By Kieran Donaghy

21 October 2014 - 15:40

Original illustration for How can film help you teach or learn English?
'Language teachers have been using films in their classes for decades.' Original illustration  ©

Jamie Johnson for British Council 

What can film and video add to the learning experience? Kieran Donaghy, who won the British Council’s TeachingEnglish blog award tells us why film is such a good resource and recommends some useful websites, in one of our top five articles of all time, illustrated by artist Jamie Johnson.

Language teachers have been using films in their classes for decades, and there are a number of reasons why film is an excellent teaching and learning tool.

Learning from films is motivating and enjoyable

Motivation is one of the most important factors in determining successful second-language acquisition. Films and TV shows are an integral part of students’ lives so it makes perfect sense to bring them into the language classroom. Film, as a motivator, also makes the language learning process more entertaining and enjoyable.

Film provides authentic and varied language

Another benefit of using film is that it provides a source of authentic and varied language. Film provides students with examples of English used in ‘real’ situations outside the classroom, particularly interactive language – the language of real-life conversation. Film exposes students to natural expressions and the natural flow of speech. If they are not living in an English-speaking environment, perhaps only film and television can provide learners with this real-life language input.

Film gives a visual context

The visuality of film makes it an invaluable language teaching tool, enabling learners to understand more by interpreting the language in a full visual context. Film assists the learners’ comprehension by enabling them to listen to language exchanges and see such visual supports as facial expressions and gestures simultaneously. These visual clues support the verbal message and provide a focus of attention.

Variety and flexibility

Film can bring variety and flexibility to the language classroom by extending the range of teaching techniques and resources, helping students to develop all four communicative skills. For example, a whole film or sequence can be used to practise listening and reading, and as a model for speaking and writing. Film can also act as a springboard for follow-up tasks such as discussions, debates on social issues, role plays, reconstructing a dialogue or summarising. It is also possible to bring further variety to the language learning classroom by screening different types of film: feature-length films, short sequences of films, short films, and adverts.

Given the benefits of using film in the language learning classroom, it is not surprising that many teachers are keen to use film with their students, and an increasing number of them are successfully integrating film into the language-learning syllabus. Until quite recently it was difficult to find pedagogically sound film material to help students improve their language through watching film, and teachers had to spend many hours creating their own materials. However, with the advent of the internet there is now a wealth of online resources for both language teachers and their students. With so many resources, it’s sometimes difficult for teachers to see the wood for the trees.

Lesson plans

There are many websites and blogs which provide detailed and well-structured lesson plans based on film and television clips, short films and viral videos, which save the busy teacher a lot of time. Here are my personal favourites.

Allat C

This is a superb blog by Steve Muir and Tom Spain, which supplies lesson plans based on short videos, especially clips from television series, for teachers of advanced students (C1 and C2).


Jamie Keddie is a pioneer in the use of video in language teaching, and his website has a wealth of creative and imaginative lesson plans based on short videos.

Viral ELT

This excellent blog by Ian James is dedicated to exploiting viral videos in language teaching.

Film English

My own resource site has more than 120 detailed lesson plans based on short films.

Film guides

If you want to show whole films, either in one sitting or over a number of sessions, it’s necessary to do quite a lot of work on linguistic, cultural and cinematographic features of the film prior to actually watching the film. Not so long ago, teachers had to spend many hours creating their own film guides, but nowadays there are several sites where teachers can find free, high-quality film guides to use in the language classroom.

ESL Notes

An outstanding resource site, created by Raymond Weschler, which provides more than 200 detailed film guides. Each individual guide is a detailed synopsis of a popular classic or contemporary film with an extensive glossary of vocabulary and expressions students come across in the film.

Film in Language Teaching Association

FILTA is an association of language teachers, film educators and researchers, which provides film guides to use in language teaching.

Film Club

A UK charity, which gives children and young people the opportunity to watch, discuss and review films, supplies hundreds of pedagogically sound, free film guides.

Film Education

A website that produces well-structured and engaging film guides for a wide range of films.

Short films

Creating moving images has never been easier thanks to the digital revolution, the proliferation of mobile devices, the increased ease of capturing and editing video, and the emergence of video distribution sites such as YouTube and Vimeo. This has led to an explosion in the production of short films and their availability. However, due to the sheer quantity of short films, it’s often very difficult for teachers to find high-quality short films they can use with their students. Here are my three favourite places for finding creative and innovative short films.

Vimeo Staff Picks

This channel has a great selection of high-quality short films selected by the staff at Vimeo.

Film sites for learners

The internet now offers students the opportunity to improve their lexical, listening and speaking skills through watching short film clips and short films.

English Central

Possibly the best website for students to improve their speaking and pronunciation. This site provides students with videos with subtitles. The students watch the videos, practise vocabulary used in the video, record themselves repeating what they hear, and then get feedback on their pronunciation.

English Attack

Young students can improve their English on this community website, which uses clips from film and TV series.

Learn English Teens Film UK

A British Council website which gives students the opportunity to watch short films made by young people, and do a variety of activities based on the films.

Animated movie makers

There are a number of websites where students can create their own animated short films and practise and improve their writing, vocabulary and speaking. Here are the two sites I’ve found students like most.

Go Animate

A site where learners can create their own animated short films, write the subtitles and create a voice-over.

Zimmer Twins

Younger learners love this site where they create short cartoon animations, add subtitles and voice-overs.

Subtitling and revoicing

Students can improve their vocabulary, writing and speaking in a fun and engaging way by subtitling and dubbing television and film clips.

Bombay TV

A fun site where learners can add subtitles and voice-overs to Indian television and film clips.

Clip Flair

A site where learners can ‘revoice’ (dub) and ‘caption’ (subtitle) video clips.

I hope these resources and websites can help you and your students use film critically and creatively in the classroom and beyond.

You can find 120 detailed lesson plans based on short films at Kieran’s website Film English.

Learners can find a video zone on our LearnEnglish site.

Teachers, visit our TeachingEnglish website for more lesson plans and activities, and find out how you can become a TeachingEnglish blogger.

This article is one of our top five most-read of all time. 

Kieran Donaghy is a freelance writer, international conference speaker and trainer. He has held teaching, teacher training and academic management posts in the UK, Italy, Portugal and Spain. He is the author of books for students and teachers of English as a foreign language. His publications include Film in Action (Delta Publishing), How to Write Film and Video Activities (ELT Teacher 2 Writer) and Films in Health Sciences Education (Publicacions i Edicions de la Universitat de Barcelona), and The Image in English Language Teaching (ELT Council).

His website Film English has won a British Council ELTons Award for Innovation in Teacher Resources, the MEDEA Award, and an English-Speaking Union Award. Kieran is the founder and organiser of The Image Conference and co-founder of the Visual Arts Circle, a community of practice for language education professionals interested in the use of the visual arts in language teaching. He is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. 

Jamie Johnson is an artist and illustrator based in Glasgow, Scotland. He works in painting, collage, drawing and various digital media techniques. Jamie has exhibited his work in galleries around the UK, Europe and North America, most recently as a solo show at Chopping Block Gallery in London. He continues to work with a wide variety of clients as an illustrator and designer, alongside a personal interest in community-based projects. 

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