Sitcoms in ESL Class? Why the “Friends” TV Series Is Fantastic for Teaching English
Are your students not getting your “Smelly Cat” references?
Or do they act completely oblivious when you shout “we were on a break!” at the end of each class recess?
If so, you might need to add some “Friends” into your lessons.
Not only will this famous American TV series make your ESL activities more exciting, but it’ll also give your students the opportunity to learn more about how friends casually talk and interact with one another in the U.S.
Let’s look at some reasons why using “Friends” to teach English is a recipe for success, plus three practical tips to effectively use this show as a tool in the ESL classroom.
Why Teaching English with “Friends” Is a Good Idea
Teaching English with “Friends” is great for the following reasons:
- It gives students a better understanding of American culture and life in New York City.
- Students see how native English speakers in the U.S. hold casual, informal conversations with their friends using idioms and slang.
- The series covers all aspects of everyday life and adulthood, giving students an opportunity to build a broader vocabulary and learn how to talk about a wider range of topics.
“Friends” is one of those TV shows that almost everyone can relate to in one way or another. It’s about six adults living in the city, going to work and hanging out at the end of the day. For that reason, it’s an excellent way for ESL students to master conversational English.
How to Find Great “Friends” Clips for Your Lessons
Thanks to YouTube, teaching English with “Friends” TV series has never been easier. There are a number of video clips online showing some of the funniest and most popular moments of the series, and finding ways to integrate video clips into the theme of your existing lessons should be relatively easy.
These are just a few examples of how you can add video clips of “Friends” into your classroom lesson:
- “Friends” Thanksgiving compilation: Most seasons of “Friends” have a Thanksgiving episode, which can be used when teaching about the Thanksgiving holidays in the U.S. and Canada.
- “Phoebe and Rachel Go Shopping”: If you’re teaching a lesson about going shopping, especially in the context of clothes, show this clip where Phoebe, Rachel and Charlie go shopping together.
- “Cooking Class”: For the majority of the “Friends” series, Monica spends her time working as a chef. For this reason, there are a number of video clips of her cooking food, working in the restaurant or taking cooking lessons of her own—which is seen in this video where Monica and Joey go to cooking class.
If you want a surefire source for ESL-appropriate video clips, follow up by browsing FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
Each video comes with interactive captions your students can click for a definition, visual learning aid and native pronunciation of any unfamiliar word. FluentU also creates tailor-made flashcards and exercises to help students retain new vocabulary when they’re done watching. Each student gets a personalized learning experience, all from the same platform, even if they’re watching the same videos!
As an educator, you’ll appreciate the built-in progress tracking, curriculum building and communication tools. Check out all the features and explore the video library for free with a FluentU trial.
On a Break with Your Textbooks? How to Teach English with “Friends” TV Series!
Here are some tips that’ll help you use “Friends” episodes to make awesome English lessons.
1. Start with a “Friends” Warm-up
The best way to kick off any lesson is with a good warm-up activity that gets students thinking about the upcoming material.
For your “Friends” lesson, try showing the class a picture from the episode you’re about to introduce and then ask your students open-ended questions, such as:
- Can you describe the people in the picture?
- What are they doing?
- Why do you think they’re doing that?
- What do you think will happen next?
If you’re looking for engaging pictures of each “Friends” episode, check out the episode list of this “Friends” fan site. Each episode has a picture thumbnail next to it, and by clicking on the picture, you can open and download a full-size picture taken from that particular episode.
And if you’re using “Friends” episodes or clips to teach English over the course of several days, you might also want to consider warming up by having students summarize the events from what you last watched.
2. Pre-teach New Vocabulary
While great for helping students learn conversational English, all but advanced-level students will probably have a difficult time following much of the dialogue on “Friends.” Not only do the characters speak faster than what your average ESL student it used to, they also use a lot of slang and terms that aren’t common vocabulary words found in English textbooks.
It’s a good idea to go through episodes as you plan lessons so that you can pinpoint important words that students may not understand. Regardless of whether you’re teaching with full “Friends” episodes or you’re giving your class a couple of video clips here and there, pre-teaching vocabulary is a great way to make sure they understand the context of the conversations.
For example, in this episode clip where the characters talk about their New Year’s resolutions, some vocabulary words from their conversation to pre-teach include:
- New Year’s resolution
- making fun of someone
The vocabulary words you choose to pre-teach should depend on the skill level of your class. Overall, your aim should be to pick words that you haven’t covered with your students and are important to understanding the gist of the conversation.
When pre-teaching vocabulary words, try making the exercise actionable instead of simply giving your students definitions. A good way to do this is using pictures and contextual clues to elicit responses from your class.
For example, you could show a picture of a married couple in wedding clothes, with a broken heart in between them. Then, ask your students questions like:
- Who are they?
- Do you think they’re happy or unhappy?
- Are they married or did they separate?
Once you’re able to elicit from the students that the couples are no longer together, tell the class that the people in the picture are divorced.
3. Give Students Gap Fill Exercises to Do While They Watch
Gap fills are another great tool to turn “Friends” clips into actionable English lessons.
While your students are watching “Friends,” give them fill-in-the-blank exercises for them to answer as they’re following the conversations. You can do so by visiting this website to download the script from the episode you’re showing in class and then blank out parts of the dialogue.
What you choose to remove should depend largely on what the focus of your lesson is. The great thing about gap fill exercises is that they can be created and adapted to suit a number of different lessons. Consider including a word bank with the gap fill, especially for beginner and lower-intermediate students.
With that said, you should still keep in mind that there needs to be some consistency to what you remove from the dialogue. You want to make sure that your activity is relevant to what the students are learning.
For example, if you’re teaching grammar, try removing particular verb tenses from the dialogue. Other ideas include removing:
- Pre-taught vocabulary words and expressions
- Informal lingo or slang
- Nouns of a specific theme/category
If you’re looking for a new and exciting way to teach English while having a little bit of fun, “Friends” is the perfect teaching tool for you. With just a little bit of preparation, you’ll be able to turn this classic American TV series into comprehensive English lessons that can help students improve their listening, speaking and conversational English.