Most English teachers treat movies as a break. You’ve been teaching your students for a while and you’re kind of out of ideas. The students have been studying for a while, and they’d like a movie day to break up the routine and just relax. Fine and dandy. Heck, it’s a pretty good idea to have a chill out and let the language soak in day. But movies can be so much more than that.
To use movies in the classroom well, first you should know that watching the whole thing straight through isn’t making the most of it. Unless the students are at a really high level, it’s going to be hard for them to even concentrate for that long. Don’t forget that while you’re watching the movie effortlessly, they’re working hard. In the same way that you wouldn’t lecture your students for 90 minutes and then expect them to start using everything you talked about, you can’t expect them to take in the whole movie.
In other words, you should use movies in the classroom the same way that you use everything else. Here is a list of activities that will work well with just about any movie.
Objectives: Get the students to predict what the movie will be about in a memorable (if silent) way. Have students practice detailed description skills and finding ways to say something with limited vocabulary (i.e. circumlocution).
Activities: Bring one student to the front and give them a board marker.
Bring another student to the front. Sit the second student in a chair facing the rest of the class (so they can’t see the board).
Give the second student the case of the movie (or show them the poster for the movie online or show them the closest picture you have that has something to do with the movie).
The second student should now describe the picture while the first student draws it on the board. The class should help the second student describe the picture.
Start the movie
After about 30 minutes
Objectives: Make sure the students understand the movie. Students practice descriptive speaking skills.
Activities: Ask each student to draw one scene from the segment of the movie that you just watched. Then, have them stand in chronological order around the room. Ideally, they will have to speak in English to sort it out. If two students drew the exact same thing, and you really want to punish them, have them draw more until it’s clear who is first and who is second.
Have each student explain, in English, what their scene is. Ask questions that draw out descriptions of the plot/characters/setting/etc. As needed, explain what happened. (But do comprehension checks afterwards.) Then, put the movie back on.
After about 60 minutes
Objectives: Create energy for the next part of the movie. Do a quick comprehension check for major developments. Practice intonation and word stress.
Activities: On the board, write the names of all the major characters in the movie. (The students should help you.)
In a paper bag, place strips of paper with twenty lines from the movie (you can write them while showing the movie if you’d like.)
Bring one student to the front of the classroom. They should draw a line from the bag and read it. The class should guess who said it. (Correct the students’ intonation/word stress as necessary.)
Repeat until all of the lines are gone and then start the movie again.
After about 90 minutes
Notes: Skip ahead if your movie is 90 minutes or shorter (or you could include this and space the activities out over shorter time spans). If your movie is much longer, you might space out the activities a little more.
Objectives: Have students demonstrate understanding of the movie so far and predict what will happen next. Practice talking about the possible future.
Activities: On the board, write:
Discuss what they mean and highlight the use of modal verbs and time phrases.
Each student should write at least two sentences saying what they think will happen next in the movie.
Put the students into two parallel lines. Each student should be facing another student. (If you have an odd number, place one student at the head of both lines and form a group of three.)
The students should share what they think will happen next for one minute. Then, each student in one line should move one spot to the left. The person at the end should go around to the beginning. Have the students talk to four or five partners before finishing the movie.
After the movie
Objectives: Solidify practiced structure(s).
Have the students give themselves a round of applause! Watching a movie in a foreign language and understanding it is hard, but they did it. Wow.
Give the students resources to go to if they want to solidify the structure. Here are some examples: