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Chaplin & Keaton Silent Movies For English Language Learners

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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. You can read about how I use them in The Best Popular Movies/TV Shows For ESL/EFL (& How To Use Them).

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.

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

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

3 Comments

  1. great idea!!

  2. Thank you for this note. Interesting.

    Some movies you mentioned are categorized into silent movies, so how did your students understand the language? What language? ummm I mean how’s the learning process? How they communicate each other after watching those movies? I think I need a brief story of teaching and learning process in your English class. Thank you. :)

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