Teach English Writing: Video Summaries

Write Story Summaries

Writing Skills: idea, word choice, sentence fluency, conventions, organisation

Short videos with interesting plots make great prompts for an ESL writing class. Here are 5 videos which can help students learn English writing skills.

What makes a good video prompt?

I look for four features when choosing a video for the writing class.

1 Family friendly content

Videos with swearing, nudity, graphic violence, bloody gore or sexual over tones just don’t work in the class, even in university. Personally, I have nothing against those story elements, but that’s not the kind of content I want to show in class.

2 Short and Sweet

Videos that are 2 to 3 minutes work well. Occasionally, I will use a 5 minute video if there is something unique or compelling about the story.

3 Minimal Dialogue

Videos with no dialogue work best. Dialogue adds a layer of complication and can slow down the writing process if students can’t understand the story.

4 Stories with a Message

To get the best out of my writing students, I like to offer videos that work on several levels. Truthfully, finding videos with a broader message (given the other constraints) isn’t easy. But that’s the goal.

The Writing Framework

With a video prompt, I ask students to complete two main tasks that move up Bloom’s pyramid of cognitive domains.

1 Summarizing the Story

Describe the main characters, the setting (time and place) and the plot (the basic story).

Students should not describe everything. They have to decide what’s important and filter out the unnecessary stuff. Usually, this section requires 2 to 4 paragraphs.

2 Evaluate

Respond to the story. A simple reaction might focus on the student’s judgement of the story (i.e. like or dislike with reasons).

Far more challenging is an evaluation of the story’s message. Is it right or wrong? Explain with reasons. This section asks students to articulate an argument and make a case. Usually, this is another 2 to 4 paragraphs.

Video Prompts to Teach English Writing

The Moment

Understanding the dialogue is important in this video, so save this one for intermediate+ level students. The story offers students plenty to think about in terms of self deception and how we see others.

The Moment from Karis Oh on Vimeo.

Room 8

There’s a small amount of dialogue here, but it’s not critical to understanding this terrific story. Great concept.

Imagination Series: Room 8 (3 of 5) from Bombay Sapphire on Vimeo.

The Nail

Funny insight into the different ways men and women communicate. It’s a dialogue driven story with plenty of double entendre, so it’s best to use this one in an intermediate+ level class.

It’s Not About the Nail from Jason Headley on Vimeo.

A Decade

Great video, but the message is not altogether heart warming. In this climate of economic uncertainty, the message rings true with many university students. No dialogue.

a Decade from Treehouse Studio on Vimeo.


Simple, heart touching story based a common theme. Good choice for younger students. No dialogue.

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1 thought on “Teach English Writing: Video Summaries”

  1. These videos and the ideas are really cool and also helpful. I have just discovered your web site, and I’m sure it will be one of my favorites. Thank you.

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