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The Best Popular Movies/TV Shows For ESL/EFL (& How To Use Them)

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'Students watch oral history videos, and guided by teachers, discuss content.' photo (c) 2011, EIFL - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

You might want to see our book excerpt, Eight Ways to Use Video With English Language Learners


And check out The Best Fun Videos For English Language Learners In 2013 — So Far

Check Out my related New York Times post

Movies and television shows can be an effective tool for teaching and learning English (or, for that matter, any academic subject) if used strategically and not as a “babysitting” device.

I thought it might be useful to prepare a “The Best…” list resources that teachers might find useful related to using video in the ESL/EFL classroom. I’ve appreciated the suggestions that readers have offered and, even if they didn’t make my list, I’ve the titles that they have recommended near the end of post.

Before I list specific movies or shows, I’ll begin by some ideas, and sites, where you can get more recommendations on how to use video in the classroom.

I’ve hardly ever shown a video clip for more than ten minutes during one class period. There are many ways to use them, but I’ve primarily done so in two ways. One is just to show a clip connected to the theme we might be studying at the time, and then have students write what happened chronologically.

The other is a technique called “Back To The Screen” that I adapted from Zero Prep: Ready To Go Activities For The Language Classroom by Laurel Pollard and Natalie Hess. I pick a clip from a movie (the highway chase scene from one of the Matrix movies, for example. I then divide the class into pairs with one group facing the TV and the other with their back to it. Then, after turning off the sound, I begin playing the movie. The person who can see the screen tells the other person what is happening. Then, after awhile, I switch the groups around. Afterwards, the pairs need to write a chronological sequence of what happened, which we in class. Finally, everyone watches the clip, with sound, together. Students really enjoy activity.

Two excellent sites that offer countless other ideas about how to use videos in teaching and learning English are Ressources pour le College and The English Learner Movie Guide. The resources they offer are just too numerous to list here. In addition to teaching activities, you can get suggestions for which movies might work best for specific purposes.

You might also be interested in The Best Movie Scenes To Use For English-Language Development.

Now I’ll list what I believe to be The Best Popular Movies/TV Shows For ESL/EFL (by the way, links usually are connected to Amazon). I’m doing ranking a bit differently from my past lists. All the ones I list I think are comparable in terms of usefulness in the classroom. However, there are two that I think are stand-outs. I’ll save them for the end.

Here are my picks:

I like Brum , a little talking car that has all sorts of adventures. Younger and older students find it entertaining.

Animated Tales Of The World from HBO is an excellent series of folktales from throughout the world. I’ve used them to teach geography, history, and writing.

The Pink Panther series of movies have been great, specifically the parts where Peter Sellers fights his man-servant Cato. These hilarious slapstick scenes are wonderful times to teach vocabulary related to home. However, I offer recommendation with some hesitancy, since some could view it as perpetuating stereotypes and find it offensive. I’d be interested in hearing opinions on issue. Certainly, none of my students, who are mostly Asian, have felt that way. I’ve engaged students in kind of discussion everytime I’ve shown the movies.

Father Of The Bride with Steve Martin (and its sequel) provides some hilarious and teachable scenes about family, food, and home.

David Deubelbeiss, from EFL Classroom 2.0, and I agree that the movie Bigis a great one. In fact, David is going to upload a bunch of classroom activities related to the movie on his site. (Since I originally posted list, David has more ideas and resources here.)

The Bear provides a lot of opportunities to discuss serious topics. It doesn’t have a whole lot of dialogue, so it’s very accessible to Beginning English Language Learners.

Globe Trekker has a ton of excellent travel videos. I’ve used them in all of my English, Geography, and History classes, and they’re very accessible.

I’m ranking two collections of TV shows as the Top Two videos for teaching and learning ESL/EFL.

Number two is America’s Funniest Home Videos. It has so many editions — family, pets, sports, animals — that you can find something to teach just about anything. They’re already divided into short clips. My only caveat, though, is that a few of them seem cruel and/or disgusting to me. So I screen them before I use a clip in class.

My absolute favorite show to use is Mr. Bean — The Whole Bean. Mr. Bean is very accessible to even Beginning English Language Learners, and he is involved in so many situations that you can find a clip that will support whatever unit you’re teaching. And he’s so funny! David Deubelbeiss at EFL Classroom 2.0 has collected the best Mr. Bean videos for English Language Learners.

Readers made a number of other suggestions. I didn’t include some of them in my list just because I haven’t seen the shows.

Sebastian recommends Seinfield and Joey, specifically the episode called Joey and the ESL. I definitely want to see that — how often is an ESL class shown in a TV situation comedy?

EFL Geek recommends several movies, including An Inconvenient Truth, Almost Famous, and Stand By Me. For TV, he likes Lost, Corner Gas, Prison Break and Smallville. I did a quick and informal poll of my students, and they agreed that Smallville helped them with their English a lot.

I regularly use Connect With English, a video series that’s designed to help students learn English and be engaging. It seems to be one of the better ones of its type out there. Though the supporting materials are good, you do have to pay for them. I thought readers might be interested in one page worksheet that we use instead. Students have to make predictions based on the title of the episode, explain if their predictions were correct, write several questions about the episode that they ask a partner afterwards (who then writes the answers). It’s good listening, speaking, and writing practice.

(I’m adding Movie Lens to The Best Popular Movies/TV Shows For ESL/EFL.  It’s a new recommendation/search engine for movies, and it’s by far the most effective tool — for teachers, at least – I’ve found to search for movies.

The other typical sites that let you search for movies do it by genre (adventure, romance, etc.).  Movie Lens is the first that I’ve found that, in addition to searching by genre, lets you search by what they call “tags.”  For example, I searched for “World War II” and got an extensive list of World War II-related movies — a list that I would not have found through Amazon, Netflix, or any other tool on The Best Places To Get Blog, Website, , Book, Movie, & Music Recommendations list.

is particularly helpful to me in the Social Science classes I teach to English Language Learners, where I often use short snippets of movies. )

Nanocrowd has been written-up by Read Write Web, and their post is probably worth a look.  It’s another way to find good movies for ESL/EFL.  Basically, you start typing in the name of a movie that’s similar to what you’re looking for (as you type letters, movie titles will appear). Click “enter” and you will be led to a page filled with similar movies and descriptive “tags” for those movies, too. Click on the tags, and you’ll see more of the same.

The Internet History Sourcebook Project is an extraordinary collection of history resources.  I’m particularly impressed with their Modern History in the Movies, Ancient History in the Movies, and Medieval Movies. In those three collections, movies are categorized by era and described. It’s a gold mine for any Social Studies teacher, and especially for those of us who teach English Language Learners. I use very short clips of movies, following by a writing/thinking prompt, all the time.

American History Film Resources also offers a good listing of film resources for different periods of American history.

Movieclips has immediately become an indispensable website in my “teachers’ repertoire” of links.

It has thousands of short video clips from movies and they’re not blocked by our content filter! And they’re available without registering — except for clips that have “mature” content.

That in itself makes it a wonderful resource. But that’s only part of why I like new site so much.

What makes it a real winner is that that clips are categorized by theme, character, setting, mood, and more. They’re incredibly detailed.

kind of organization makes it a gold mine for English Language Learners and their teachers. A ready-made video to teach vocabulary or an academic concept is at your finger-tips. Plus, they’re easily used for an activity like “Back To The Screen.”

In addition, users can create questions about the clip that the site will host. That’s a nice feature, and an opportunity for students to write for an authentic audience. The only tricky part is that in order to do so you have to register for the site, which is easy enough. However, that also gives you access to the mature content clips, so you’d only want to have students use it under supervision.

AnyClip has indexed and categorized scenes from twenty movies, and will soon be doing the same with 200 more month. It’s categorization system is not nearly as sophisticated as Moveclips, but it could still be useful.

David Deubelbeiss at EFL Classroom 2.0 has given us all a gift by compiling his Top 100 Youtube videos for EFL. You might find The Best Ways To Access Educational YouTube Videos At School helpful to use with his list.

Using film and moving image to enrich ESOL teaching and learning is a very nice listing of different ways to use film with English Language Learners. It was written by Cormac Conway and Michaela Salmon.

Meltinpop is a new site dedicated to what they call “free association.” Users identify “themes” related to anything they are interesting in — songs related to food, movie scenes with car chases, scenes from television shows about doctors, etc. Other users then respond with their suggestions. It’s got quite a few “themes” already started. could be very handy for ESL/EFL teachers looking for multimedia to connect to the thematic unit or specific lesson they want to teach. You can only log-in through Facebook, so it probably wouldn’t be workable for student use.

David Deubelbeiss some nice resources and ideas in his post, Using Silent Video in the EFL Classroom.

I’ve always asked students to watch English movies or television programs as part of their weekly homework, but David Deubelbeiss writes much more thoughtfully about the idea in post on what he calls Extensive Watching.

WingClips has organized a huge number of short clips from movies thematically — perseverance, responsibility — and then lets you show them from the site or embed them elsewhere. Important caveats to keep in mind before checking it out are that it clearly comes from a religious, and Christian, perspective, so a number of the themes — adultery, for example, you probably just want to skip. In addition, it appears to have an exceptionally large number of war-related movie clips (“Machine Gun Preacher”?), but that might be a false impression. As in any website, you just have to pick and choose what’s useful.

Inspire My Kids has short video clips and descriptions of people that are designed to inspire students.

Learn English Through Movies is from clubEFL.

Check out Twitter Chat summary from #ELTchat on using movies and videos in and out of class

A Neat Way To Use A Video In Class

Very Helpful Research On Using Photos & Videos In Lessons

I learned about the Miniscule video series from the great site, The Kid Should See . Here is how they described it:

A French-made collection of short stories, Minuscule is about the private lives of ants, snails, bees, caterpillars, wasps, spiders and other tiny creatures, all told without any speaking at all.

In some ways, they’re like an animated Mr. Bean short — perfect for ELL’s. They’re engaging, brief, and provide plenty of opportunities for students to describe what they saw in writing and orally. You can find a bunch of them on YouTube. Here are twe of them:

Of course, English Central may be the very best place on the Web for videos and ELL’s.

In video, Dan Meyer demonstrates how the movie search engine Subzin could be very useful for teachers. I would strongly recommend you read his short, but elegant, post describing how he used it to create video. Subzin is a search engine for quotes in movies and series. For example, here’s a page of results after I searched “asking questions” and I see some good candidates for The Best Videos Showing The Importance Of Asking Good Questions list. ESL/ELL teachers could find very handy when they’re looking for clips to support thematic units like food, or specific grammar functions. Now, sit back and enjoy Dan’s work (though, again, be sure to read his post about it, too):

50 ways to use video in the classroom is by David Deubelbeiss.

David Deubelbeiss has come up some very useful student sheets to use with ELLs when showing videos

Lessons On Movies is a new site created by the incomparable Sean Banville. It’s the latest addition to Sean’s “empire” of free and helpful websites for English language learners and their teachers.

Learning English through a TV series is a helpful blog post.

Video In The Classroom is by David Deubelbeiss.

I think the old silent movies of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton are great for English Language Learners.

I remember when I first played a scene from a Chaplin film years ago, all the Hmong refugees in my class started yelling, “Charlie! Charlie!” His silent films were played a lot in refugee camps.

As with practically all videos, I never play a full one — just a scene, and typically one that ties into the thematic unit that we’re studying at the time — home, work, etc., or if we’re learning about history I can tie something into it. Since both Keaton and Chaplin made so many movies, there’s usually a funny or action-packed scene that I can connect to anything I’m teaching.

Open Culture has a list of links to free online videos of both Chaplin and Keaton movies, though many are missing from their lists. You can just search YouTube, too.

I’ve embedded two Chaplin films that I use — one is Pay Day, which has scenes I use when we learn about work, and the other is Gold Rush, which I’ve used when we’re learning about history. If you have some favorites that you use, let me know what that are!

Also, just an aside, I usually show one of Chaplin’s movies to my non-ELL classes during the year, too, just so they know about him. I have never had a student in my mainstream classes say they knew who he was prior to watching a clip I show.

Using Video in the Classroom is from ELT Experiences.

Vicki Hollet has published the 35th ELT Blog Carnival (formerly known as the ESL/EFL/ELL Blog Carnival) and it’s a great one focusing on Teaching and Learning with Video.

“Simon’s Cat” Videos Are Perfect For English Language Learners

The New “Connect With English” Site Has Got To Be One Of This Year’s Best New Sites For ELLs

“What Is This Animal Thinking or Saying (If It Could Talk)?” Is A Fun Language Development Exercise

An ESL Teacher’s Good Friend –”America’s Funniest Home Videos” — Turns 25

How to use film creatively in class: teaching tips and ideas is a chat (you can read the transcript at the bottom) at The Guardian.

How can film help you teach or learn English? is from The British Council.

Feel free to offer reactions and other suggestions in the comments sections.

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

23 Comments

  1. Hi Larry. Thank you for including my suggestions. When I first saw this episode I thought this is great fun, and it’s very difficult to watch something from America concerning EFL.
    Thanks again!

  2. Larry,

    I’m glad you agree about the movie BIG! I’ve uploaded those materials for teachers on our main page discussion forum. I also posted a blog entry listing a lot of stuff about movies and their use in the classroom. I especially like the Nat. Film board of Canada’s animation stuff….. http://www.nfb.ca Click animation.

    Mr. Bean is a great one for the describing exercise you mentioned…very thematic and good for teaching.

    Great topic, thanks for sharing…. I will also mention too that on EFL classroom I’ve preselected hundreds of videos that work in the classroom. Just click our A/V player. All videos can also be download and played without internet access. My fav. is the Lily – the Geography Queen video! I have students try to match this 2 year olds knowledge….

    David
    http://eflclassroom.ning.com

  3. I have used the movies Stand and Deliver and Mrs. Doubtfire with great success.

  4. Although FRIENDS is getting a bit dated, I still find it works very well in the classroom. The English is pretty easy, and the show remains interesting and funny — all pluses for English students. In addition, each scene tends to last three minutes, which proves perfect for questions and key language. Best of all, the show follows the same characters through somewhat normal everyday life, which means that the students get to know each person. With the familiar intonation, pronunciation, pat phrases, and so on of the characters, students struggle less with each sentence. They are free to focus on specific words, sentences, intonation, or other language points selected by the teacher.

  5. Great getting this list. One summer school I had a three week project that the students wrote a “chapter”(page) each day, then they typed it to present in a book.I did not tell them what was going to happen next until the day we discussed all possibilities and had ideas on the board, before they started writing. The groups were ELD 1/2, Eld 3/4 combinations.
    I used Swiss Family Robinson/ Treasure Island/Castaway/when doing a writing project called Wrecked. The students on the first day describe somewhere overseas that they would like to go on vacation.
    We have a web on the board that they can pick words for their own web, and as many words that describe the things they need to prepare, take and do before going ..
    They are allowed to go by ship or by air. The story ends when they get on board.. the frist day!
    The next day I run the videos(much easier to prep!) or DVd to the crash points. Then we talk about what they might have been doing before something happened, what might have happened to cause a crash, and how they end up being rescued….(just reach land) that is it for the second day!!
    Then the next one is first impressions, survival on an island,etc, things that they can eat, use as weapons, shelter, where they find fresh water,etc.
    Next one is while exploring they find a skeleton(usually borrow the decrepid one with a hand missing from the Biology department!! and have it covered up with a blanket when the students come in !!!They have to describe what they were doing when they found the skeleton, then what they surmise might have haoppened fthat it has a hand missing , and then they discover that in the other hand is a crumpled piece of paper(a map!!)
    There are excerpts of Treasure Island that can highlight other dangers too.
    They going exploring the next day to find the x on the map( I get them to draw and map and use diluted tea or coffee to give effect of an old piece of paper). great way to introduce landforms/ water ways etc. great discussion on what they find .. because at this time they need to decided how there story is going to end… because it will depend on what they find!!!
    At the end of Castaway he finally gets rescued, Family Ronison actually decide to stay. Need to show both… before the last day Going Home.
    Putting the books together and decorating the cover and binding them with clear contact paper, the students are really proud of their stories. The Final is reading their story to the class!!Loved reading the stories. Great for introducing past tense.Hope you enjoy it as much as I did… I use it for Special Education too.

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  7. Thanks so much for this great list! I am always looking for good movie clips. One way I use movies is to divide the class into two groups. One group is responsible for noting the description of what is happening. For example, it was raining, the man was angry, etc. The other group is responsible for specific actions. For example, the umbrella blew away, the car broke down. Then I pair up one person from each group and they have to recreate the story using the sentences they had. It is a great way to differentiate between actions and descriptions and makes some great stories.

  8. Mr Bean is a great one to use in class as the slapstick humor can be understood by all ages and cultures. Plus there are so many different exercises you can create from Mr Bean clips.

    Jon.

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  10. This is beyond helpful! Thanks so much for compiling and offering such great reviews of all the resources.

  11. I’ve bookmarked AnyClip, as it seems to be extremely useful.

    I was surprised to find that MovieClips videos can be accessed only via Facebook.

  12. Larry,

    I found your website through edutopia.org and oh my goodness! Your suggestions are great! I really appreciate that you gave a lot of different suggestions on where to find videos and what I can use the videos for. I teach 2nd and 3rd special education and I think the caterpillar shorts would be great for them! Especially because the second graders are learning about caterpillars and the stages that it goes through to become a butterfly! Great tie-in to their mainstream instruction- I am just so grateful for finding this blog as a great resource!

    Thanks,
    Ms. Kim

    P.S. Thank you so much for putting a link you to your blog article “The Best Ways To Access Educational YouTube Videos At School”. Hawaii DEO has blocked youtube so thank you for this extra info for me to get around it at school :)

  13. Thank you so much for your work on this article. It’s so useful! I can’t wait to try out a few activities you mentioned. Thanks for linking all the resources :)!

  14. I am an ESOL teacher in Mexico. I teach hgh school students. I will try some of your ideas and links for my classes. Thank you for sharing and helping other teachers learn and grow.

  15. Hi Larry!
    I´m dealing with the topic work and job and It would nice if you could recommend me a movie o a clip related to this topic. My students are 13 yaers old and they have an intermediate level of English.
    Thanks a bunch.

  16. Hi Larry, thanks for the list. May I propose to your readers my own blog which my colleague and I have compiled with over 200 video tutorials using movies and songs? We have been building it since last August and we support Edcanvas tutorials and power point 2010 for teachers to use
    http://www.davidmearns.blogspot.com

    Cheers!

  17. Hi Larry,

    thanks for mentioning my “50″ list and also Video appreciation worksheets… Also, just came on this video (maybe you know about it already – I know you’ll like it and really a great prompt to get students writing/discussing how fortunate they are and issues of child workers/slavery. http://community.eflclassroom.com/xn/detail/826870:Video:330617?xg_source=activity

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  19. I enjoyed glancing through your blog. A helpful listing of sources for info on teaching with TV, movies! Thank you! Mark Turnoy – Chung-Ang University, Seoul, S. Korea

  20. Larry,
    Thank you for sharing your ideas about this. I enjoyed reading about some of the activities you do when showing movies to ESL students. I recently did an exercise with Romeo and Juliet with my ESL students. I showed them a clip from the movie and then stopped the movie. The students then had to tell the class what they thought would happen next. After they shared their ideas, I showed them the next portion of the video. After that, I stopped the video and had the students work in partners to write the next part, or what they thought would happen next, in the video. The students shared their writings and then viewed the next part of the video. This became a lesson in making predictions and inferences and worked very well with my students.

  21. Hi Larry!
    I wrote a post sharing sitcoms halloween scenes, history and quick activities.
    Here it is:http://informedteachers.blogspot.com.br/2012/10/halloween.html?m=1
    Thank you for sharing such a variety of resources!!!!!

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