Video Self-Modeling: 5 Ideas for Adult ESOL

In a recent TESOL Journal article, Boisvert and Rao (2015) discuss a fascinating classroom technique called video self-modeling (VSM). Although VSM has its roots in psychology, and Boisvert and Rao’s article focuses on its use with K–12 ELLs, this technique holds a whole lot of promise for adult language acquisition, too. I’m going to explain a bit more about the technique and share five ideas for applying VSM with adult language learners. It’s worth mentioning at the outset, though, that VSM is more effective in some applications than others, and research into its efficacy in language acquisition is still very limited.

The basic idea is this: On video, students perform a language task that they are struggling to master. Some small-scale Hollywood tricks are used to make the student’s performance of the task appear perfect in the final video. The student then uses the video of her own performance as a model for practice toward mastery.Proponents say that this approach not only hastens mastery, but also has significant affective benefits, such as increased self-esteem and self-efficacy.

For some, the prospect of editing videos for multiple students might sound daunting, but in the past 5 to 10 years, that process has become a lot quicker and more intuitive, and there’s been a rapid upcropping of apps for quick drag-and-drop video splicing. It’s also possible to design projects such that students are involved in editing one another’s videos, as Boisvert and Rao describe.

There are two main types of VSM. If the student can’t quite perform the target task independently, some sort of supports are put in place (perhaps cue cards or a teacher’s modeling) that allow the student to complete the task, and those supports are then edited out of the video. This is known as feedforward. If the student is sometimes able to perform the task independently but needs to build consistency, the student performs the task multiple times and only the successful instances are included as exemplars in the in the final video. This type is known as positive self-review, and is already quite commonly used among athletes, where, for instance, a diver might review only dives where his form is flawless.

Pronouncing Particular Phonemes – Pronunciation practice is one of the areas where I see the most potential for VSM, and one of the easiest places to try it out! So often students tell me that in class with the teacher they are able to get the articulators where they need to be, but they get home and don’t know if they’ve got it right. A really quick application of positive self-review is to record students in class when they’re pronouncing correctly. In class, when they know what the sound “feels” like, they’re likely to be able to produce it correctly many times in a row, so this may not even require any editing at all. You can just have students start recording on their phone and review when they get home.

Pronouncing Challenging Words/Phrases/Sentences – One more pronunciation idea, this time using feedforward. I’ve recently had a lot of success with a new technique. We take a tricky word or phrase or sentence—for my Chinese-speakers, the word vowel is a source of particular articulatory distress—we pronounce it one phoneme at a time, over and over, gradually ramping up the speed and fluidity. But as we go faster and faster, I continue to model the articulation, silently. So as a student is saying the word, I am mouthing it along with them. They can—and do—use my model as a point of reference at the tricky points, and it’s become incredibly useful in class. Set up the camera so that it records only the student’s face, and again, they have a model of themselves correctly articulating the target language to use for practice at home.

Complex Grammatical Forms – We’ve all seen students who know the rules for producing a particular form and can get it right maybe half of the time, but it remains a struggle, and errors persist. I see this a lot with conditionals, present perfect progressive, and perfect or progressive passives, to name just a few. These students need modeling and practice, and positive self-review might be an effective option for this: prompt students to produce the form several times, and only retain video of the native-like performances.

Specific Competencies – Rather than focus on language forms, you could also focus on language competencies, for instance, asking for directions, reviewing your child’s report card with your teacher, or going on a job interview. This would work well with the feedforward technique, perhaps using off-camera cue cards.

Echo Reading – Finally, one of the techniques that Boisvert and Rao describe for use with young ELLs would work just as easily with adults. They describe an echo reading activity in which students and teachers together read a text aloud. The teacher reads first, and the student then repeats. In the final video, of course, the teacher’s modeling is edited out, and students are left with a video of themselves reading with great fluency. They found this technique to significantly improve reading speeds and to improve students’ level of confidence as readers.


Boisvert, P., & Rao, K. (2015), Video self-modeling for English language learners. TESOL Journal, 6, 36–58. doi: 10.1002/tesj.135

About Robert Sheppard

Robert Sheppard
Over the past 10 years, Rob has explored a variety of roles and contexts in the field. These include the cram-school culture of Taiwan and Korea; IEPs in Boston focused on academic English; advanced conversation and TOEFL prep taught via Skype to students in Japan; and nonprofit, community English programs for immigrants to Greater Boston. He currently serves as sr. director of adult programs at Quincy Asian Resources, a member of the community advisory council at First Literacy, and a curriculum consultant at Boston Global Institute. He has a master’s degree in TESOL from The New School, and his areas of interest include adult ed, pronunciation and grammar instruction, curriculum development, and assessment.
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