Video in the classroom: Britain on Film


I don’t normally watch much television. Last night, however, was a bit of an exception given it was a Monday night and absolutely freezing outside to boot. While flicking through the channels, I stumbled across a programme called Britain on Film, a collection of fascinating short videos from the 1960s documenting all aspects of then-modern British life. From brand new shopping outlets called ‘supermarkets’ to dapper men in top hats on the stock exchange floor and amazing new-fangled technology like huge ‘computers’, it was pretty amazing to see how things have changed in just forty years.

It also got me thinking about questions I get from teachers when I’m out and about on using TV, film and video clips in the classroom and it seemed a great example of video material that’s interesting, easy to understand and can be adapted to complement loads of different topics, grammar points and questions on British culture.

These clips, which you can find on the BBC iPlayer in the UK or on YouTube anywhere else, are just the right length to use in the classroom. The commentary features either an easy-on-the-ear American narrator or a plummy Brit whose accent would make even the Queen sound common and there are snippets of information flashed up as easy-to-read captions.

Take this clip of a London from yesteryear. For those of you teaching in schools in the city, you could use this great little video as a way to practise comparatives and superlatives, contrasting life back then with the modern-day London your students are living in.

There are plenty of activities on Macmillan English Campus like ‘Comparative Structures’ or ‘Spot the Difference’ that you can use to tie everything together. If you’re teaching further afield, your students could compare London with their own city: take the listening exercise ‘Prague vs London’ as a starting point. Or why not use it as part of a culture lesson, which you could link to activities on Culture World or A Ghost’s Guide to London on onestopenglish, our fantastic cinematic listening lesson series which mixes a bit of the old London with the new. You could even use something like this as a way to refresh looking at past tenses, describing what life was like back in the day and how it has changed, perhaps using the ‘Then and Now’ resource or ‘Past Simple’ grammar reference unit on the Macmillan English Campus.

The possibilities are endless. The programmes look at everything from business, travel, technology, fashion, holidays and anything else the discerning Brit used to do in the 1960s, meaning you can link to virtually any class topic, adding something a bit more refreshing than the usual grammar tables and business listening activities.

My personal favourite is a short clip (inexplicably narrated by Kojak) about my own hometown, Birmingham. A concrete paradise back in the sixties, it’s certainly pretty funny to see life back when grey buildings and swathes of motorways were the pinnacle of modernity …but it’s perhaps not the best advert for anyone considering visiting the UK’s second largest city!



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