As a warm-up for my presentation in Braz-Tesol in July about movies in the classroom, I wrote this article for Brand New Routes, magazine published by Disal.
English on the screen: using movies in the classroom
by Vanessa Prata
Many times we teachers found ourselves running out of ideas to motivate the students, bring variety to the classes and integrate all the skills in a single lesson. The solution to all these problems may be in the use of movies in the classroom.
Why use movies?
First of all, because videos provide authentic listening material, helping teachers to connect the classes with students’ realities. Secondly, because movies are usually enjoyed by most people, bringing fun and more interest to the classes. Another advantage is the variety of topics that can be dealt with based on movies, from grammar points to discussion issues. Moreover, teachers can work with all the skills, by practicing listening to the dialogs, reading the subtitles in English, and providing further practice in speaking and writing with follow-up activities.
Which movies to use?
At a first glance, most movies could be adapted to be used in the classroom, except films with violent scenes or pornography, obviously. However, we always need to bear in mind our students’ age, background, level of English and, of course, their likes and dislikes when choosing a video. Knowing your students is the key to work successfully with movies. It is probably impossible to please all your students, but if most of them hate a specific type of movie, do not insist on using that.
Another point to concern is about scenes which show religious or polemical topics, which may sound aggressive to some students. Even if your intention is to stimulate a debate, predict what kind of reactions you might have in class and evaluate if all students will accept watching that.
It is also recommended to evaluate the language used in the scene, to avoid bad words, very technical or difficult expressions and even a bad diction from the actors. On the other hand, do not use only children’s films in groups of adults, or your classes will sound unrealistic. Idiomatic expressions and even bad words are part of everyday conversation, but the teacher’s role is to make students aware of register and appropriateness.
How to work with movies?
There are several ways to deal with movies. Once again, it is important to evaluate your students and what exactly you want to practice with the activity. Movies can be used to practice all skills: listening, reading, speaking and writing; therefore, defining your objective is the first step.
If your intention is to practice (or test) listening, the most obvious exercise is to play the scene without subtitles and make questions about general comprehension. You could also ask students to focus on specific information and even a grammar structure or some expressions.
Reading the subtitles in English is also valid, if your intention is to practice more reading than listening or if you want to focus on pronunciation, so that students can compare what they listen to what they read. It is also a good opportunity to draw students’ attention to specific vocabulary or grammar points. If you are using the movie to stimulate a debate afterwards, reading the subtitles can lower students’ anxiety and help them understand better the scene. Extensive reading can also be fostered by suggesting that students read the books which some movies were based on and compare the versions.
Speaking activities can be performed while watching the scene or after that, in a discussion or debate, for example. During the movie, you can play the scene without the sound and students have to dub it, playing the role of the characters. Another activity to practice speaking is when half the class watches a scene and describes it to their partners, who are not watching the film, and then they switch roles.
Writing can also be practiced during the movie, when students have to take notes of words and sentences they understand (in basic levels) or focus on specific vocabulary (from intermediate levels on). However, another good option is to practice writing as a follow-up activity, maybe as homework, when students have to write a paragraph or a composition, depending on the level, about the film. They could write about what they liked or disliked in the film, summarize the story or go to denser discussions, stating their opinions in an essay about topics presented in the movie.
Regardless of the activity you choose, bear in mind that there is no point in showing the whole movie (students can watch the film at home and we usually do not have much time in the classroom). Choosing a scene from about 3 to 7 - 8 minutes is more appropriate. Another aspect to be considered is the frequency you use the movies. As it is supposed to bring variety to the class and be an element of surprise to motivate the students, you cannot overuse it, showing a film every week, for example. When you start a new group, try to take a look at the whole program for that level and choose in advance which movies can be used and in which lessons.
As any other activity you apply in class, it is important to have a feedback when you use a movie, both from yourself, in a self-evaluation, and from the students. Find out whether they enjoyed the activity or not and the reasons why, if you achieved your objectives, what went wrong and what suggestions they have for different activities. Was the movie appropriate for their age and level? Did they like it? Were they able to complete the activity? Did you manage time well?
Suggested movies and related topics