Why use films during English lessons?


Bojana Urbanc

As a teacher, I keep struggling to find ways to make my English lessons fun and educational at the same time. My priority is to encourage students to become creative while using a foreign language in an unreal situation inside the classroom and to prepare them to become more confident using it in the real world as well. So, how can I keep them motivated? One of many options is watching and analysing films, which are rich resources of teaching grammar, vocabulary and improving language skills such as listening, speaking and even writing. Due to the Slovenian national curriculum, teachers do not have much time and freedom to explore and teach outside the school policies, nevertheless, using new teaching methods and leaving old and outdated teaching practices behind can expand students’ knowledge and boost their progress immensely. Here are some of my suggestions how to use films during English classes.

1. Oliver Twist

Since I choose one film per each school year, this is the one I start with, when my students enter their secondary schooling. It’s very rich in vocabulary, offers a lot of topics to discuss (such as family, friendship, child labour, crime, etc.) and at the same time introduces teaching past tenses to students. At the beginning, we start the lesson by discussing their family matters (be careful to respect students’ privacy) and relationships, then we expand it to acquiring certain vocabulary from the film (child labour, orphanage, etc.) When the students master the vocabulary, we watch the movie, it takes more than two lessons, but it’s worth spending the time. After having seen the movie, students write/speak about its summary, where the teacher can slowly monitor the usage of past tenses, especially both past perfect tenses. Students can easily relate to Oliver Twist’s story, which is, sadly, still relevant in today’s world.

2. Exam

This psychological thriller from 2009 is quite interesting and I usually use it with my second graders. The story deals with unusual job interview and opens the topic of stereotypes (the characters are named after their features: Blonde, Deaf, White, Black, Brunette, etc.) Students can discuss jobs and careers, stereotypes (The suggested task is called Europe Express train, where students are to choose three passengers on the train they would not mind sharing their compartment with during a long journey). While watching the movie I stop it at certain times to practice Present Perfect tense. (What has happened so far? What has the White done to the rest of the exam candidates? etc.) We finish the lesson by acting out a scenario for a »real« job interview.

3. The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games is one of my favourite movies and many of the students love the main character, who is a heroine and a powerful girl. Despite the fact that the story might be too straightforward or even cruel, I use it to stress the importance of how people behave in the world today and to dignify the significance of values, which are lacking nowadays. Different methods are used while watching the movie: a role- play on a certain scene, prediction of what follows (using future tenses), interview with the main character(s), writing a report/the news from the scene, exploring the old Greek and Roman mythology, etc.

4. A Christmas Carol

Despite the fact, there are so many adaptations of this film I prefer a great 3D animated movie from the year 2009 starring Jim Carrey in the main role. It is such a great animation that it almost looks real and though it is a little scary students enjoy it immensely. Several topics are to discuss after watching the movie. Not only the Christmas spirit and tradition itself (a comparison how this festival is celebrated in Slovenia as compared to English-speaking countries), students can research the Victorian era and child labour and find some similarities with the situation today (child labour in Asia, social injustice). On the other hand, students can discuss different features of characters in the movie, from the stingy Scrooge to a generous Bob and crippled Tiny Tim as the two representative of the impoverished class of the society. The fact that the three Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come visit Scrooge, modal verbs of probability can be used to make students guess what could happen (have happened) to the main characters if the story didn’t turn out the way it was expected.

5. Mona Lisa Smile

Another great movie to use in a class when you want to discuss the stereotypes and traditional roles of women and men in today’s society. The role of a free-thinking teacher is very strong and powerful at the same time the film portrays a pretty sad future role of the women from the 1950s. Topics such as the right for education, the role of a woman in a society, the equality among the sexes and the stereotypes and intolerance can be presented and researched with your students. The film is quite emotional and gives hope, so students, especially girls, love it. On the other hand, some parts of the movie where the teacher exchanges opinion with her students are excellent examples to teach reported speech, the grammatical structure that does not seem clear to students in Slovenia. By encouraging them to use the structure in the movie or find other examples of it in any other film you can make students more familiar with reported speech.

These are just some of the suggested movies that I have shared with my students who love to discuss the topics presented in the films and by offering them different stimuli, the students feel free to express themselves, not to mention that at the same time, the grammatical structures, taught during the lessons, finally appear to make sense to them.