'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

I’ve written a guest post for Edutopia titled 5-Minute Film Festival: 8 Videos for ELL Classrooms.

Check Out my related New York Times post

The Best Fun Videos For English Language Learners In 2015 – So Far (and lists from subsequent years)

The Best Movies To Show ELL Newcomers – Contribute Your Own Suggestions!

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.


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.

The movie Big is a great one.

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!

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, was video series that’s designed to help students learn English and be engaging. It was one of the better ones of its type out there, but it’s off-line now. I still thought readers might be interested in one page worksheet that we sometimes 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).  Unfortunately, Annenberg is no longer hosting it, but you can find it on YouTube through a search.

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 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.


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.

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.

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.

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


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.

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.

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.

“Values.com” Has Some Very Good SEL-Related Video Clips

Kieran Donaghy has a great new blog called Film in Action.

“La Linea” Are Great Video Animations For English Language Learners

Video For All has a ton of resources about using video in language-teaching.

Using video content effectively in your EFL classroom is from the English Language Teaching Global Blog.

Using Silent Video In The ELT Classroom is from EFL Classroom 2.0.

Your 10 favourite dance scenes is a great video collection from The BBC. Students could watch and describe what they see.

Using Video In The Classroom – A Teacher’s Handbook is from David Deubelbeiss.

Video For All is a European-funded site filled to the brim with ideas on how to use video in language-teaching.

It looks like an amazing resource.

Even better, Russell Stannard, who is the person who wrote about the site in his great email newsletter, has created a series of videos describing how to best use Video For All.

“Journeys In Film” Looks Like A Great Teaching Resource

Video for the English classroom is by James Keddie at the British Council.

How can film help you teach or learn English? is by Kieran Donaghy at the British Council.

Commercials in the classroom is from David Deubelbeiss

The Seven Best Film and Video Resource Sites is by Kieran Donaghy.

David Duebelbeiss has written two good posts: “Best” Videos for ELT Player and Video Lessons.

The Seven Best Short Films for ELT Students is from Kieran Donaghy.

The Seven Best Silent Short Films for Language Teaching is from Kieran Donaghy.

A Video Lesson Template is by TEFL Geek.

10 Creative Ways to Use Popular Movies in Fun ESL Lessons is from Fluent U.

The Seven Best Short Animated Films for the Language Classroom is from Kieran Donaghy.

How to get film-based lessons right is from The British Council.

Watch-Think-Write’ and Other Proven Strategies for Using Video in the Classroom is from KQED.

The On The Same Page blog has a simple lesson to use with this great video. It’s called Guess what is being advertised:

Learning English Voice Of America has seemed to up its video game recently. For years, their videos seemed to be designed by people who seemed to be competing to see who could make the process of learning English seem the most boring. However, they now have much more professionally produced videos.

Let’s Learn English, I think, is the most intriguing feature in their new collection. It’s an online video course with a story line and interactive quizzes for ELLs. It reminds me of Annenberg’s Connect With English,

Five tips for using authentic video in the classroom is from The British Council and is pretty interesting.

8 Ways to Help Students Watch Video Critically (Instead of Zoning Out) is from We Are Teachers.

The Literacy Shed has lots of nice non-YouTube videos (so, unlikely to be blocked by school content filters) accessible to ELLs.

Here’s a simple way to boost your learning from videos: “Prequestion” is from BPS Digest. Daniel Willingham writes about the same study.

Closed Captioning Gives Literacy a Boost is from Ed Week.

Teaching English With Authentic Video is from English Attack.

Viral Videos for Higher Level ELT has good videos and accompanying lessons.

VIDEOGLOSS: CHOCOLATE ROULADE provides an excellent lesson idea. It’s from Svetlana Kandybovich.

WORDLESS VIDEOS FOR ELT is from Svetlana Kandybovich.

“Let’s Learn English” From VOA Looks Like A Nice Online Video Resource

I’ve used this video with my Beginning ELLs to teach both family and food. I use it with the strategy called “Back to the Screen”:



Using Videos to ‘Enhance Learning Experiences for Students’ is the headline of one of my Education Week Teacher column.  It shares useful ideas.

12 Ideas for Using Video in Class is from ELT Connect.

The British Council has what appears to be a relatively new feature called the Video Zone. It has videos and, importantly, accompanying interactive games.

100 Top Youtube Videos For Teaching English is from David Deubelbeiss.

Animate your Classes with Video! is a post from Oxford University Press about how to use videos from their Let’s Go ELL series. It appears to me that all their videos and related teaching materials are also free.

Teaching ELLs with Short Animated Videos is by Valentina Gonzalez at Middleweb.

WORDLESS VIDEOS FOR ELT and WORDLESS VIDEOS FOR ELT are two excellent posts from ELT-Cation.

Guess what’s being advertised is from On The Same Page.

The bridge Hollywood loves to hate: Golden Gate Bridge destruction, ranked is from The SF Chronicle. It links to video clips from different movies that would be fun to show in class – ELLs can talk about what they see and do a compare and contrast.

Netflix and learn – six ways to teach English language skills with television is from The British Council.

6 Ways to Make the Most of Classroom Movies appeared in Edutopia.

Netflix and learn – six ways to teach English language skills with television is from The British Council.

ELT Buzz has a wonderful collection of videos for ELLs. You need to join to get their related teaching materials, and I think it’s well worth it.

The Loudness Of Silent Video is from ELT Buzz. And here is a great collection of them.

Here are two more collections of wordless videos.

ELT Planning shares an example of different activities that can be done while watching one short video clip.

Guest Post: ELT Buzz Video

Harnessing online videos for process listening: 5 activities is from MET.

The Literacy Shed has tons of great videos suitable for ELLS – and everybody else!

Better World Ed has tons of great “wordless” videos.

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

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