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Closed Captioning: Not Just for the Hearing Impaired

Closed captioned television officially became available in March 1980, but in 1971 PBS offered the first captioned program when it open captioned Julia Child’s The French Chef. Two years later, The ABC News began a PBS open captioned rebroadcast five hours after the original air time. The first closed captioned television programs began on March 16, 1980 with The ABC Sunday Night Movie, The Wonderful World of Disney, and Masterpiece Theatre. Real-time captioning began in 1982, and today there are more than 14,000 hours of captioned programming each year. The Television Decoder Circuitry Act of 1990 mandated that all television sets larger than thirteen inches produced after 1993 must contain caption-decoding technology. So the television set in your classroom is most likely caption-friendly; you just need to turn it on!

Who is using closed captioning? General population numbers suggest that it’s a lot more than you may think. In addition to the 28 to 32 million Americans who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, there are the 30 million Americans who are learning English as a second language and as many as 45 million children and adults who are learning to read! Clearly, closed captions have the capacity to impact a lot of lives, particularly when added to educational programming. Over the years, PBS has been a leader in both educational programming and closed captioning. At Colonial Williamsburg, we continue that tradition by closed captioning all of our videos and live television broadcasts.

How can you take best advantage of closed captioning in your classroom? Here is our Top Ten list:

  1. Improve reading vocabulary for early and struggling readers who have a larger speaking than reading vocabulary. Mute the volume and enable closed captioning.
  2. Enable closed captioning on a content video. Have students write down key vocabulary words and then discuss their definitions. Develop a Video Vocabulary Notebook for each content area.
  3. Mute the volume and challenge all readers to improve their speed and fluency by reading the captions. Then, assess students’ content comprehension.
  4. Select a segment from a content-rich program that fits a current area of study. Mute the volume and ask students to write captions describing the action taking place in the program. Enable closed captioning, then replay the segment and have students compare their captions with the closed captions.
  5. If your video source includes foreign language closed captions, use them to help students read along in the foreign language while listening in English.
  6. Select a foreign language content video with foreign language captioning to help students connect the spoken language with the written words.
  7. For ESL students, enable the English closed captioning so students can connect the written form of the language with the verbal form to promote expression, verbal phrasing, and pronunciation.
  8. Select a film based on a piece of children’s literature (e.g. Castles by David Macaulay, The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, or Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson) and have students compare the printed text with the closed captioning, note how the language was modified to fit the medium, and assess its effectiveness.
  9. Select a content video and have students list the important parts of speech that influence the story. For example, making a list of adjectives that describe the main character, or looking for connections to character and plot development.
  10. Select a short video and have students enhance their listening skills by write real-time closed captions. Provide assistance as needed by using the “pause” control on your VCR.

For more information on turning on and using closed captions, visit the CaptionMax educator’s page.

This article was written by Dale Van Eck, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.