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How to Teach English as a Foreign Language (EFL), Using DVDs of TV Shows and Movies

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While Some EFL Teachers Think Using DVDs of TV Shows and Movies in Class is a Bad Idea, It’s Not If You Use Them the Right Way

I taught English as a Foreign Language (EFL) in Thailand for seven years and, during that time taught hundreds of Thai children, teens and adults.

In Thailand, if you can’t make the class ‘fun’, most students aren’t interested in learning – even the adults. That’s why, early on in my teaching career, I began to introduce DVDs of TV shows and movies into the classroom, to make my classes more fun, while still improving my students’ English skills.

Some EFL teachers believe you shouldn’t use DVDs of TV shows and movies to teach English and that’s true, if you do it the lazy way – put in a DVD and let your class watch it. That’s not teaching and your class might as well just spend the afternoon at the movies.

But, if you use DVDs the right way in your classroom, not only will your students (adults and children) love your class, you may be surprised at how much English they suddenly begin to understand.

Reasons using DVDs of TV Shows and Movies Works – If you use a DVD of a TV show or a movie to teach EFL the right way, here’s how your students will improve:

a) Accents – The main problem for foreign students learning English is they’re taught it the ‘correct way’, meaning with a middle-America accent or a Queen’s-English accent. All well and good, until they meet someone from Texas or Edinburgh, Scotland and suddenly they don’t have a clue what that person is saying. It doesn’t even sound like English.

Listening to a DVD of a TV show or a movie exposes your EFL students to various accents. I used a mix of English, Australian and American shows in my classrooms, so my students had exposure to all three. In just a few months of a DVD twice a month, my students were already having less problems with some of the more difficult English accents.

b) Sound and Subtitles are a Double Whammy – I used DVDs with both English soundtrack and English subtitles (NOT the Thai subtitles that my students would understand). What I learned was, with both English on the soundtrack and in the subtitles they became what I call a “double whammy”, my students both heard it and saw it, and this reinforced new English vocabulary in their brains much faster than if they only heard it or read it.

c) English Slang is Important – Most EFL students, even the fluent ones, have problems understanding English slang. Think about it. Most native English speakers don’t speak absolutely correct English with perfect grammar and vocabulary. We use a lot of slang. Which means, when EFL students are confronted with a real live native speaker, the slang that person uses isn’t in their vocabulary so they’re absolutely lost.

DVDs of movies and TV series introduce EFL students to current-day slang and idioms, which is remarkably helpful when they have to use English in real life.

How To Teach EFL Using DVDs of TV Shows and Movies The Right Way

Never stick in a DVD, turn out the classroom lights and just let your students watch it. That’s the lazy way and they’ll learn nothing. Instead, watch only short segments of movies or TV shows at once (not the whole thing at once), use these simple teaching tricks and you’ll be amazed.

a) Completing a Question Sheet – During some DVDs, my students would be given question sheets with 20 questions from the TV show that they had to answer, while the movie was running. With children especially this stops them talking or messing about during the movie as they have to listen in order to answer the questions. For lower-level students, I would allow them to work together in groups.

b) Pre-Teach the Vocabulary – With TV shows like CSI or House, I’d spend the first half of a two-hour class pre-teaching some of the ‘Medical Vocabulary’ in the show, explaining what it meant, and having a discussion about medical issues using that vocabulary. Not only did this make it easier for my students to enjoy and understand the show, they also learned medical vocabulary useful in their every day lives for doctors’ or hospital visits.

c) Assign a Project – In several classes, I used the Michael Moore documentary “Bowling For Columbine“. This was suitable for three hours of classes. Two to watch the movie and one hour for a follow up discussion about guns and gun control in America.

I also assigned a project to every class that saw the documentary. For the next class, each student had to do research online about gun violence in America, find an interesting news story about something that happened in America involving guns, prepare a short speech about it and give the speech to the class explaining what they’d discovered.

I even found some chocolate guns in a shop and gave a chocolate gun to the student who gave the best presentation.

d) Act Out a Scene – Another fun way to enhance the learning experience of a DVD is to have your students write and act out a scene from the movie.

Put your students in groups and let them choose a particular scene in the movie they liked and have them re-write what happened in their own words. Allow them time to rehearse the scene then have each group act out the scene in front of the class.

The most important thing about using DVDs of TV shows and movies to teach EFL is your students must be active participants in the class and not passive DVD watchers.

Create projects, make your students think, have them answer questions, allow them to be actors – anything you can think of to make sure they’re actively participating and you may be amazed at not only how much fun they have, but how much more they enjoy learning English too.