Using Movies in the ESL Classroom

 Joe McVeigh

With Academy Award season upon us, ESL teachers may wish to think about how they can use movies in the classroom. Movies provide a wonderful source of language input for students. They can provide valuable exposure to language and also to culture, as well as being an excellent source of new vocabulary along with slang and idioms. They can be used to help students work on many language skills including listening, reading, speaking, and pronunciation.

Film selection criteria

Some teachers choose to use short excerpts from movies. If you have a class in which you meet with students for several hours a week, you may be able to use entire films with them. There are several criteria to consider when selecting films for use with students. First off, consider the level of interest and relevance for your students. A group of 18-year-old students in an intensive English program may have different interests in movie than a group of fifth graders or a class of adult immigrants and refugees. Be sure that the actors in the film speak relatively clearly, and that the storyline is not too difficult to follow. Analyze the language to ensure that it isn’t too difficult. Consider the content of the film to make sure that it’s appropriate for your students in terms of the language and themes involved. If you wish to use an entire film, check on the availability of a written script, which can be extremely helpful.

Practical considerations

Carefully preview the film in advance, so that you are aware of potentially difficult language or challenging themes for your students. Also check your equipment to make sure that everyone in the room can see the screen clearly and that the sound quality is adequate. If you want to find a particular section in the film, note the time on a counter so that you can access the right spot easily.

Classroom activities

Most films these days are available with closed captions that you can turn on or off. You can choose whether or not to turn on the captions. After viewing the film or an excerpt from the film, you can select comprehension questions or discussion questions to use with your students. You may also wish to pull out various bits of vocabulary, slang, idioms, or new expressions.

If you obtain a complete script of the movie for your students, you can assign them to read it either for homework or in class. You can ask them to act out scenes from the movie, or give them writing assignments based on the film.

For speaking practice, choose a scene from the film that contains a lot of activity. Put students in pairs with one facing the screen and the other with their back to the screen. Turn down the sound, then play the excerpt. Ask the student facing the screen to describe what’s happening to the student who can’t see. Then have the two partners change positions.

To really give your students a reading workout. Choose a film in a language other than English that has English subtitles!

General Discussion Questions about Movies

Here are some questions you can use with your students for a general discussion about movies.

  1. Generally speaking, what kind of films do you like? Comedy? Drama? Romance? Other?
  2. Often, at the end of the year, American film critics like to put together a “top ten list” of the ten best films of the year. If you were going to put together a top ten list for yourself, what movies would be on that list? Give reasons for your selections.
  3. Who is your favorite actor? Why do you like him or her?
  4. What qualities should a good actor have?
  5. Many people believe that the American (Hollywood) film industry has too much influence on the way that people think about the United States, about men and women, and about fantasy and reality. Do you feel that Hollywood has a distorted image of the U.S.?
  6. Some people think that studying film is not very helpful for learning English, it is only entertainment. What is your opinion? Has studying film been helpful for your English ability?  How could it be more helpful?

Sample Post-Viewing Discussion Questions for a Movie

  1. What is the meaning of the title of the film?
  2. How would you describe the mood, feeling, and story of this film to someone who was not familiar with it and who had never seen it before?
  3. What was your favorite moment in the film?
  4. What was your least favorite moment in the film?
  5. Who is your favorite character in the film?
  6. What part did you think was the funniest?
  7. What part did you think was the most special for you?
  8. List three new vocabulary words or expressions that you learned from this movie.

Instructions for Students to Practice Acting out a Scene from a Movie

  • With 1-3 other students, choose a scene from one of the films that we have watched to act out in front of the class.
  • The scene that you select should be an important one in the movie (not something trivial).
  • The scene, when enacted, should last about two minutes (or less), so choose your scene carefully.
  • It is not necessary to memorize your lines or to bring or use props or costumes, though you may do this if you wish.
  • Do not improvise new dialog for the scene. Use only the written dialog from the film.
  • When acting out the scene, use the same actions as the characters in the movies. Do not read directly from the script.  Remember, you are supposed to be speaking, not reading.
  • Try to use the correct pronunciation. Be as fluent and as accurate as you can.
  • Speak loudly and clearly so as to be heard by everyone.

Movie Vocabulary Homework Assignment

  1. For the next class meeting make a list of vocabulary words which are new to you from our film script. Your assignment is to find words and expressions from p. ______ to p. ________Your list should include at least ___________ words and expressions.
  2. Using a dictionary and consulting others, find an accurate definition or meaning of the word or expression.
  3. On your list include:
  • the page number in the script where it is found
  • the word or expression
  • whether the word or expression is commonly used or not
  • whether the word or expression is polite to use or not
  • the meaning

Example:

Page Expression Common? Polite? Meaning
17 Put his foot in his mouth somewhat OK Say something embarrassing or foolish
  1. You may work together with others who are working on the same pages.
  2. Make enough copies of your worksheet to class for everyone in the class. 

Sample Vocabulary from the film When Harry Met Sally

Here are some vocabulary terms and expressions from When Harry Met Sally that you could assign students to learn:

time to kill; to fix someone up with someone; there is no point (in doing something); to come down with something ; affront; to hit it off with someone; to bump into someone; I couldn’t agree more

Successful Films

A couple of films that I have used successfully in the classroom with students in an intensive English program include The Princess Bride and When Harry Met Sally. What are some films that you have used successfully in the classroom? What activities did you use with them?


Joe McVeigh is a teacher, teacher trainer, and independent educational consultant based in Middlebury, Vermont. He has worked in a variety of countries and has taught at Cal State LA, Caltech, USC, Middlebury College, the Bread Loaf School of English, and Saint Michael’s College. He is an active member of the TESOL International Association and has worked as an English language specialist for the U.S. Department of State. He is co-author of Tips for Teaching Culture from Pearson along with other books for students of English. In addition to talks and workshops at professional conferences, Joe contributes to the field through his website, which contains videos, resources, and presentation slides and handouts at www.joemcveigh.org.

New Insights into Grammar Practice from Cognitive Science

stacy 

New Insights into Grammar Practice from Cognitive Science

By Stacy Hagen

Grammar practice, particularly at the sentence level, may bring up associations of rote drills or mindless repetition. As teachers, we’re supposed to focus on activities that are communicative or task-based. Yet, as Dörnyei (2009) points out, communicative language teaching is based on learning by doing and does not look at how people actually learn. Some second language researchers have turned to cognitive science to look at what is happening in the adult brain as we learn, and findings related to memory and skill acquisition have important implications for how we practice the skills. Let’s take a look at a few key points.

Automatization

Our working memory, where we hold and process information for a short time, is limited to only a few items, perhaps four at the most. The good news is that we can create more room in our working memory by making a skill automatic. In skill acquisition theory, this is known as automatization. Once a behavior becomes automatic and moves to procedural memory (a part of our long-term memory), there is room to handle more complex tasks. An easy example to relate to comes from math. After children have learned their times tables and can automatically retrieve information from their procedural memory, their working memory is free to do more complicated math.

In language development, it is our procedural memory that allows us to speak automatically without focusing on grammar or syntax. DeKeyser (2007) found in his research with second language learners that repeated practice led to automatization: the error rate and reaction time declined as a result of practice.

In the classroom, we need to provide sufficient, repeated practice, and the repetition should be interesting and meaningful.  Role-play, games, stories, personalized practice, and fun fluency techniques, as in the following activity, are just a few of the ways we can make repetition relevant and engaging.

Midas

Incremental practice and spaced repetition

Another insight from cognitive science is the importance of presenting information in bite-size pieces. Breaking down exercises into shorter pieces or subtasks can help reduce the working memory load. Incremental step-by-step practice helps students absorb material better. Long grammar charts are useful references for teachers, but students benefit more from practicing fewer points at any one time.

Similarly, learners retain information better when practice is spread out over time (spaced practice) rather than condensed (massed practice). Gerunds and infinitives are a good example. Traditionally, grammar books cover them in one or two chapters, and there are often upwards of 200 to learn. Teaching gerunds and infinitives in small numbers from the beginning of the term, with lots of time for recycling, will result in deeper learning as the information moves into long-term storage.

As a profession, we have gotten away from asking students to memorize. Nevertheless, a useful technique called spaced repetition can help memorize some basic grammar structures. Basically, spaced repetition is a way of memorizing information by spacing out practice at specific intervals. Hinkel (2015), in her book Effective Curriculum for Teaching L2 Writing, says that spaced repetition is the single most important technique in all vocabulary teaching. Likewise, there are grammar structures that lend themselves to memorization: irregular past tense and past participle forms, gerunds and infinitives, preposition combinations with verbs and adjectives, and two- and three-word verbs. Students who know their past participles don’t need to worry about forms as they create sentences requiring perfect verbs.

flashcards

Pattern seeking

Another interesting finding is that the adult brain is a pattern-seeking organ. Carefully designed charts and exercises can help learners see patterns, which in turn, helps them make sense of the information they are learning. Having students complete exercises that specifically focus on grammatical patterns (such as in the example below) allows them to gain a fuller understanding of the target grammar they are learning.

movies

This is an exciting time for our field. Cognitive science is shedding new light on how we learn, and researchers have found that repeated, meaningful practice can help our students learn more efficiently and deeply.

The new edition of Understanding and Using English Grammar incorporates the findings from cognitive science research. Click here to learn more about the new edition.  

References

DeKeyser, Robert M. 2007. Practice in a Second Language, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Dörnyei, Zoltan. 2009. The Psychology of Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hinkel, Eli. 2015. Effective Curriculum for Teaching L2 Writing: Principles and Techniques, New York: Routledge.

 

Flipping Your Grammar Classes with the Azar-Hagen Grammar Series

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Geneva Tesh

The flipped classroom model is not a new concept for most ESL teachers. We’ve been flipping classes long before it became the latest trend in education, long before we even knew what to call it, understanding intuitively that students will not acquire a language by passively listening to an instructor’s lecture. Flipping the classroom happens naturally in conversation and reading classes, which lend themselves to class discussions or role-playing activities, or in writing classes, where students can spend valuable class time writing and peer editing. But what about grammar classes? This seems to be where many teachers get trapped in the common pitfalls of providing lengthy explanations and reading through a list of rules, followed by reciting answers to fill-in-the-blank activities. How can grammar teachers apply the flipped model to create engaging, dynamic lessons? Continue reading

M is for Motivation

Ken Beatty  Dr. Ken Beatty

“Daddy, can I please help take out the garbage?”

Now that my sons are teenagers, it’s been a while since I’ve heard requests like that. But when they were young, even the most mundane events and tasks seemed to appeal to them as exciting experiences and learning opportunities.

What changed?

All children learn, but some learn better, faster, and more easily than others. Certainly some learners are more able or less able, but a key difference in any learner’s acquisition of knowledge is motivation.

Motivation can be intrinsic or extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation, or internalized motivation, is one in which learners find their own personal reasons for learning. Extrinsic, or externalized, motivation is when learners are driven by others’ ideas of what to learn, how to learn it, and how success in learning might be measured. A challenge for teachers is how to move extrinsically motivated learners to become intrinsically motivated ones. Achieving this shift fosters better attitudes toward learning and develops a culture of lifelong learning. Continue reading

Explore the New Pearson ELT eCatalog

ESL16_CAT_CVR1

IMMEDIATE – INTERACTIVE – INFORMATIVE 

These three words describe the new eCatalog from Pearson ELT. This new eCatalog has everything you would expect from a catalog, and so much more! Do you want to know how to use the catalog – click here to watch the video!

What does the fully interactive catalog mean for you?
With just a click of a button, you can:

  • View hundreds of sample units from any level.
  • Listen to podcasts and audio samples.
  • Watch product and author video clips.
  • Search by key word, author, or ISBN.
  • Read articles by Pearson authors.
  • Link to easy online ordering.
  • E-mail your ELT Specialist directly.
  • Share with colleagues by e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter.

Start exploring today!