I know, I know. We’ve all done it: pressed play on a movie so we don’t have to do a real lesson! But using videos in class can be very productive for teaching spoken language!
But students actually can get a lot out of videos and films. When students are watching a video, they’re listening and also absorbing body language and also learning about English in context, which is important for teaching pragmatics! Videos are full of visual cues that students can pick up on. Movies often have a plot or story to discuss and some kind of moral or artistic message. Finally, films are often fun and engaging, so students want to pay attention. But without a plan, a film-based lesson can turn into kids just watching a movie.
Now there are some great sites for using films in class, such as Film English. But what if you have a film you love, and you want to use it in class, but no one’s done a lesson about it yet? I’ve developed this simple flexible framework to help you create a lesson built around any kind of video or film.
A Framework for Using Videos in Class
I’ve used Mr Bean as an example here because Mr. Bean is very popular, but this method can work with really any kind of movie or film, scripted or natural, story-driven or thematic, a music video or a scene from a film. The framework lets you get the most out of the video possible. You can look the film as a piece of communication, a story, a way to raise a theme, and more!
To use a video in class effectively, you need to break the video into shorter sections. I recommend watching the video before class to get an idea of how it logically breaks down into chapters or unit. Note the times when each section begins and ends.
You’ll also need to prepare a few sets of questions. First you need questions that students can answer while watching the film. These questions should have clear and concrete answers. They should guide the student to understand the important parts of the film such as “Why did the man go into the building?”, “Who did he see in there?” Avoid questions about small details, like “What color was the man’s suit.” On the other hand, if the film maker is using color or clothing to depict a theme, it’s good to direct students’ attention to that while they are watching.
The second set of questions should be more abstract and focus on the themes of the film or larger artistic issues. Ideally, these should be questions that require an understanding of various parts of the film, and be open to debate: “What kind of person do you think the hero is?” or “Do you agree with the mother that people are always cruel to each other?”
If the film is not one that lends itself to heavy themes, or it’s a non-fiction film, you can ask questions such as “Have you ever been in that situation?” or “What do you think would happen if something was a bit different?” You can also draw students’ attention to the way people communicate in the film. You could ask thinks like “How did the man show he was angry?” or “What tells you the woman was being sarcastic?” and the process of film-making itself “Why did the camera zoom in on the book?” “How did the music match the way the boy was feeling?”
1. Put students in pairs or small groups.
2. Play the video bit by bit. Have students watch and try to answer questions related to that section.
For the Mr. Bean video, I’d divide it into the parts where he makes the sandwich, eats the sandwich, and perhaps making tea/the ending. So I’d give students a worksheet with three sets of questions to answer as they are watching.
As for what would be good questions: I’d ask lots of questions about what he pulls out of his coat and why, very
concrete questions about what he does. Incidentally, this would be a good video for practicing vocabulary or verb tenses as students describe Mr. Bean’s actions.
3. Have them check their answers with another pair.
At the end of each section, stop the video and give them a chance to check their answers with another pair or group. This lets them help each other recap what happened, too. If you hear confused students, hopefully you’ll also hear other students explaining what happened to them.
4. If the whole class is completely lost, replay that section.
If 75% of the class, can’t figure it out, give them another chance or two, before stepping in to help.
5. Discuss the questions and any other questions students have to make sure they are following the video.
Before going on to the next section, give students a chance to ask any burning questions or quickly underline any key points. You might say something as simple as, “So, we’ve seen Mr. Bean make a sandwich in a very odd way. And his neighbor, well, his neighbor is pretty surprised. He probably thinks this is pretty gross.”
6. Have students predict what will happen next.
You may also want to give them any information they might need to interpret the next section.
7. For the next section of the video, repeat steps 2-6.
8. When the video is over, review the video as a whole. Discuss questions about the general theme or objective of the video.
You might do a quick summarizing activity, such as having students write a short summary or each tell one thing that happened. I sometimes do paragraph frames with key words missing and have students fill in the missing words.
Then move on to thematic questions. For Mr. Bean, questions about intercultural understanding often work well, as well as the theme of clowning. Clowns show us why we do things the way we do them, by showing what happens if you do them the wrong way. At the same time, clowns are very consistent in their own universe. You might ask students what is the normal way to make a sandwich? Why do you think Mr. Bean does it his way? Does Mr. Bean think we are strange? Can you think of different ways to do the same thing?
You could even discuss the performance. Why doesn’t Mr. Bean talk? How does the actor use his face to make us laugh? What is the role of the straight man?
9. Move on to talking about how the video relates to something personal. This is a good time to do a writing or task where students apply something from the video to their lives. Students could also create their own scenes, or talk about a time they saw a clown or comedy performance.
I hope that framework works for you. I’d love to hear how it goes for your film-based lessons. Let me know in the comments.
If you’re looking for more engaging ways to teach pragmatics, check out our article on using memes!