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How to Use Movies in the ESL Classroom?

Updated on March 19, 2013

Films in the ESL Classroom

ESL Classroom
ESL Classroom | Source

There are many ways to teach English to second language learners. Students learn a language differently, depending on their own particular learning abilities. While students develop learning abilities differently, the majority of students are visual learners and movies are a perfect means for acquiring a second language.

How to Use Movies in the ESL Classroom?

Movies can be introduced in a language classroom as an English learning aid. There are many approaches used to introduce a movie to students. Movies are effective means for learning a language, as long as you present your students with a variety of visual contexts contained in a movie. You can use the movie to expose the students to the four language skills; listening, while watching the movie and reading, writing and speaking in later assignments after the movie has been watched.

Things Needed to Present a Movie in the Classroom

  • A movie (science fiction, drama, cartoon, documentary, etc.)
  • Laptop or desktop computer
  • Movie projector
  • Speakers

Suitable Movies for the ESL Classroom

Before showing the film to students, it's important that you choose a movie that is relevant to the points you're trying to teach, so that the students can relate the movie content to the structures taught in the classroom. Try to use movies whose content is common to anybody's daily life; for example drama. There are many old movies whose content is decent and well suited for all ages and cultures.

There are a number of present day movies, which have good content, but sometimes may contain explicit sex scenes within them. Try to avoid these kinds of movies, as some cultures may consider them inappropriate. You will always find the right movie if you look through ample number of movie listings, such as Disney movies, which are appealing for all ages and cultures.

Before Watching Activity in the ESL Classroom

The approaches may vary, but here I present to you a few that I have used in the ESL classroom. A before watching activity might be a good way to present a movie to ESL learners. Have the students watch an excerpt of the movie and predict what the movie is going to be about; you can introduce the future with "going to" before this task.

You can assign them a fill in the blank activity with vocabulary words related to the plot in the movie. For advanced students, you may have them form discussion groups and talk about the characters in the movie and their personal characteristics. For this activity, you might have to introduce a list of descriptive adjectives

While Watching activities in the ESL Classroom

At any time during the presentation of the movie, lower down the volume and have the students reinvent the dialogues according to what they're watching. You may also stop the movie after a brief watching time and ask questions about who said what to who, for example, who said I love so much to who?

You may also have the students identify a certain actor or actress by the lines of their dialogue, such as a quote or phrase, during a given scene.

After Watching Activities in the ESL Classroom

After watching the movie, the students may engage in a general discussion of the movie and the main events that characterized it. Have groups of student develop a written and oral summary of the movie to be presented to the whole class.

Set up a debate in the classroom by forming two groups, one group in pro and the other against general ideas covered in the movie. You may also set up debates about specific matters, such as, "were Tom and Cathy they prepared to adopt a child?"

List of Movies for the ESL Classroom

The Odd Life of Timothy Green

The Butterfly Effect

Forrest Gump

The Illusionist



There are many other ways to teach a second language with movies. While there are infinite approaches to present a movie to ESL learners, the ideas that I have presented here have resulted positive in the acquisition of a second language. You can vary the approach according to the level of your students; however, the success attained will be more effective if the presentation of the movie is accompanied with active participation of the students.


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