Written by Stuart Allen

       English teachers have been using videos in the classroom for decades and, more recently DVDs and online video clips from Youtube or YouKu. Sitcoms are an excellent classroom resource for a number of reasons.
They Aren’t Boring
An episode generally lasts 30 minutes – so we don’t have to worry about students getting bored or losing the plot – as sometimes happens when we watch a feature film.
Sitcoms are often repetitive too. Students who watch more than one episode become familiar with the characters and their catchphrases. As students begin to predict how a character might behave in a particular circumstance they will become more motivated and enjoy a sense of achievement.
Don’t deny your students video material
Very often teachers underestimate the ability of their students to understand authentic language and so they shy away from real material in favour of these purpose-made recordings. Or worse, they don’t use any videos – thereby denying their classes the opportunity to get used to real English, spoken by real English speakers, in realistic situations.
Students get listening practice with tapes and CDs but we shouldn’t underestimate the value of the visual element a video provides.
A large part of communication is non verbal. Being able to see gestures and facial expressions helps students grasp the meaning of the words spoken and also any underlying insinuations. Sitcoms are full of unspoken innuendos.
Sitcoms are funny and everybody enjoys laughing. Watching a humorous video clip in class can be rewarding for students and helps to create a positive classroom atmosphere. This in turn can only have a positive effect on the learning experience.
Cultural References
Sitcoms are full of cultural references. Depending on the situation these references might portray regional differences throughout the world, the class system, family issues, religion, race and ethnicity, gender issues, social issues, and numerous others.
Different Accents
Every successful British or US sitcom has its trademark English, from Del Boy’s Cockney accent and attempts at talking “posh”. There are sitcoms from up north, down south and everywhere in between. This exposure to different varieties of English introduces the idea to learners that there isn’t just one standardised version of the language. All too often the only reference to spoken English that students have is the accent of wherever their teacher happens to come from or wherever their teacher’s teacher came from.
How many times have we heard “I understand everything in class but when I went to the UK in the summer I didn’t understand a word!”?
All of the successful British or American sitcoms are available on video or DVD. Whole series can be bought through websites like Amazon, Taobao or e-bay. Another great source is Youtube. A simple search for any of the major – and even lesser known sitcoms throws up scores of video clips. Sometimes whole episodes are serialised into five or six short videos making it possible to watch a whole 30 minute programme in five or six ‘bites’.
Students love watching videos that reflect western life. They like to see how people in the west live, what they eat, how they spend their free time. They love seeing typical homes and institutions, the countryside and weather.
By learning more about the culture of the country they stop seeing English as simply a language in isolation, but start to understand the wider implications of a language’s link to its culture(s). This is the same for learners of any language. The more we know about the culture of the language we are learning – the better our understanding of that language will be.
Are you an English teacher? Want some useful activities and lessons for your classes? Join ESL in China on WeChat to make it happen!