and help them out with pronunciation and to understand meaning and use. Finally you can let them watch the video a final time and have a debate around the ban.

If there is only a certain number of students with mobile phones or/and headphones, you can have those students watch the story on their phones and play the video on your board for the rest of the students. Then you can set up groups (not necessarily pairs).

If your students are not allowed to bring or use their mobile phones in class, you will have to type the transcript and provide copies. You can have all your students watch the video on the board or screen in front of the classroom and then give half of them a copy of the transcript that they can read just before and after they watch it. As I commented earlier, it derives (a bit) from the spirit of zero or minimal preparation time of this blog but it is the best you can do.

So what is your take on the matter?

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