Using Movies to Teach ESL

by Becky Tarver Chase

Introductory Activities: Create an introduction to each movie that includes information such as the title, date of release, the names of the director and principal actors/actresses, and a few discussion questions to get students thinking about the themes of the movie. I have had pairs of students borrow a movie that the class will watch and create such an introduction for the class. You can also go online and find background information about the actors, directors, or the movie itself to distribute as a pre-movie reading assignment.

Close Listening Activities: Create a cloze exercise based on a short, important section of the movie [note: a cloze exercise is an exercise that requires students to fill in missing words in sentences]. Play the section several times so that students can fill in the blanks. For more advanced students, you could use a short section as a dictation if you believe in dictation as a valuable exercise. You might also try showing a dialogue section of the movie with the sound turned off and ask students to guess what the characters are saying to each other. Play the section with the sound on to let students check their guesses.

Characters: Have students write questions for characters in the film after they “know” the characters fairly well. Use the questions for small-group or whole-class discussions. You could also have students role-play characters from the movie dealing with new situations which you assign.

After Watching: Give students a chance to comment on any segment of the film you watch in class since movies are artistic, and expressing personal opinions and reactions to art is natural and expected. (In other words, don’t position yourself as the expert on movies.) Have students do a reaction writing or assign a more formal essay based on question or questions you provide. You could also have students create a flow chart to analyze the film showing the setting, the main characters, and the events in the story. I ask students to include the conflict since any good story has a conflict. Ask them what the hero/heroine wants, and who or what opposes him or her.

Other: It’s easy to find movie reviews on the Internet for students to read and emulate in a writing assignment. If there is a featured song in the movie, find the lyrics and learn them as a class. Besides all of that, provide lists of vocabulary and idioms that students may not know if you have time.

Best of luck!

Becky Tarver Chase is a freelance ESL materials writer.