By Svetlana Urisman

21 January 2014 - 10:16

Students might get interested in series and start watching in their free time; photo (c) Tulane Publications, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 and adapted from the original.
'Students might get interested in series and start watching in their free time.' Photo ©

Tulane Publications, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 and adapted from the original (link no longer available).

How many ways are there to use moving images in the classroom? English language teacher Svetlana Urisman, who won last month's TeachingEnglish blog award, shares her advice. Comment below this post if you have further tips.

Why TV series are sometimes better than films

One of my favourite things to watch are series - they are shorter, they let you come back to the characters again and again and predict what will happen to them next. They often reflect real life, which means people in them use real language and grammar.

As for the grammar, I've always liked films and series as a great source of that - 'real', spoken grammar. My dream for several years already has been to make a kind of grammar workbook or even a video based on film examples. I keep collecting suitable extracts (send me more in the comments, please). Just to give you an idea, here's an example of 'neither do I' in the BBC series Sherlock (episode 1, season 2):

Mycroft Holmes: My brother has the brain of a scientist or a philosopher and yet he elects to be a detective. What might we deduce about his heart?
Dr. John Watson: I don't know.
Mycroft Holmes: Neither do I. But initially, he wanted to be a pirate.

Or tag questions, such as this example from Mad Men (season 2, episode 1)

Driver to Betty: 'It would be, wouldn't it?, or '... I could say no, couldn't I?'

I find that showing a short extract (up to about two minutes) out of a film when characters use a structure or a grammar point you are working on brings a whole new perspective to your class - students see that the grammar you are introducing is not just something they have to study because it's in the book - they need to study this because people who speak English as their native language use this, as they have just seen on a film. And, as a positive side effect, students might get interested in series and start watching in their free time.

How do you make business English interesting? Watch the right films!

Some films are great for business English, an area where you wouldn't think of watching films as a first choice. But films do help - to generate a discussion, to compare how business used to be done and how it is done now, to set a business-like atmosphere, and so on. Try Wall Street (1987) for all the stock exchange atmosphere and vocabulary, Other People's Money (1991) and even What Women Want (2000) for brilliant presentation skills and speech examples. When, together with my students, we feel we'd like to watch a film, or make this into a regular feature of a course, we usually decide on a film to watch, they watch it at home, and then a discussion part follows.

How to get your classroom to choose: Trailers

At this stage - when choosing a film - I find trailers a great thing to turn to: instead of telling your students about a film, you can just show a trailer and so give them a general idea of a film to watch; they bring suspense and generate interest in your class. Once, when I didn't know what film would be more interesting for my group, I set up a small 'trailers' parade' - we watched several trailers and then chose one film to watch and discuss.

However, the only downside to trailers might be that the speech in them is often very quick, and the language is less contextualised, so some learners at lower levels can experience difficulty understanding trailers. In this case, you could always use pictures (several screenshots of a film's important moments would do) or - an intriguing option - show a trailer with the sound off, letting your students guess the content.

Reviews make classroom discussions richer and more focused

One more 'real-life' thing to use at a lesson is film reviews - online or offline. If you are planning to discuss a film that students watched prior to your class, find several reviews and ask students if they agree or disagree with them. This would make a discussion richer and more focused. You can find a lot of good reviews on the IMDb website, both from ordinary viewers and from critics.

Subtitles: on or off?

It's also important to decide if you want to use subtitles, and if yes, how to go about them. I usually prefer not to use subtitles (if we watch a film or parts of a film in class - which is more possible in our teaching-learning situation), but to prepare my students for the difficulties they might encounter: pre-teach some vocabulary, set the scene to make understanding easier, discuss the plot before they watch, etc. On the other hand, if I ask my students to watch the film on their own at home (quite a frequent option for us), I suggest they use subtitles to make understanding easier - but only if they really need to.

Join our TeachingEnglish Facebook community for further tips, resources and discussions or see our offer for teachers.

Read Svetlana's winning post on using newspapers and magazines.

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