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How to Develop Language Learning Activities Based on Popular Movies

Susan Verner
by Susan Verner 10,647 views |

Do your students love American movies?

My students always do. They often watch movies in either the theater or on television, either way expecting a double benefit. The first is that movies are entertaining. If they weren’t movies wouldn’t make money like they do. The second reason is ESL students watch movies as a way to practice their English skills. Watching a movie requires grammatical knowledge, listening skills, and a wide vocabulary. All of these are skills most ESL students want to improve, and if you can watch a few car chase and romantic kisses along the way all the better.

But just because movies are entertaining doesn’t mean they can’t be brought into the classroom. In fact, movies are often a great jumping off point for a larger unit that will tie in many different language skills your students need to learn. If you are wondering how to do this, it’s not that hard. Here are some ways to take a movie as inspiration for your ESL class and make your instruction a bit more exciting and romantic at the same time.

7 Simple Tips to Develop Language Learning Activities Based on Popular Movies

  1. 1

    What Is the Theme of the Movie?

    Theme is probably the easiest jumping off point for bringing movies into your classroom. You can either start with a theme you are planning on teaching (food, sports, families, etc.) or start with a movie you want to bring into class and create an instructional theme from that. For example, if you wanted to tie into the popular movie San Andreas starring Dewayne “The Rock” Johnson, you might go with the theme of natural disasters since the movie features a rescue helicopter pilot searching for his daughter. You can then create a unit around the idea of disaster preparedness. If you already have a theme, say sports, choose a movie to introduce that theme to your students. You might choose Field of Dreams in which an average Joe builds a baseball diamond in his backyard because he believes the legendary players of baseball will come if he does.

  2. 2

    What Vocabulary Relates to Your Theme?

    If you are already teaching a unit and choose your movie to go along with your theme, you probably already have a list of vocabulary you were planning on teaching. If not, a picture dictionary can be a great way to come up with a list of vocabulary. Or you can use still pictures related to your theme to come up with your vocabulary. Display the picture for your students and then ask them to identify anything in the picture that they know the word for. Write these words on your board. Then add your own words to the list, too, ones your students will learn during the unit. For example, if you were teaching a sports unit, you might show your students a picture of a baseball diamond. Your students might know words like bat, ball, and players. But you can add other words in like umpire, bleachers, cleats, etc.

  3. 3

    What Vocabulary Is Used in the Movie?

    You are going to have to watch your theme movie before you show it to your students. When you do, make note of any vocabulary they use in the movie that you can add to your vocabulary list. This will include words or phrases related to the theme of the movie (such as field and diamond if you were teaching from A Field of Dreams). But as you watch, pay close attention for slang and idioms that the actors use as well, and then include them in your vocabulary unit. This will give you a concrete context to teach nontraditional language. Give your students a list of these words before they watch the movie and challenge them to guess the meanings of each from their context in the movie. If you like, after showing the movie play short clips containing these words and give your students an extra shot to guess their meanings.

  4. 4

    What Can You Discuss That Relates to What You Saw?

    Once your students have watched the movie and learned the specific vocabulary related to your topic, it’s time to talk about what they saw. You might stop the movie part of the way through and have students talk about what they think might come next. This works with any movie, but you might choose to talk about something more specific to the film your class just watched. You might have students talk about a controversial issue from the movie and argue their opinions. You might just have students talk about how they felt as they watched the movie, what their favorite parts were and anything they didn’t understand.

  5. 5

    Is There Something Your Students Can Read That Relates to the Topic?

    At the very least, your students can read movie reviews of the flick you showed in class, but there are so many other options you can go with when it comes to reading assignments. Students can do some research about subject matter from the movie. You might find an article relating to your theme. You can read interviews with the actors from the film. There are so many options for reading assignments you will likely have to choose your favorite from all the possibilities.

  6. 6

    Is There a Grammatical Structure in the Reading That Your Students Need to Learn?

    If your students are reading a passage that uses an unfamiliar grammar structure, take a few moments to teach them the grammar after they read. If you already have a grammar point chosen, you can teach that and still tie it into your unit theme. Just use examples that relate to the theme of your movie. For example, if you were teaching compound sentences related to San Andres, you could use examples like the following: He got in the helicopter, and he searched for his daughter. His daughter would survive, or he would die trying to find her. If you have the time, write your own exercises that retell the movie plot. Or try letting your students write a question or two about the grammar using the content from the movie and compile those questions as one handout for your class to do for homework.

  7. 7

    What Writing Response Is Appropriate for Either the Movie or the Reading?

    Can your students write a letter to someone about the theme of the movie? Can they use their reading as a model to write something similar? Did the characters in the movie write anything, and can your students write something similar? These are all questions you can ask yourself before you choose the best writing extension to tie into your movie unit. If nothing else, students can write a letter to the director of the movie or one of the actors or the person who wrote the unit reading assignment. Movie reviews are always a great go to in a movie themed unit. Have your students use movie reviews that others have written as a model for their own.

You don’t have to feel guilty about showing movies in class.

In fact, you can make them the starting point for an effective and enjoyable curriculum. Try it for yourself and see.

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