You may not know it, but one of the ways that linguists gather data is to ask human subjects to narrate or describe a specific video. If you ask 50 speakers of one language to watch and describe the events that take unfold in a Bugs Bunny show (video) and then ask 50 speakers of a different language to do the same, you have created a small database of fairly natural language. A careful comparison of these data might allow you to form hypotheses about interesting cultural and linguistic features of a language because you have be sure that everyone was describing “the same thing.”

I put “the same thing” in quotation marks because of course one of the main features of human language is that we ascribe “cause and outcome” to out words and grammar. How are an immigrant and an expatriate different? What is the difference between murder and kill?

Using the video technique you can reduce the amount of influence the researcher will have on the responses that the respondents will give. While this is a major area of discussion in social science, we will leave it here for now.

Lesson plan concept

The video that inspired this lesson shows a family, who lives in some very northern part of the North American continent. They make a dug-out canoe using (mostly) 18th century tools and techniques. There is no talking. The video is very good for adults and older students as it deals with a “more mature” topic than cartoons. Put a different way, it has information that will interest adults more.

You as a language learner or teacher can use this technique to both elicit language from your students as well as from “natives”. By asking your “native” friends to participate, you can create meaningful input for students. By asking your students to produce language you can both assess and provide useful advice.

The following lesson plan will serve any language teacher with access to the internet, a computer, etc. to create a dialogue in present or past tense, in perfective aspect, state/habitual aspect,  in the/an imperative mood, in some standard story –telling register.

It can also help you create teach instrumental verbs/nouns/grammar

There is also room for teaching time adverbs such as “3 months later”

In the attachment you can find a general framework for a very long lesson which you can then cut down to use as you please. I will only touch base on certain aspects

More about video elicitation

If you are curious about how linguists use video to elict language from respondents you may want to look at the abstracts, introductions and methods parts of the two studies I share below.  You will note that video was used differently in these two studies/review of studies. in the Nir Berman (2010) the video was used as a sort of “focalizer” or “subject establishment tool”. In the study of Alor-Pantar languages of southern Indonesia video elicitation was used to discover features of different but related languages. If, you are not very well versed reading a bit of these articles will certainly raise interesting questions leading you to learn something. If you are well versed in linguistics, you may learn new things you didn’t know about like I did.

  • Nir, B., & Berman, R. A. (2010). Complex syntax as a window on contrastive rhetoric. Journal of Pragmatics, 42(3), 744-765.
  • Fedden, S., & Brown, D. (2014). Participant marking: Corpus study and video elicitation. The Alor-Pantar languages, 413.

You can find these papers by putting in the reference into It should come right up!