Almost thirty years ago, when I first started teaching, the use of feature films in the classroom was considered a ‘Friday afternoon treat’ – something to give the students as a reward and, perhaps in some cases, to give teachers a chance to catch up on some marking! Some schools used movies randomly and at inappropriate levels, meaning students often got little to nothing in terms of language learning.
Having originally studied Film at university I was always keen to use movies in class, and some years later I ran a series of workshops for teachers on the use of video in the classroom (‘video’ gives an idea of exactly how long ago that was) and how to maximise learning opportunities. I offered a selection of lesson ideas I’d used to good effect in my own classes and now 25 years later, with increased online access to materials that are often not subject to copyright issues within an educational context, I’m sharing a few of those ideas here!
Why use movie trailers?
These ideas will concentrate on movie trailers specifically as promotional tools studios use to get audiences interested in films coming soon. The interest level in trailers is unquestionable – being among the top five forms of video content viewed by users (as an example, Marvel’s Avengers Endgame trailer had 129,527,344 views at the time of writing).
You can find trailers on YouTube or sites like iTunes Movie Trailers. A typical trailer will be between 2 and 3 minutes long, although teaser trailers – those released sometime before the movie’s planned release – will be shorter, and typically give less of the plot away, aiming to create a general mood instead (these can be useful in their own right).
You should ensure you are not breaking any copyright laws in your use of movies in class and be aware of the suitability of the subject matter for the students you are teaching. Note that the majority of trailers will be suitable for class use, but ‘red band trailers’ are those which feature violence and/ or abusive language.
1) Pick a Movie
If you do show movies in your school, as part of a ‘movie club’ or similar, trailers can provide an excellent opportunity to decide what movies are shown, while encouraging students’ analytical and presentation skills!
Method: Show three trailers. Students divide into three groups according to which movie they would prefer to see. Within each group, they decide what it is about their choice that appeals to them. A help guide could be provided with keywords to assist them: words like genre/ stars/ director/ themes etc. After half an hour, selected representatives present their choice reasons to the broader group. After presentations, the choice is put to a class vote.
2) Film Pitch
This is a more ‘drama’ based version of the ‘pick a movie’ idea and uses the concept of familiar social events such as the Cannes Film Festival etc. where filmmakers will try to sell their films to would-be studio buyers.
Method: Show a trailer and ask the students to consider it along the lines of stars/ genre/ look and feel/ what they saw. Invite students to write a ‘pitch’ for the movie, as if they were the maker. Their job is to pick out the most positive points about it and why people would want to see it. The second group of two/ three students will act as a ‘movie producer panel’ who can buy a movie. Their job is to decide whether they would buy the film in question, based on the quality of the presenters’ persuasive powers.
3) Red Light/ Green Light
This is a variation on Film Pitch, which doesn’t even need a trailer!
Method: Students in small groups come up with their own ideas for a film, and present a 2-minute ‘pitch’ of it to a panel of students who will decide whether their ‘studio’ will give it the green light (make it), or a red light (turn it down).
4) What Happens Next
The point of a trailer is to give a feel for what the movie will be about, without giving the whole plot away (some do this better than others). They often use ‘tropes’ – a movie language shorthand which allows an audience to see there is enough in the movie that reminds them of things they have previously liked without being ‘exactly the same’. If you have students who are interested and watch movies in their own time and depending on your class subject, this can work as a fun ‘warmer’ exercise.
Method: Show a trailer and ask students what they think will happen in the movie. Students can work in pairs or individually and either fill in a response or call out suggestions (from experience these can be humorous or serious, depending on your class…). If you are using an old movie then you can tell them who was closest (although they may have seen it), if it’s a new film then there will be a period of waiting before the answer is revealed…
5) My Favorite Genre:
… a fun self-study preparation/ classroom presentation project for classes who have an interest in movies.
Method: explain to students what a ‘genre’ means in film terms. This can be a fun classroom warmer to encourage students to take part: in the past I’ve put genre headings up on a board (e.g. Western, Sci-Fi, Horror etc.), and provided post-it notes of terms or words such as ‘Ghost’, ‘Horse’, ‘Time-travel’ etc. then asked students to put them under the appropriate genre. Students can then add their own elements under the genre they think is most fitting.
To extend this ask students to think about what their favourite genre is and tell them to find a trailer which they believe demonstrates this genre. Students can do this in their own time and present it to their classmates, pointing out what ‘genre’ elements it uses. This can lead to interesting discussions around cross-genres and storytelling techniques.
How do you use movies in the classroom? Let us know in the comments below!
Simon Bewick worked in ELT for 25 years and has watched movies for nearly 50. He is the author of several short story collections for both adults and young adults, available on Amazon. He writes about films, literature and culture on his website bewbob.com