What Came First the Book or the Movie? Great Pairings That Work for ESL Students at Any Level

What Came First the Book or the Movie? Great Pairings That Work for ESL Students at Any Level

Susan Verner
by Susan Verner 11,518 views

Have you ever noticed that if you read the book before seeing the movie, the book is always better?

I think that’s because, as we read, we picture the characters and events in a certain way and we are always disappointed when the big screen doesn’t live up to our big imaginations. On the other hand, if you see the movie before reading the book, most people would say they like both. Perhaps because they are already picturing Katniss Everdeen like Jennifer Lawrence. There are advantages to both sequences – book then movie or movie then book – and that’s true for more than just how we feel about today’s blockbuster. It’s also true for the ESL classroom. The written word and the big screen can work together in great ways for English language learners, and there’s no one right way to do it.

Why the book and the movie?

Some might question why the book AND the movie. Isn’t one or the other enough? Actually, the different formats both offer different opportunities and advantages for ESL teachers and students who use them in class. Movies can be used for all manner of listening activities. They’ve been discussed at length other places, so I won’t go into them here. Likewise, the book offers lots of material for reading activities that you are probably very familiar with. Both are also great for vocabulary development. But when you use the two in tandem, it’s a whole new ballgame. One great advantage is that you reach multiple learning styles with the same material. Some students will learn much better when they see the words on the page. Others will do better when they hear native speakers using word and grammar as they speak. Using both the movie and the book in class enables you to reach a greater number of students in a way that make more sense for them. In addition, including both formats in class offers a great opportunity to compare and contrast, something that is almost always a good idea in language learning settings. And if you’re still looking for a reason to include both in class, remember that it is simply fun. Some people love reading. Others love movies. Some love both. When you use the book and the movie in class, you can almost guarantee that the members of your class will have a good time with one or the other, and that means they’ll learn better and be more engaged.

How to use the book first

Using the book first and then introducing the movie is one way to do things. When you do, watching the movie is like a reward at the end of a big accomplishment – turning the last page of the text. It also might be how you choose to approach the book/movie combo for more advanced students. Since they will be able to tackle the text adequately, you might save the movie as to not spoil the book. You might also chose this sequence when the movie is vastly different from the book. That way students get a good understanding of the book’s plot and characters before throwing different events at them from the film. It will help them keep the story straight and decrease confusion.

How to use the movie first

Using the movie before the book is a good strategy too, in the right circumstances. This works best when you are teaching low to intermediate students who might have trouble understanding the book on its own. Showing the movie first gives them a solid foundation for comprehension when they read. This way when they might not quite get what they are reading, they can remember back to what they saw in the movie and have the gist of what is going on even if they don’t get every little detail. Showing the movie first is also a good way to raise interest in your students for the text. If you have chosen a book for them that they might not choose for themselves, letting them see the story on the big screen can peak their interest so they are more willing to put time into reading the book.

Using books and movies at the same time

My personal favorite is to go back and forth with the movie and the book. Since both offer different advantages, when I can I like to have students read a bit then watch a bit. It keeps them interested and allows me to have more flexibility with the activities I choose to do in class. This way neither form spoils the other, and students are getting a good balance between listening and reading exercises. I can also be sure to show the movie scenes first if students will be reading a particularly confusing part next or have students read first if a particular scene in the book gives a lot more detail than the movie does as is often the case.

You will have to decide what works best for you and your students, and it may not be the same sequence every time. But whatever you decide to do, here are some book movie combos that work great together.

3 Great Pairings That Work for ESL Students at Any Level

  1. 1

    Picture Books

    When you are using a picture book that goes along with a movie, you will probably want to read the book first. Since they are short and relatively easy to understand, students will get a foundational understanding on which to process the events on the screen. Some good combos at this level are How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, A Day with Wilbur Robinson (Meet the Robinsons), and Jumanji.

  2. 2

    Easy Novels

    If your students are beyond picture books and want a little more of a reading challenge, you might choose one of these easy to read novels. They are targeted to middle grade readers and should be okay for use with intermediate and advanced students. Some of these great pairings include Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Holes, and The Maze Runner.

  3. 3

    Advanced Novels

    If you are working with intermediate to advanced students, they might be looking for more of a challenge in the reading department. If they are ready to tackle a full blown novel but aren’t ready for War and Peace, try one of these books that also has a great movie to go along with it: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, The Hunger Games, and The Hobbit. Remember, the more difficult the reading selection, the more you might want to show selections of the movie either before reading a certain passage or at relatively the same time. Also keep in mind whether you are teaching American English or British English and let that factor into your choice of book.

If any of these combinations appeal to you but you aren’t sure your lower level students can handle the reading part, remember you have options.

You can choose only a selection for them to read rather than assigning the entire novel. They will still enjoy the book/movie pair up. But you can also choose to read abridged novels with your students or novels that have been simplified for ESL students. Though I prefer to use the original text when I can, there are times when modified texts are the best choice. Do what is best for you and your students – you know them better than anyone else after all. Just remember that no matter what level your students are at, pairing the movie with the book is a great way to make class fun and engaging, and there are lots of ways to make it work for you.

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