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Category Archives: movies

>In Beijing, there’s a man called “Dawei” who established a small-scale movie-theatre in his house and invited a group of special viewers, the sight-impaired, to “watch”. The way he used was telling.

Each time his small cinema put on a classic Chinese or foreign movie, he let the audiences know about the movie by telling its scene. He tells almost all the necessary details from an actor’s gesture to a whole war. All the audiences listen attentatively and express their satisfaction about Dawei’s movie telling and say that they feel as if they were “seeing” the movie.

Actually, it isn’t an easy job to “tell” a movie because of the time limit within which s/he has to convey as much information as possible to the audiences in order for them to comprehend the movie. What often appears is that some details are lost when trying to talk about others. Luckily, Mr. Dawei has mastered this pretty well by practicing a lot.

From this, I suggest that this “movie telling” be introduced to English teaching, especially  oral courses. Specifically speaking, in the oral English class, the teacher plays a movie known to the students on a DVD and picks up students to relate what they see. The movie can be divided into several part according to the scenes, and after each “scene telling”, the teacher replays it and the whole class have a disscusion of the telling. In the end, students bring about a best telling version of the scene they think. Then the teacher makes a comment on it and proceeds to the next scene…

From the telling, students learn how to tell a story in English, how to pick the right or appropriate words to describe an action, an object, and how to use expressions as simple as possible since oral English prefers simplicity. They may feel time pressed to do the “telling” in the beginning period, but I believe they’ll accustom to it as time passes.

In fact, it doesn’t have to be movies, cartoons are OK as well. What matters is the difficulty students encounter when they perform their telling. After all, “hard” movies are no good for teaching.

Besides, this method can perhaps only be used among students with intermeidate and advanced level of English since their vocabulary and grammar is sufficient enough for the job.


>By Anna – Beijing, China

I think showing movies to the students is one of the best ways to teach English (if not the best). There’s almost everything in the movies. Everything is authentic. Students at all levels need to watch movies as much as they can, provided time and money affordable. Like in my school, which has primary and high school students, we have different movies for the students. For little kids, we have Tom & Jerry, Rainbow Fish, etc.; for high school students, we have Noting Hill, Antz, Men in Black and so on. In universities, they offer a course called “advanced visual-aural-oral skills” for graduate students.

Movies can be used for different purposes. As there’s almost everything in them, teachers need to direct Ss’ attention to some of them. As a Chinese myself, I find watching movies most challenging. There’s always a lot that I can’t figure out while watching a movie. That’s the exact area where the Chinese Ss need help from a foreign teacher because it has the least to do with grammar. It’s all live English for which we may not find any help or explanation from our textbooks or grammar books. Besides, it’s a rich resource of cultural things.

>By Daniel T. Parker

I have a Korean professor friend who is perfecting his English this by watching movies on DVD. He watches at least one DVD per day and follows this formula: (1) play a few minutes of the DVD and try to transcribe everything he hears; (2) replay the same segment and try to correct any mistakes he made or add anything he left out; (3) replay the same segment again with English subtitles to check his transcription; (4) if there’s any vocabulary confusion, he plays the same segment again with Korean subtitles. It takes him several hours to watch one DVD…. but he’s very determined.

>By Eve Ross – Beijing Institute of Machinery, China

At a National TESOL Conference in one of the workshops we were shown 10-15 minutes of a movie with no sound. Then we were asked to sum up the story and to guess in which country it had been filmed.

It was amazing just how much information you glean without using words. I recalled having read that 85% of communication is non-verbal and this exercise really proved it. In such an exercise you use all of your observational skills to understand. A dictionary is of no use. It’s reassuring to the students who find out just how much that can understand, given the opportunity.

After all participants in the workshop had made their contributions, we were then told what the gist of the story was (we were about 90%) and that it took place in Bolivia (I had guessed Peru). Everyone seemed pleased with the outcome.

Of course you could always continue by playing the excerpt again with sound , this time listening for English, or simply use this exercise as a one time cogent example of the power and importance of the students’ own abilities and how they should be used more.

>By Margaret Orleans

[In reply to a teacher who is planning to use movie, The Sound of Music, with her students.]

I haven’t taught the movie to students that age, but I would suggest that rather than having students try to re-enact scenes they’ve just watched, it might be better to stop at key points and have them act out what they think is coming later in the movie (if they really don’t know the story already).

To identify such points, you can look over the script, which I’m sure is available at, though I haven’t actually looked for it. At any rate, I’ve always found scripts there for the movies I teach (though it’s best to find the actual script rather than the screenplay, since there are sometimes differences as big as whole scenes between the two versions–probably more of an issue for more recent films than for a classic like The Sound of Music).

Something else I do before teaching a movie is to run the script through a concordancer to see what words show up time after time and which words appear frequently enough and are likely to be unknown to students that they should be pre-taught, or focused on when the appear for the first time.

Since there are songs, it might also be useful to give them partial lyrics and ask them to predict what fits in the gaps (a good way to get them to understand the concept of rhyme, for example), and then check their guesses against the film. Get them to put together an additional verse of “favorite things.” Get them to exhibit fear through body language, get them to make a list of things people are afraid of–or better yet pantomime items in such a list for the rest of the class to guess.

Taking a leaf from “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” have them create scenes for the characters when they are off the screen. What does Maria tell the nuns when she returns to the abbey? What does vonTrapp do and say before he returns to his home to find his children out of their uniforms.

Use Dick’s suggestion from the other day and have them translate a scene into another genre.

>Eve Ross – Beijing Institute of Machinery, Beijing, China

My students’ requests for me to change fall generally into two categories:

1) “Show us more movies, current movies, but don’t make us talk about them or write about them or anything, and make sure they have Chinese subtitles”, which I see as just laziness, and

2) “You need to use the [error-riddled, deadly boring] textbook more and give us lectures so we can ‘get knowledge’ and give us vocabulary lists so we can prepare for the [TEM4/TOEFL/etc.] and stop making us do group work”, which I see as wishing I used traditional Chinese teaching methods.

Last term, I won over all but one or two of my students without changing my tactics. But I was given new classes this term who need a while to get used to foreign teaching methods, so I continue to get the above advice from my new classes. Interestingly, one of my former classes is lobbying the administration to get me to replace their current teacher of British Literature because she uses the error-riddled, deadly boring textbook (and these students can actually spot the errors now), and only gives lectures–no group work. I don’t think they’d care whether I taught them had I taken their advice last term.

>By Eve Ross – Beijing Institute of Machinery

I asked students to discuss with a partner what percent of their learning is the teacher’s responsibility, and why. The answers ranged from 10% to 100%, but most were between 30% to 50%. The insights used to defend the various answers were really great, too. Since everyone admitted that the teacher had at least some responsibility, this was a good segue into creating a teacher’s contract.

The list members might be interested in my students’ suggestions of clauses to go in my contract, since they create a students’-view picture of the ideal English teacher. I should mention that I taught these same students last semester, so they are already familiar with my teaching style. The numbers reflect how many of the 32 students included the item in their list of suggestions.

26 – Provide more opportunities to speak English
14 – Teach more Western culture
14 – Point out mistakes and correct them immediately
12 – Show more films
8 – Work more on pronunciation
8 – Give more opportunities to talk about daily life
8 – Provide more chances to meet other native speakers
6 – Give advice on how to study English

Suggestions given by fewer than 5 people:

Give advice on reading
Take students out of the classroom
Answer e-mail quickly
Do more role plays
Ask for student suggestions
Give practical knowledge
Give advice on passing the Band 4 Exam
Be friends
More homework
More tests
More oral presentations
More games
More focus on the text
More different topics
More vocabulary
More grammar

All of these seem like pretty good ideas to me, but only the first three are actually going into my contract: I will provide as many opportunities to speak English as possible. I will teach some aspect of Western culture in every class. I will point out and correct students’ mistakes immediately.

>By Karen Stanley

I’d be interested in the different ways that people use particular films. The following ideas come from a 1994 presentation by Strother, Bank and Burgess.

Example one: Mrs. Doubtfire

1) Have students write an ad for the film

2) Write a letter to a parent that you know telling him/her why he/she should hire Mrs. Doubtfire

3) Write a summary of the family values you see in the film

4) Write a newspaper editorial about family abandonment

Example two: Fantasia

1) Have students listen to one of the musical segments *without* seeing the film and write down the images that they imagine. Then show that segment of the film. Depending on their level, have them either compare/contrast their images with the film’s images, or simply describe the images in the film.

2) Have them watch the sorcerer’s apprentice segment. Then have them write or tell the story.

Example three: Dead Poets Society

1) Have students decide — something they liked about the film — a part of the film that could be improved, and explain how/why — whether or not Mr. Keating was a good English teacher — whether they would recommend the film: why or why not

2) In pairs, one person should agree and the other disagree about each of the statements. Support your position.

— Neil’s father is to blame for his death
— The ultimate goal of education is to help students think for themselves
— The competitive atmosphere of a high pressure prep school like Welton Academy provides a very good learning atmosphere for its students
— It is not healthy for young boys to be sent away to school. They need to be with their families. — Parents should put a great deal of pressure on their sons and daughters to do well academically so that they will succeed in life.
— Success can be measured by the prestige of the college you gain admittance to

>By Molly Merson

Teaching writing is not one of my favorite things to do. Especially because of all the extra hours you get to put in correcting essays. But I’ve found some tricks that make it more fun for students and easier for me.

1. To instigate journal writing, put a quote on the board, something interesting that can apply to their lives. For me, today’s quote was “Words once spoken can never be recalled.” Have them chat for a bit with their partner or in groups about a time they said something to someone that they regret, and if that person were there now what would they say to him/her. I usually have them begin journal stuff in class and have 4 pages due a week. As they do something else, partner work maybe, I walk around and check that they’ve written in their journals. you have to be careful becaue sometimes they’ll cheat, so read stuff but not too in depth.

2. Two fun exercises:

a. Take them outside in the garden right now and have them write about what their five senses experience, plus what thoughts they have. Explain that a good writer can sense everything going on around her. Later in the term when it gets colder take them back out and have them do the same. Then return their original essays and have them write a comparison/contrast essay from it.

b. Something I came up with when i was faced with a restless class: Students get into groups of four and bring a pen and paper and a piece of chalk with them. Go outside and have them find a “secret” place and write an X and a message for another group. Then have them write directions how to get to that place. Then they switch papers with another group and try to find the other group’s secret message.

3. Movies: movies are great for spurring writing topics. I have shown the Muppet Movie and had them write about a journey they took to follow their dreams to an unknown place. I’m doing Edward Scissorhands next. The best is to give them lots of background info, like some movie reviews, vocab, quotes, simple plot questions, and “bigger questions”. The bigger questions can be about the themes in the movie, and these can easily become writing topics. Try to use DVD’s with English subtitles so they can understand everything.

As for writing in class, I definitely take the time to do that. It’s best if they write something for homework and then bring it to class to exchange with their partner for corrections. Then they rewrite it before they give it to you. Believe me it saves a lot of headaches from poor grammar overload.

New words are good in the form of scrambles etc and then have them write something with these new words. Also reading something to the class and give them a few key words and have them reconstruct the passage adding some before and after stuff works well.

> By Cathy Chenoweth, Columbia, MO, USA

There is a Korean movie, “The Way Home,” about a spoiled Korean boy who spends the summer with his mute grandmother in her remote, poor village. I show about ten minutes of the film, beginning with the rain storm, when the boy rushes to remove clothes from the line. Then he tells his grandmother he is hungry for Kentucky Fried Chicken, and tries to explain to her what it is.

She agrees, to his delight, to get the chicken, walks to the bus stop, rides to town, comes home through pouring rain with a LIVE chicken, plucks and cooks it, and presents it to her grandson. He cries, “This isn’t Kentucky Fried Chicken – it is boiled!” and pushes it away. Later, very hungry, he eats it greedily. In the morning, his grandmother is ill. His heart softens towards her then.

After showing this much, I ask the class to think of a time during their childhood or teen years when they learned a lesson about life, like this little boy did. Oh, the wonderful stories my students have written! After correcting them, I sometimes make multiple copies for the class to read together.

I recently made multiple copies of several papers showing corrections, and gave them to a different class (to conceal the writers’ identities), and read them to the class. Then I asked the students to read them with a partner, and explain the corrections to their partners. They really enjoyed this part of the activity, telling me that they thought it would help them to be better writers. (We also found several errors that I’d overlooked, some intentionally.)