Six best movie-clips never to use in language teaching

Warning, use these clips at your own risk!

I’m pleased to announce the first REPEAT OFFENDER here at Six Things, none other than the great Pete Sharma. I think this is a post that Pete has been meaning to get off his chest for some time, and what a treat. Here is a full multimedia collection of celluloid moments not to be used in ELT, selected by self-confessed movie-buff Pete Sharma. Enjoy!

(1) Film: Witness

Starring: Harrison Ford

Teaching point: non-verbal communication

The little Amish boy uncurls his finger and points at the photo of the cop. Harrison Ford moves slowly across to him. This powerful spine-chilling “J’accuse” moment, conveyed (crucially) without words, is totally comprehensible to absolute beginners. Indeed, the whole film is largely comprehensible to lower level learners, and a great way to tune them in successfully to the punishing authenticity that is film. Incidentally, I have actually used this clip to demo NVC (non-verbal communication) on a native speaker communication skills course.

(2) Shirley Valentine

Starring: Pauline Collins

Teaching point: Simple present with adjectives of frequency

My whole life I have done the daily routine class with students, thinking: “When do I ever, in reality, explain my daily routine?” Then, I’m watching Shirley Valentine and suddenly, shocked to find egg and chips on his plate, not steak, Joe says:

Joe: “It’s Thursday. We have steak on Thursday. We always have steak on Thursday.”

Shirley: “We’re having egg and chips for a change. You like egg and chips.”

Joe: “On a Tuesday. I like egg and chips on a Tuesday”. (Priceless). “Today is Thursday.”

Shirley: “Well pretend it’s a Tuesday.”(!!)

Joe: “Where’s me steak?”

Shirley: “I gi’e it the dog!”

Not only that, he enunciates slowly and clearly, so angry is he. I want to round off all my present simple classes with this clip! Alas, I could not find it on youtube but it’s worth getting the whole film just for this dialogue!

(3) Film: High Fidelity

Starring: John Cusack, Jack Black

Teaching point: Yet

Rob (actor John Cusack) in romantic agony questions the meaning of yet: What did Laura mean last night when she said, “I haven’t slept with him yet.” Yet! What does “yet” mean anyway? It means you’re gonna do it, doesn’t it? Or does it? We then get the rest of the great clip above. Gets to the very heart of language drilling: a real world take on asking a question to which you know the answer, but you ask anyway – just to practice!

(4) Film: Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Starring: Steve Martin

Language point: The language of complaining

Coming from an indirect culture, many is the hotel I’ve been in and tiptoed down to complain that the TV is broken. “Excuse me, er, sorry to bother you but, and I’m sure it must be my fault, I’m afraid the TV is……..” Inside of me is a Steve Martin trying to emerge. Here he is, complaining that his hire car isn’t in its bay, a scene which starts off like any other customer service dialogue. Warning: you will hear the F word a LOT in this clip!

Never has the gap between ELT dialogue and the silver screen been wider. Student task: redraft this conversation to make it, er, more polite.

(5) Film: It’s a wonderful life

Starring: James Stewart

Teaching point: conditional type 3

When alien Mork comes to earth in the old US series Mork and Mindy, it transpires all the English he learnt was from transmissions of television shows. Wow. A dream scenario! No teachers, just students totally immersed in a world of film. No need to teach Conditional Type three, then. Just show that last 20 minutes of It’s  a wonderful Life and have your learners report back. Most everything they explain will use the target  structure! We all know the ending: “Every man on that transport died! Harry wasn’t there to save them, because you weren’t there to save Harry. You see, George, you really had a wonderful life.”

So, if George hadn’t been born…well, you get the picture (pun intended). Cue summarising Back to the Future and a host of films on time-travel…….

(6) Film: Double Indemnity

Starring: Edward G. Robinson

Teaching point: ESP – lexis

The fabulously named Barton Keyes (Edward G.) works in insurance. Norton, Keyes’s boss, has just tried, unsuccessfully, to convince a client that her husband’s death was a suicide. It’s the words and the incredible speed of delivery that makes this speech so magnetic. Anyone for a gap-fill?

“Come now, you’ve never read an actuarial table in your life, have you? Why they’ve got ten volumes on suicide alone. Suicide by race, by colour, by occupation, by sex, by seasons of the year, by time of day. Suicide, how committed: by poison, by firearms, by drowning, by leaps. Suicide by poison, subdivided by “types” of poison, such as corrosive, irritant, systemic, gaseous, narcotic, alkaloid, protein, and so forth; suicide by leaps, subdivided by leaps from high places, under the wheels of trains, under the wheels of trucks, under the feet of horses, from “steamboats”. But, Mr. Norton, of all the cases on record, there’s not one single case of suicide by leap from the rear end of a moving train. {..} We’re sunk, and we’ll have to pay through the nose, and you know it”.

I’ve waited all my TEFL life to use this dialogue with a student. Before I die, I just want to teach an actuary in order to use it. How sad is that?

Published in: on February 16, 2010 at 8:06 am  Comments (17)  
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17 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Yet another brilliant post! I wonder why the movies like that are never to be found on the pages of coursebooks.
    One more tip teaching tip in my teaching piggybank.

  2. On a side note, I still hate Steve Martin. 😉

  3. Great list!

    And I am teaching a graduate accounting student this semester so I get to use that Double Indemnity clip!

    By the way, I love the line “next time I’ll wear a tuxedo!”

  4. Haha! Good post, Lindsay!

    In a recent club meeting, one teacher suggested using “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” in class during the scene with Steve Martin and John Candy vying for a cab. It’s all non-verbal communication where a lot of concept-check questions can be used to guide students’ discovery of meaning.

  5. As luck would have it, I really am teaching an actuary right now!

    That’s tomorrow’s class taken care of 😀

  6. Haha! This was right up my alley. Im crazy enough that I just might take that Steve Martin clip into class one of these days! Maybe this Thursday in fact, he he he…

  7. Brilliant and fun! I also use films but as often, just audio since so much communication lacks visual cues. have used a lot of steve martin, other comedians and even martin luther king. by centering material on holidays, that also covers culture. we so rock, we esl teachers!!!

  8. Love this list 🙂 Thanks Pete and Lindsay, a great chuckle.

    By the way, I don’t know if you guys know this but there’s a blogger in Brazil who is busy amassing an entire archive (it’s mind-blowing really what he’s doing) of movie segments and exercises to go with.

    Claudio Azevedo’s blog is here.

    Happy viewing!


    • Hi there and thanks again Karenne for dropping by. I just went to look at that guy’s site. Amazing. I left a comment of admiration on the sheer amount of work going into it!

  9. Great post – am definitely sharing the good stuff here!

  10. I wish I could use that Steve Martin clip, but my manager would probably not like it too much…more for the fact that the adult students would start parroting Steve Martin every time that had a complaint!

  11. Kareene, thanks for turning all of us onto (on to?) claudio’s blog. mind blowing, as you said!


  12. A great post. I think your whole blog is wonderfully laid-out. Clear, informative and always great fun.

    • Thank you very much for dropping by David! And let me return the compliment: language garden has some very beautiful stuff on it indeed!

  13. If you like John Cusack, make sure to check out the 2012 facebook page 🙂

  14. Lovely post. Any takers for that wonderful scene from the The Wire where the detectives start to realise how the murder was committed. The only utterance being the repeated use of the F-word with all its meanings. A beautiful example of intonation at work and a clear demonstration of depth of vocabulary rather than breadth.

  15. There’s a scene in Double Indemnity where Fred MacMurray pulls into a drive-in restaurant and is served a mug of beer, drinks it and drives off. And he’s an insurance exec, no less. That kind of video which compares social norms now and in the past would be fun.

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