Literal Video Versions

A while ago, someone introduced me to ‘literal video versions’ on YouTube.  If you’re not familiar with them, the concept is simple: take a music video which appears to have little or no link to the actual meaning of the song lyrics, then re-write and re-record the lyrics to fit what the video shows.
I thought my intermediate students would get a kick out of this (some of them are just hilarious) so devised a way to use them in the classroom.  The full-length lesson described below is quite long (a good 2 to 3 full hours) so if you have less time available, you could just fly through the first step then skip to Step 4.  But with all steps included, it makes a nice project.
Step 1. Introduce the concept.
  • Show the sts some song lyrics and have them imagine what they might see in the music videos for these songs.  In past lessons, I’ve used A-Ha’s “Take On Me”, “Daydream Believer” by The Monkees and David Hasselhoff’s version of “Hooked On A Feeling” (all good examples of songs with music videos that don’t really appear to visually represent the ‘story’ of the lyrics).  (Note: these music videos have actually all had LVVs created for them already, which you might want to show the sts later in the lesson.)
  • After speculating, play the music videos (the originals, NOT the LVVs) to the students to check their predictions.
  • Elicit/make the point: music videos don’t always match up to the lyrics in the song.
Step 2. Sts re-write the lyrics.
  • Having seen an example of a music video that doesn’t show the ‘story’ of the song, but which nevertheless is a cool, visually appealing video (I use the A-Ha video for this – it needs to be one which already has an LVV created for it if you want to use it in the next lesson stage), get sts to have a go at re-writing the lyrics so they actually show what is in the video.
  • Note: this could go on for a while!  So perhaps divide up sections of the video between several pairs of students, corresponding to particular verses in the songs.
Step 3. Sts compare their ideas with the existing unofficial LVV.
  • Find the LVV of the video you showed sts in Step 2 on YouTube (e.g. LVV of A-Ha’s “Take On Me”) and show sts.  In the “Take On Me” LVV, the video’s creator has helpfully included subtitles of the new lyrics, and re-recorded them to the original music!  So it’s a nice bit of fairly easy listening practice for the sts.  And fortunately, this particular LVV is mostly graded well enough for intermediate sts (you might want to pre-teach the word “pipe wrench” – watch the video to see what I mean!).
Step 4. Learners make their own LVVs.
  • Choose a music video that doesn’t really represent the lyrics of the song (I use Penny Lane) and find the original, unsubtitled version on YouTube.
  • Explain to learners that they’re going to subtitle the video with better lyrics – ones which actually reflect what’s happening in the video.
  • Go to overstream.net.  This is a cool website where you can load videos, create subtitles for them, then watch the whole thing with your newly-added subtitles.
  • Log in to Overstream (you have to create an account but it’s free and takes about 30 seconds as long as you already have an email address), click “create” at the top, type in the YouTube link to the video you’ve chosen, click OK, and it will appear in the little video player.
  • Select the time you want to the subtitle to appear, type it in, fix the times as required with the little handles on the timing progress bar underneath the video, click “add”, then move on to the next!  (Note: this may take some playing around with in order to get the hang of creating and adding subsequent subtitles, but all my sts have been able to cope after a few minutes’ experimentation.)
  • Encourage sts to save their work every now and then (click “save” in the top right of the window and give the video a name) just in case everything crashes unexpectedly – this website doesn’t automatically save work regularly.
  • When done, click “save” one last time, and pat yourself on the back.
Step 5. Sit back, watch and enjoy!
  • Now you can watch the whole video with your newly created subtitles.
  • Here‘s one my intermediate students created a few weeks ago.  Apologies for the blurry quality of the final video – this is the one down-side to this process.  With certain videos (if the original poster on YouTube hasn’t disabled video embedding), you can export your finished product, subtitles and all.  With others, you need a rather tricky workaround (which I used for this – hence the low quality in the end).  In any case, you can always export the subtitles you’ve created as an .srt file so you can keep them forever (albeit without the video included as part of the file – this is just the full subtitle text).
The great thing about this lesson is the pride on the students’ faces at the end when they’ve rewritten an entire song and then can’t wait to share their work with their classmates.  More ambitious/higher level students can really work hard on getting the re-written lyrics to fit the original rhythm and syllable-pattern of the song; otherwise students can just focus on describing what they see, or on giving ‘speech’ and ‘thoughts’ to the people on-screen.  Either way, the process of adding subtitles to the video is painstaking but incredibly engaging, amusing and eventually rewarding.
One final important point – I’m guessing there may be copyright issues with the kind of video editing outlined above if you attempt to pass off other people’s creations as your own (even if you’ve devised new lyrics for a particular song’s music video), but I think it’s OK to play with things like this just within the classroom.  I’m happy to be corrected – please do let me know if you know differently.
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About Laura Patsko

Senior ELT Research Manager for a major publisher. Alter egos: English language teacher, language learner, teacher trainer, linguist. Not necessarily in that order.

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