esl movie activities

The Ultimate ESL Film Experience: 4 Classroom Activities for 1 Full Movie

Your students love movies.

It’s time to take advantage of that fact.

With the right film and a little creativity, you can develop a truly amazing lesson plan.

Using full movies in the classroom is a great way to combine many important ESL skills and sub-skills, including listening comprehension, communicative learning, self-expression and vocabulary use.

But it’s not enough to just show a movie in class.

Showing a movie isn’t an excuse for you or your students to sit back and take the day off.

In fact, it’s time for you all to roll up your sleeves and get to work!

You need to plan interactive lessons around movies to ensure your students are taking in the material and responding to it every step of the way.

If you don’t do this, your students will experience little growth and most likely become bored from watching without enough interaction.

In this post, we’ll go over 4 ready-made activities that you can use for your ESL class with a recommended movie or the feature film of your choice.

But first, why use full movies in class?

Why Use Full Movies to Teach ESL?

ESL video activities of any kind need to be fun, enjoyable, enthusiastic and, most importantly, linear. This last point can easily be overlooked, so it’s crucial to keep it in mind.

On FluentU, you can find a complete selection of quality bite-sized video material for your class. Say goodbye to spending hours searching on YouTube and find hand-picked real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—that have been turned into personalized language learning lessons.

Watching mere clips of full-length films in class, however, may prove to be frustrating for your students. Watching a clip that has no clear beginning and end and then never speaking about the movie for the remainder of the ESL course can be disappointing and discouraging.

Using one film for multiple activities, on the other hand, allows your students to become invested in the characters and the plot. If your students begin to care for or sympathize with the characters, they’ll stay engaged in the activities you present.

So spice things up with some cinematic pop along with activities that are not only fun, but also communicative.

You can easily use multiple film clips from a single movie, implementing the new video material into a lesson plan. Get creative and combine different scenes of a movie, including specific elements like dialogue or action, to fit into focused video activities your students will love.

You can even make a film the theme of a class, using it not only for video activities, but also reading, writing, grammar and vocabulary.

How to Pick a Movie for Your ESL Class

It’s generally good to pick something PG-rated that has a variety of scenes to draw from.

Make sure you can find scenes involving dialogue, action and non-verbal communication.

Also make sure there are points that will hold your students’ interest, such as beautiful landscapes, interesting philosophical moments and so on.

As long as there’s enough variety to the communication and subject matter, you’ll be able to draw multiple lessons and material from a single film.

Recommended Movie: “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”

esl movie activities

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is a wonderful movie you can utilize when teaching your students different aspects of English. There’s so much in the way of stunning visuals, exciting twists and mysterious content, it’s hard to avert the eyes. Your students will not only stay engaged, but want to keep watching more.

The movie was released in 2013, so the content is fresh, with Ben Stiller bringing a sense of wonderment and enthusiasm to the main character spot. It was based on “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” written by James Thurber and originally published in The New Yorker in 1939.

The original short story, though very different from the movie, can make a great follow-up reading lesson for your intermediate to advanced level students.

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” has a fun, enjoyable plot with no R-rated material and can be easily viewed by classes ranging from young adult to adult. It’s perfect for a variety of students (young or old, male or female) and comes with a twist of mystery you can use to keep your students guessing and engaged throughout your well-developed ESL exercises.

The Ultimate ESL Film Experience: 4 Classroom Activities for 1 Full Movie

It’s a good idea to tell your students a little bit about the movie before starting it, giving them key information about the plot, main characters and some of the different places around the world they will experience. This will help prepare them for summarizing, predicting, listening and presenting material.

1. Predicting and Summarizing

This is a two-part activity: First, have your students watch a movie scene. Then have them try to write down a summary of everything that’s happening in it. They can take some notes, discuss key points with their classmates and even get your thoughts on the clip, possibly covering vocabulary or structure questions along the way.

After discussion and notes, have your students share their summaries one by one. Have them practice speaking and expressing themselves in English by comparing the scene to a part of their daily life.

Then ask your students what they think will happen next. You will write down all their short predictions on the board, letting them share their ideas and insight. After everyone’s put in their two cents, play the rest of the clip. Predicting in English will allow your students to formulate creative thoughts. This is the key to developing the ability to express feelings, emotions and ideas faster and more easily in English.

Sample Activity: The first 6 minutes of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” are very interesting, moving from a relatively normal everyday-type scene to one involving action and fantasy. This is a great clip for a predicting and summarizing ESL video activity.

First, you can have your students watch the first few minutes of the movie, observing Walter Mitty balance his checkbook and decide whether or not he should send a message to a woman he likes online. These mundane tasks are perfect for the summarizing part of this activity, since they will be relatable for most of your students.

The predicting portion of this video activity will be when Walter Mitty is standing on the train platform waiting for his commuter train to take him to work. You can almost be sure none of your students will have predicted the actual events, unless they have already seen it.

2. The Silent Movie

In the silent movie activity, your students will all sit attentively watching a part of the movie without volume.

This exercise gives your students the chance to process information without worrying about having to hear English words and translate them into their native language in order to understand the meaning. The silent movie activity takes away any processing of dialogue, allowing your students to fully experience what they are seeing.

After your students have watched the clip, have them take a few notes and ask you a few short questions about what might have been happening in the scene. You don’t want this to be too lengthy—only notes and brief answers are needed since you will show them the clip again.

After the second time around, let them expand on their notes and discuss the clip in pairs or groups. Once they feel like almost all questions have been answered and they have a good grasp on what they saw, it’s time to get them writing.

Your students will draft a short story of their own about the scene, maybe adding a little dialogue and some key aspects to the action. They will each present their short story to the class and they can compare their version of the clip with their classmates. This creates an enjoyable communicative atmosphere for everyone.

The silent movie activity helps your students practice processing events in English, writing, communicative learning and speaking/presenting in English.

Sample Activity: For this activity, you can use the film clip from “Walter Mitty” at 00:24:10 and stop it at 00:26:38. This clip is short, but full of action as Walter Mitty fights with his evil boss over a stretchy toy. The scene is something like what you might expect from a Marvel Comics movie, so your students will definitely be more than attentive.

When your students write their stories, they’ll have to confront this question: Why are two men fighting over a children’s toy?

3. Back to the Screen

This is another great activity you can implement into your movie lesson plan. It focuses on communicative learning as well as writing. In this exercise, you will pair your students up and have one student stand with their back to the screen as their partner tells them what is happening in the movie. Once the video clip is finished, the students change places and the exercise repeats.

Each student may explain what they see a different way, and they will have to share their perspective in a quick, real-time fashion as their partner intently listens. You can even play different clips to each student. For example, the first 5 minutes for the first student and the last 5 minutes for their partner. This will keep them on their toes and they will have to collaborate to piece together the entire scene.

Sample Activity: One excellent video clip to use for this activity is when Walter Mitty takes a leap of faith and travels to Greenland in search of information relating to a missing photograph. You can begin the video clip at 00:36:00 and let the first student explain what is happening to their partner for 5 minutes. Then they switch and you resume the video clip until 00:46:30.

It’s important to stop at this point in the movie, because it’s a pivotal moment. Walter Mitty has to make a choice: Get on the helicopter, or play it safe and stay. You can ask your students to piece together the entire scene and then make a prediction about what Walter Mitty will do.

The pairs can present their findings and prediction to the class, or you can have them act it out, furthering their communicative skills while building their confidence in speaking. After all your students have completed their presentations, continue with the movie to let them see if they predicted the right outcome.

4. Question Review

Questions are always a great way for you to check on your students, assessing important comprehension points that will help you evaluate how they are progressing. Developing questions that evoke creative and concise responses will allow your students to really get involved in the video clip.

A good way to help your students achieve success and build their confidence is to give them questions prior to showing the movie clip. You can write them on the board, or create a worksheet you hand out. Discuss the questions together and make sure your students are all clear on what is being asked.

The purpose of this activity is to have your students engaged in all aspects of the movie clip. This is a great listening and reading comprehension activity with writing and creative components, too. Ask your students to write the answers to the questions. Then you can review the answers to the questions as a class, once again adding a communicative aspect into the lesson.

Sample Activity: A great clip in “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” for this activity is toward the end of the movie when Walter Mitty continues his search for Sean O’Connell, the photographer who took the missing photo for the last publication of Life magazine. This clip has many parts, both with and without dialogue. Your students will have an opportunity to watch without processing speech before the dialogue begins toward the end of the clip.

Start the video clip at 1:18:05 when Walter Mitty begins his travel to Afghanistan and end the clip at 1:30:00 when he finishes his dialogue with Sean O’Connell. Walter Mitty goes through many events over the duration of this clip, and the landscape changes. There are also some words flashed on the screen that you can have your students keep a lookout for.

You can ask questions like, “What is Walter Mitty wearing?” or “How did he get into Afghanistan?” You can also incorporate questions about the landscape they see or ask them where the missing photo was all along, which is uncovered in the dialogue between Walter Mitty and Sean O’Connell.


Stephen Seifert is a writer, editor, professor of English and adventurer. With over 7 years of teaching experience to students worldwide, he enjoys the many aspects of culture and traditions different from his own. Stephen continues his search for writing inspiration, boldly enjoying life to the fullest.

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