Five Ways to Teach with Movies Online

Education & Technology

I’ve always been fascinated by the potential of using movies to teach. Over the years I’ve come up with many ideas for this. I’ve also recently been inspired by colleagues who have written books on the subject or who have created online movie utopias for ELT.

Last summer, I wrote digital materials, with break-out rooms as a big player in lesson planning. I mostly used language games adapted from general teaching experience. I was fascinated by the ability to split students up into separate rooms online. This has inspired me to see how we can also play with movies and combine them with games online to create interactive, fun classes and courses. I will be experimenting with these ideas with colleagues in the near future so that I can report back on what’s fully practical with our new technology on WizIQ.

For now, here are some simple, practical ideas for the virtual classroom, or roleplay and discussions in the break-out rooms.

The silent way

Whether it’s Pink Panther, Charlie Chaplin or Mr. Bean, there is so much language to be learnt from silence. Teaching with silent movies is a way to challenge students on all multi-sensory levels of awareness. The movie elicits responses from the students. Teachers facilitate expression by asking the right kinds of questions or providing the right kinds of activities. This is a wonderful outlet for student creativity.

I could probably write an article just about Mr. Bean movie clips. His movies are perfect for many reasons.

  1.  They are found in both movie and animated form.
  2. They are extremely expressive, so it’s easy for students to infer moods, feelings etc.
  3. They are out of the box, funny and universally appealing.

Students can watch some short clips and tell each other in pairs what is happening.

Teacher can guide students in focused language practice, for example, across the full range of tenses, description, adjectives etc.


  1. What is Mr. Bean doing? (present continuous)
  2. What did he do yesterday? (past simple)
  3. What were the last two things he did?
  4. Which was first?
  5. Did he drive his car first or get dressed first?


  1. He did them at the same time.
  2. He was dressing himself while he was driving his car.


First he drove his car and then he got dressed

He had already driven to work before he got dressed.

Mr. Bean has very funny body language and expressions and we can use it to elicit verbs, adjectives, adverbs and creative descriptions from students.

How is he entering the library?

Carefully, sneakily, stealthily etc.

This is just a taster for how we can appreciate the subtle details of different types of movies clips to bring unique language learning opportunities to students.

Content-rich media for topic-based vocabulary
I found that some of the best sources of topic vocabulary for students can be found in movie clips. I was recently amazed by the number of descriptive collocations I found in Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie “The eleventh hour”. As all teachers of advanced or proficiency students will know, the writing sections of exam papers are always the most challenging. Most students struggle to achieve a native-speaker style flow of expression. One major reason is lack of ‘chunking’ experience or inadequate training in appreciating the power of collocation.

Here’s a visual of collocations I used to help my proficiency students master the environment topic, using the above movie clip for inspiration and guidance.

Movie comprehension for socializing and business.
Just as students learn to read between the lines with reading comprehension, we can train subtle awareness in students by analyzing movie clips in structured ways. With reading, students learn to read key words, skim and scan, see the bird’s eye view and then explore the finer details.

With movies, this is all the more poignant, as we have body language, tone of voice, facial expressions , colloquialisms and socio-linguistics to give our students ever intriguing clues into language, psychology and explicit versus implicit meaning. Of course, this kind of focus needs planning , effective questioning skills and roleplay scenarios. On WizIQ, the new break-out room feature should make roleplay and discussion a dream to facilitate.

This kind of training helps students to socialize in the real world and helps business people to handle meetings and presentations with more social grace.

Story-telling, roleplay and writing.

All movies are stories. They also hark back to traditional oral story-telling, which is wonderful for developing fluency, writing skills, creativity and confidence. Getting back to silent stories in cartoons or movies, students watch and tell the stories, then do lots of creative writing projects. The number of creative writing activites that can be spun from this is inspirational indeed. This is something that I regularly do with my own children, and with my young learners in the form of comics.

Students can also watch a movie clip with sound, of course, and note down interesting words or vocabulary. They can later make up dialogues with these key words in comic form or create a poster with keywords, ideas and images.

Utilise existing resources.

Whilst brain-storming and experimenting with creativity is great fun and highly recommended, we have to admit that it’s also impractical to re-invent the wheel for every class or course. I regularly use websites and resources that I know will benefit my students, and save a lot of time and planning.

I mentioned English Central in a previous article. It is a movie utopia for teachers and learners of English Online. As an asynchronous element to any course, it can supplement skills development in all areas. Anybody interested can check out the site and attend online webinars to learn how this amazing resource can be exploited.

I have mentioned a minimum of five ideas here for the sake of space and brevity. Of course, all of these broad ideas are umbrellas for many, many fun activities. Ideas are not enough though. We must plan carefully to make movies work for us.

For this reason I also want to recommend the only ELT movie book I know of that gives step by step instructions for many amazing lesson plans with movies. It also helps to develop creativity in the teachers who read it and try out the lesson plans.

ELT goes to the Movies is the book which I have reviewed here. The co-authors Maria Ines Brumana Espinosa and Monica Segura have kindly agreed to offer some advice from their book on lesson planning for movies.

A basic lesson plan
A. Stage 1: Warm-up Activity: it should be short. It introduces the topic to be dealt with
in the chunk
B. Stage 2: Prediction Activity: it allows students to make use of their already acquired
language to let their imagination fly towards what they will encounter.
C. Stage 3: Confirming Predictions: it helps students in correcting what they have
already said and most important of all is the first exposure to the chunk.
D. Stage 4: Language Study: the purpose of the choice of extract is revealed at this
stage if not, the goal has not been clear
E. Stage 5: Extension: it is considered the follow-up of the whole work done on the chunk.

Monica Segura also wrote an article called ‘have fun with films’ especially for me to share with you.

If you have ideas for teaching with movies please comment below or share experiences.

Sylvia Guinan

is an online English teacher, writer and blogger who facilitates professional development online. She uses brain-friendly techniques to help students and teachers around the world. She designs educational materials, develops courses, writes resource papers and publishes ebooks. Her work is the result of much research into the psychology of learning, as well as hands-on experience with multi-media technology.

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