Home / Using cinema in the classroom

At TEFL, we always try to keep up with the latest teaching methodologies and adapt our teaching to modern times. In 2023, we use technology more than ever. Streaming platforms are used worldwide, especially among young people. If you want to engage your class and have them learn English simultaneously, you can consider using cinema in the classroom.

Why use cinema in the classroom?

  •       Movies and TV series are hugely popular among all cultures, with many students subscribed to services like Netflix. Incorporating something they enjoy, and are capable of discussing, will get them talking even more and make the class more enjoyable for them. Get to know your students and the type of films they like. If you have a class of teens who like Marvel movies, utilise this as an advantage!
  •       Using cinema breaks away from traditional classroom teaching. Most students will have spent their academic years reading from textbooks or memorising verbs. Using cinema can make your classes different from these conventional methods, allowing them to realise that English can be fun to learn.
  •       Movies and TV series are examples of authentic materials, meaning the language has not been adapted for language-learning use. Your students need exposure to these materials as this is what they will face outside the classroom. Media is such a big part of the world; your students will feel confident if they can learn to understand movies in English! It might also encourage them to go and watch more original language versions of movies in the cinema.
  •       Cinema activities can be more light-hearted on days when students (and you) need a break from grammar teaching. If you feel that your students are having an off day or week or are approaching the end of the term, lessons focused on cinema can be a good option for their concentration levels.
  •       Movies and TV series can provide many teachable moments you can’t get from a textbook. They provide a multitude of themes to study and discuss. They are perfect for advanced classes who can examine these themes as you might do as a native speaker. You can use clips to discuss and analyse specific pieces unavailable in a textbook.

Things to consider when using cinema in the classroom:

  •        The teacher and the students must understand that a lesson involving cinema is not a day off from learning. It’s certainly not something to use in place of teaching, but it should be a resource to aid in teaching and learning. Students shouldn’t view the lesson as “not a real lesson”. If you plan the lesson well, they will see that it is a valuable use of class time.
  •       Following this, any video clips shouldn’t be too long. If you spend 30 minutes of the lesson watching a video, you probably won’t get much else done in the class. If there is a more extended segment you want your students to watch, assign it as homework (as long as they have legal access to this, of course)
  •       Take care that the content is appropriate for your learners. Tell your students beforehand if the content is controversial but relevant to the lesson. For example, if you are discussing national stereotypes and are about to show a potentially offensive video, tell your students before you show it that the video shows a stereotype so that there are no nasty surprises for your students.
  •       Content and language monitoring is even more critical when teaching young learners and teenagers. Remember, not all cultures will be okay with the same content you might think is okay to show in the classroom. If need be, get consent from the parents or avoid it altogether and pick a more universally appropriate lesson.
  •       All of this is especially important if you teach young learners as you don’t want parents complaining to your boss about their children just “watching TV” in class. Ensure that the clips are short and have a purpose if you do so. Also, ensure that you are not showing any controversial or inappropriate content.
  •       While cinema is a great authentic tool in the classroom, remember that not all learners, especially those at lower levels, can understand and follow it. If you show something they can’t understand, they will feel demotivated, especially as it is real-life material. Prepare for this by pre-teaching any vocabulary or using subtitles if the focus is on the scene rather than the language.

Choosing a movie or series for your class:

  •       Remember to choose a movie appropriate for your class based on content and language. If you have a low-level or young learners class, then playing Schlinder’s list is not the best idea.
  •       Disney is often a good choice for children as they will probably have watched the movies in their language. The dialogue is also usually easy to follow.
  •       For lower-level learners, you can work with media that doesn’t focus on dialogue, such as Mr Bean or Wallace and Gromit. Here the focus might not be on listening but talking about gestures or actions. You can still do many activities using this type of TV show, and they are much more manageable for A1-B1 levels.
  •       Avoid any movies with cultural taboos or sensitive content if it is not relevant to the topic of your lesson. Remember, in some cultures, what you might think is harmless such as a kissing scene or some mildly foul language, might be offensive to others.

Ideas on how to use cinema in the classroom:

Writing the following scene:
  •       For this activity, you must show a scene from a movie or TV show that sets up some crucial moments. As a class, mind map some essential vocabulary they saw in the background (such as the characters’ clothing or tools). Then have your students get into pairs or groups to write the next stage to guess what happened. This activity works well if you choose a lesser-known movie where students aren’t sure about the next scene. If you do choose a popular one, they can write alternative endings. If you have a younger class, they can even act out the scenes.
Summarise the scene:
  •       Summarising is a valuable skill to teach and is part of many exams worldwide. Students can watch a scene and then be given 10 minutes to write a summary of that scene. Show them how to make notes and bullet points while they are listening to help them organise their ideas. These are also valuable skills to practise and are helpful in Academic English environments.
Silent summary:
  •       Play a scene without audio for your students. You might want to play the location before to set the tone and context of the movie. Once finished, ask them to discuss in groups what happened in the background and what was said. Encourage them to look at body language and facial expressions during the clip. Play the stage twice for them to get a good idea. Once the discussions are finished, play the scene with audio to see if they are right. You can also extend this activity by having them write what they think the dialogue is.
Comprehension quiz:
  •       Of course, as with any material, you can prepare comprehension questions for your students based on what they have watched. However, turning it into a competition can make it more enjoyable. Split the students into teams and ask them about what happened in the clip you showed.

Example questions you can use are:

-What was…. wearing in the scene?

-What colour was the background?

-How did….react when….?

– Why do you think….did…..?

You can either do a pub quiz-style activity or have teams buzz in when they know the answer.

Compare and contrast
  •       Suppose you want to do more thematic work with cinema in the classroom. You can choose different clips from different movies and shows and have your students do a compare-and-contrast activity. You can select movies with similar themes and have them talk about crucial differences between the two scenes. Around Christmas or Halloween, you can choose films related to these events as a fun way to end the term.

Don’t forget you can also use movie and TV clips in the online classroom! With screen and audio sharing, incorporating cinema into your lessons is easier than ever. You can have your students make notes while you play the clip and then go into breakout rooms to do the activities. You can send them the clip also if they want to replay anything or have them watch it before class.

Using a shared document is the best way to do pair or group work online. You can have a Google document for each group to work on and share with you. You can also use an online board such as Padlet, where students can add their work for everyone else to view. They can even “like” or comment on each other’s work which is a great way to incorporate social media-like styles into your classroom.

Remember that using cinema in the classroom is a great way to modernise your teaching and incorporate your students’ interests into your lesson. It’s a great way to get them interested and learns practical skills such as listening to or watching authentic materials or summarising what happened. It’s essential that the movie clip has a lesson plan to go with it and isn’t just a way to kill time in class. Make sure your students are getting something out of watching the video clip. Cinema in the classroom should be a tool for learning and not only entertainment! If you’re showing something for amusement, then it’s probably not wise to do it.

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