You might want to see our book excerpt, Eight Ways to Use Video With English Language Learners
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 sharing 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 shared the titles that they have recommended near the end of this post.
Before I list specific movies or shows, I’ll begin by sharing 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 share in class. Finally, everyone watches the clip, with sound, together. Students really enjoy this 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.
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 this recommendation with some hesitancy, since some could view it as perpetuating stereotypes and find it offensive. I’d be interested in hearing opinions on this issue. Certainly, none of my students, who are mostly Asian, have felt that way. I’ve engaged students in this 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 this list, David has shared 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.
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 this 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.
This 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 this 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.
This 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 this 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. This 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 shares 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 this 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.
I learned about the Miniscule video series from the great site, The Kid Should See This. 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 this 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 this 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 this 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.
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.
Feel free to offer reactions and other suggestions in the comments sections.
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