10 creative ways to use popular movies in fun esl lessons

10 Creative Ways to Use Popular Movies in Fun ESL Lessons

Bored of book work?

Tired of teacher-talking?

Want something exciting for your students?

Then watch a movie!

Now, I know what some of you might be thinking: Isn’t watching a movie a cop-out?

It’s tempting to think that putting on a movie is simply a great excuse for the teacher to sit at the back of the room, dim the lights and fall asleep clutching the remote. But it’s not true, I tell you!

Creating a lesson around a popular movie is a sure-fire way to have fun, engage your English learners and gain some much coveted popularity!

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How Does Watching a Movie Help ESL Students?

There are countless ways in which movies can support your lesson.

For example, they can be used to:

  • Reinforce a grammar point
  • Listen for gist
  • Practice vocabulary
  • Discuss and debate
  • Role play

Movies are a brilliant way for students to hear up-to-date authentic speech and be exposed to various accents. And because there are countless movies based on an infinite amount of things, you can use them to introduce or spark discussions about a certain topic, be it a historical event, a time period or the culture of a foreign country.

And of course, by bringing popular movies into your lessons, you show students how they can learn from and practice English when watching movies in their own time.

Kieran Donaghy, the genius behind the site Film English, takes advantage of all of these features in his ready-to-use free ESL lesson plans that go with an accompanying creative short film.

To help your ESL students improve their English using any movie or short film, try out the following activities!

5 Great ESL Movie Comprehension Activities

Movies can be implemented into any lesson, with the purpose of getting students to comprehend and gain meaning from free-flowing speech. Here are five great activities to check comprehension.

1. How Observant Are You?

This activity is good for getting students to talk in the past tense about observation-based facts.

Before the movie clip, don’t tell the students what they are looking for, but tell them to watch with a keen detective’s eye. Afterwards ask them a question about a specific item in a room, or a character’s words or actions. You can make this a group exercise, getting teams to write their answers together. Repeat as many times as you want!

2. Vocabulary Meaning Match

Use a movie to reinforce or teach vocabulary with this simple activity.

Give students a worksheet with a list of vocabulary words in one column, and scrambled definitions in the other. As students watch the movie clip, they have to match the vocabulary to the adjacent list of meanings.

3. Order the Events

This is a reading-based activity, good for building up students’ recall power.

After watching the clip, give students a set of event cards (no more than ten), in pairs or individually. Each card should contain one or two sentences of events from the movie clip. These can be as significant or insignificant as you want, depending on the length of the clip and what the focus of  the lesson is. Students have to rearrange the events into the correct order.

4. Buzz Game

Here’s another activity to test students’ powers of observation.

Put the students into teams. Ask a question such as, “What color is [character’s name]’s sweater?,” and then start the clip. When a student sees the answer, they “buzz” by making a pre-decided comical noise, or by standing up. If the student is correct, move onto the next question and the next section of the movie clip.

5. Choose a Word

A simple and lively activity for practicing listening skills, this one works better the more repetition of words there is within the movie clip.

Give each student a word that will appear at least once in the movie clip. While watching, when any student hears their word, they stand up. Sit back and watch the students bob up and down!

For supplementary materials beyond these five comprehension activities, you can find tons of worksheets for video clips from the following two websites:

And if you’re ever in need of a short video clip instead of a full-length movie or movie part, FluentU has loads of pre-selected video clips to choose from. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized English learning lessons.

Now, along with helping comprehension, movies are also a perfect way to introduce some more creativity into your ESL lessons!

5 Creative Activities for ESL Movie Lessons

The aim of these activities is to get your students using English in an informal and fun way, with less structure than the comprehension exercises above. Choose a popular movie for maximum excitement and participation from students!

1. Act it Out

This activity will get students up, out of their shells and speaking English in a fun, relaxed way.

Watch a movie clip that’s anywhere between five and twenty minutes long, depending on the length of the lesson and the level of your students. Afterwards, tell the students that they will be performing the clip to their peers. Put them in groups, according to how many characters there are in the movie clip. The aim is to have the right number of characters for the number of students in a group, but when this is not possible, two students can play the part of one character, splitting the lines between them. Alternatively there could also be a narrator.

There are several different ways to do this activity. You can give students only a short amount of time to practice, and not allow them to write anything down. You could even give them no time at all, and see if they can create an improvised version, although this should be reserved for higher or more confident students.

Another version is to allow students to prepare a script of sorts before they begin practicing, or even to print an extract of the script for them to use. After an adequate amount of rehearsal time, students perform for each other.

To ensure hilarity, provide costumes or props of some sort.

2. What Happens Next?

Students use their powers of deduction and observation to predict the next part of a movie. This activity is better if they haven’t seen the movie before, but it doesn’t matter too much if they have, as you can use it to test their memory!

Either create multiple choice answers or let the student come up with their own ideas. Play a short (2 minutes) clip of the movie, then press pause. Have students guess what happens next—either in teams, as a whole group or as individuals. Play the next part to find out if anyone was right. Repeat using several different clips of the movie, or continue on with consecutive clips.

3. Character Questionnaire and Role Play

The aim of this activity is for students to get inside the mind of a character, and have that character respond accordingly to a situation. It’s great for practicing dialogue, stress patterns and intonation.

Before the movie, assign each student a character and give them a questionnaire to fill out while watching.

When the movie clip is finished, put students in pairs and give them pre-prepared scenarios. For example, “The characters both want to buy the last umbrella in the store,” or “The characters are at a restaurant when one of them is rude to the waiter.”

Students use what they collected in their questionnaire to decide how their character would react in the given scenario. Give them five minutes to practice, then perform to the class.

4. Describe the Place

Hone your students’ powers of observation and oral description with this simple activity.

Watch a scene from a movie. Ask students to describe what the place looked like, giving as much detail as possible. This could be a room, a street, a café or the outside of a palace. Make it a team game, getting students to write down all the details they remember. The team that writes the most, wins!

Another version of this activity is to get students to draw a picture of the scene and explain what they’ve drawn.

5. Alternative Ending

In this activity, students are encouraged to practice story-writing techniques, in the present or future tense, depending on what suits your lesson. Don’t worry if some students have seen the movie already—knowing how the story really unfolds will only enhance their creative prospects. Remember to be clear that they cannot simply write the real ending of the movie!

Play part of a movie—as short or long as you want—which can be from any point in the movie. Afterwards, put students in small groups to create a new ending. They can write it out, or present it in a graphic novel style with pictures and words.

The presentation part of the class involves the groups reading their alternative ending to the group. Top marks for the wildest, wackiest ideas!

All in all, movies are an invaluable tool for teaching a topic while engaging and holding students’ interests. So don’t be afraid to use them!

You have all the tools you need for successful implementation right here. Enjoy!

Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)


Oh, and One More Thing…

If you like teaching English with entertaining videos, then you’re going to love FluentU.

FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, cartoons, documentaries and more—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons for you and your students. 

It’s got a huge collection of authentic English videos that people in the English-speaking world actually watch on the regular. These are videos that your students already love watching, so they’ll be beyond excited to interact with them in the classroom. 

2014 10 09 21.14.21 A Model Lesson for Using Songs as ESL Audio Listening Materials

On FluentU, all the videos are sorted by skill level and are carefully annotated for students. Words come with example sentences and definitions. Students will be able to add them to their own vocabulary lists, and even see how the words are used in other videos.

2014 10 09 21.15.16 A Model Lesson for Using Songs as ESL Audio Listening Materials

Worried that students might be stumped by some of the harder videos? No way. FluentU brings authentic content within reach by providing interactive captions and in-context definitions right on-screen. For example, if a student taps on the word “brought,” they’ll see this:

2014 10 09 21.20.15 A Model Lesson for Using Songs as ESL Audio Listening Materials

Plus, these great videos are all accompanied by interactive features and active learning tools for students, like multimedia flashcards and fun games like “fill in the blank.”

2014 10 09 21.21.16 A Model Lesson for Using Songs as ESL Audio Listening Materials

It’s perfect for in-class activities, group projects and solo homework assignments. Not to mention, it’s guaranteed to get your students excited about English!

If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach English with real-world videos.

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