Using TV commercials as language teaching tools

In working in my role as the Head of the Media Center, I always try to develop and implement “integrated technology/21st century literacy programs” and assure that faculty infuses their lesson plans with multimedia tools, as well as new web 2.0 tools like blogging, wikis, and podcasts. Since I took over this school year the challenging role of being the Head of the Foreign Languages department I thought that it would be kind of great if I could take advantage of my role as the Head of the Media Centers to develop in my brand new Foreign Languages department “integrated technology/21st century literacy programs” and assure that my team infuses their lesson plans with multimedia and web 2.0 tools. I thought that the Foreign Languages department could be a great venue to start media and information-related innovations and from here we could kind of role model and share our experiences with my colleagues in other departments.

Right before the Christmas break, and as part of the formative assessment on a unit on persuasive language (with a sub-unit on advertisement), my grade 11 Spanish B students had to create a TV commercial. This final task not only demonstrated content learning, but allowed students to use the kind of media and tools that they use for leisure, in school. Take a look to some of the results:

I have now come to realize, that the use of  TV commercials in the language class is a very powerful tool. A well-crafted commercial is both visually and linguistically challenging, making use of clever slogans, catchy songs, and striking visual images to capture the attention of viewers. This power can be harnessed in the Foreign Languages classroom by using TV commercials to teach both listening and critical thinking skills.

The use of commercials in the classroom have become ideal for teaching listening for several reasons. First, commercial messages are short and catchy, with key words and phrases repeated. The redundancy and brevity of commercials help make the language used accessible to second language learners. A second benefit of the commercial is that it is designed to have an impact. Viewers remember what they hear, sometimes even when they do not understand the message, because the visual and musical reinforcement is strong and lasting.

I really want to make the use of authentic video more prevalent in my Spanish B classroom, because it offers students opportunities to hear language intended for native speakers. TV commercials are especially replete with authentic and current spoken language. Designing instruction around commercial spots, for example have definitely help my students bridge the gap from the often controlled world of “classroom language” to the outside world of native speakers.

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