How to teach English with movies


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How to teach English with movies

Using movies for teaching can have amazing results with pre-intermediate English, or higher level students. It is true that to do some of these activities the students need to be well motivated, but sometimes just introducing the idea of using movies will motivate them. Many of the students have learned most of their English from textbooks, so using movies is fresh and exciting for them. Here are some important things to consider before you start, and the split viewing method I use in the classroom.

Choosing a movie

We need to keep focused here. If you choose the wrong movie, it will not work, and you will probably never try to teach with movies again. The goal is to get the students to speak English, and not to teach any kind of moral values. Of course, sex, violence and bad language are also to be avoided. Personally, I favor comedy movies that the students are unlikely to have seen. My students are 18 ~ 22 year olds, and I have found the movies featured on the Movie page work very well. They are all easy to break down into short clips for teaching purposes. Let’s take Dirty Rotten Scoundrels as and example to demonstrate how to approach this with a class.

What you need in the classroom

When I first started teaching English with movies, all I had was a black board, a TV and video player. My classrooms now have a DVD player, a teacher PC, and big screen with a projector that looks good even with the lights on. This is perfect, as I can switch from DVD to PC and back very easily.

Split viewing

Introducing split viewing will take about 50 minutes. Tell the class they are going use a movie for English learning, and show this on the screen.

Page 2 of this file English Vocabulary DRS Demo. Talk the students through the split viewing method making it very clear that the listeners must not watch the movie. They must look at their notebooks and try to catch a few words from the clip. They should make notes and try to guess what happened in the clip. Tell them, if they can hear one or two words, that is really good.*  Play the first clip with subtitles on, it is only about a minute. It is funny to watch the students getting settled in to watch the movie, and then it stops so quickly. You can see how short the clip is from the vocabulary below.

  1. *After a few clips, they will start tuning in and hearing much more. Many of the students enjoy the listening challenge and guessing what happened. It is important to build their confidence by making the task easy. I leave the subtitles on in the students’ language for the same reason.

Pause the movie and blank the screen after the first clip. Remind them that the listener speaks first telling the viewer any words or sounds they heard, and what they think happened. The viewer confirms, encourages, and then explains the story. They struggle with this as they don’t have the vocabulary, so after a few minutes, switch to PC and show this on the screen.

Get the students to copy the words into the front of their Top 5 notebooks. Encourage them to ask you about the words instead of using a dictionary. It is much quicker, and you can explain them in the context of the story. Then, tell the viewers to explain the story again using the new vocabulary. They are usually very happy that they can tell the story more easily and accurately. Switch the listeners and viewers, and repeat the process. Try to make sure you switch at least once in the first class.

You will feel the energy level notching up several times as the process unfolds. You will also see a lot of smiling faces. Now they understand the method, but movie is a mystery to them, so this is a good time to introduce it. Show page one and get the students to copy it into the front of their notebooks and encourage them to ask you about the words.

Finally, ask the students to choose 5 new words to learn and add to their Top 5 vocabulary list later as homework. When they have done that, get them to close their notebooks and tell their partners the words they chose to learn.

In the following classes

Start the class by asking the students to close their notebooks and tell their partners their Top 5 words and sentences from the week before. You can also do random written quizzes, as described on the Top 5 vocabulary page.

Ask the students to look at the words in the front of their notebooks from last week, and remind each other what happened in the movie. Then, show all the clips from the previous week to the class.

Get the students to scissor paper stone for who will be the first listener or viewer, and do some more split viewing.

Final thoughts

In the beginning, I said that this method is not for the faint hearted. Preparation is important, so make sure you know exactly where you are going to pause the movie for maximum effect. The vocabulary that I show on screen is not fixed. I have the basic words in a Word document, but adjust them to suit the level of the class while they are watching the clip. Of course, you need to be moving around the classroom to keep the students using English and encouraging them.

It takes about one semester (15x90 minute classes) to cover a complete movie. In the classes, we work on 3 to 5 clips. It is really rewarding to see the transformation from those first tentative steps the students take in the beginning, to the confidence they have in the end. They know they have made progress in their listening and speaking. It works, and it’s great fun!