Whether it’s in the ESL classroom or an immersion setting, movies are a hit.
People love movies. The movie business is proof that a good movie can make a huge impact on both society and individuals. That’s also true for your classroom. Movies can make learning great. I’m sure you’ve attended or taught classes that used movies as a reward, as a break from the daily grind. But what if you could show movies in class and still feel good about what your students were learning? You can. When you make a point of planning interactive, purposeful activities that tie into a movie, you don’t have to feel guilty about taking class time to do it. So what does an ESL teacher do with a movie in class? Here are some ideas you can use with any feature film of your choice.
7 Go To Activities for Teaching from Any Movie
Discussion Questions are a great way of getting your students oriented before watching a movie and getting them thinking about the subjects and themes they will encounter as they watch. Before you show any of the movie, give your students some questions to get them talking about the subject or the theme of the movie. For example, if you were going to show Captain America: Civil War, you might ask if your students have ever disagreed with a friend over something important. What did they do to reconcile if they reconciled? Why couldn’t they reconcile if they didn’t? Getting your students thinking about what they will watch will not only prepare them as far as vocabulary they will encounter, it will also be like an appetizer whetting their appetite for the meat of the movie.
Movies aren’t made for ESL students specifically. That means the speech patterns in movies will be more like real-life English and less like the Standard English students encounter in the classroom. This means that movie clips make great listening exercises for students. Try having your class listen for specific words in a movie scene. Type out the dialogue for the scene of your choice. A scene about five minutes with heavy dialogue is a good choice. Then you have two options for your listening activity. One option is to have students listen for specific words – this might be vocabulary you are trying to teach from the movie or more complex words your students may or may not already know. If you want to challenge them this way, replace each of these words in your transcript with a blank for them to fill in as they listen. If you want to test your students’ general listening skills, simply replace each fifth word in the transcript with a blank. Students will fill in the missing words as they listen to the dialogue in the scene. In either case, you might want to give your students twice through the scene to fill in all the blanks before you review what the actors actually said.
Writing a Summary
Wait, what just happened? Sometimes events in movies happen so quickly it can be difficult to keep up. But for the most part, the viewer has a good idea of what is going on with the characters on the screen. Use this to your advantage and for a quick writing activity. After a scene or series of scenes that have a lot of things happening, pause the movie and have your students write a summary of what they just witnessed. For a quick and easy summary, ask them to just bullet point the main events. For a more formal writing assignment, have them write a complete paragraph detailing what they watched. If you like, have students work in groups of around three to list the events they witnessed before they write their summary paragraph.
Make a Prediction
While you have the movie paused, whether it was to write a summary or because the end of class is drawing near, have your students take a few moments to predict what might be coming up next. This is a good opportunity to practice use of modal verbs. Iron Man might recruit Spiderman. Captain America could escape from prison. The Scarlet Witch must get away from Vision. Write down what students say on your front board or have students write their own thoughts in a notebook. After watching the next bit of the movie, discuss whether students’ predictions were right.
Narrate an Action Scene
For a fun speaking activity, give your students a chance to be the movie version of a sports caster. Choose an action scene to show in class; then mute your TV. Ask one student to come to the front of the classroom or put your students in pairs and have one person narrate to the other. Play the scene with no sound and let your student tell his partner or the rest of the class what is happening on screen. You might want to let more than one student come up front and give it a shot. Feel free to go for it, especially if your students are having a good time with it.
Another fun activity to do while the volume is down is to have students watch a scene, it doesn’t have to be an action scene, and take notes on what is happening. Since they won’t hear the dialogue, they may have to guess what is going on based on the characters’ expressions and the other visual clues on screen. After students take notes on what is happening, have them discuss with one or two other people what they observed, hopefully giving everyone a more complete pictures of what actually happened in the movie. Finally, have students use their notes to write a summary of the scene. The summary can be as short or as long as you would like. After everyone has finished, show the clip with the sound. Ask students to discuss their summary with a partner and note any similarities and differences between their version and what really happened in the movie.
And of course, as with any content that your students encounter in class, comprehension questions are a great way to check to see that they understood what they saw and heard. Try starting with some observational questions. Specifics about what students should have seen and heard. Then move to interpretive questions, questions that take those observations and put the information to use. What should that character do now? Why did this person take that action? Finally, ask students to apply that knowledge to their own lives. If you were in this situation, what would you do? Have you ever had a relationship like the one onscreen? Talk about that.
In class movies don’t have to be a vacation from learning.
In fact, they shouldn’t be. With these activities you can feel good that showing the movie is challenging your students’ language skills and improving them, too.