Six subtitled films

In addition to writing materials and teaching, some of you may already be familiar with my subtitling work. Around a year or so ago I discovered Overstream, a great site which allows you to add subtitles to any video you want. Of course, there are good pedagogical uses you could put this to. You could also use this medium to create funny little videos about what goes on in English language teaching and the ELT blogosphere. Here then, are my six subtitled “masterpieces” as one kind critic called them. 😉

Settle down with some colleagues, grab a cup of tea and enjoy! Curtain up…

You are probably wondering what the football uniforms have to do with Dogme…


  • Based on: Any Given Sunday (German dubbed)
  • The context: This was my debut tribute to Scott Thornbury and Dogme methodology. Someone told me they used this video as an introduction to dogme in a workshop, which I loved! Here Al Pacino plays Thornbury, giving a dogme class to a group of football players.

Click here to see the film.

In 2010, a young DOS went to a conference on a battleship...


  • Based on: Yamoto (Japanese film)
  • The context: In early 2010, International House held its annual DOS conference on board HMS Belfast, a warship docked in London. This was just too good a chance to pass up for a bit of satire…

Click here to see the film.

I am Guardian of the Tweets...


  • Based on: The Seventh Seal (Swedish film)
  • The context: Gavin Dudeney wrote a blogpost about how we should be careful what we tweet, retweet and so on. Couldn’t resist spoofing it…

Click here to see the film.

"Language is like ecosystem. Not McNuggets."


  • Based on: Avatar (Russian dubbed trailer)
  • The context: IATEFL 2010 was notable for the large number of talks on technology. This trailer follows an undercover teacher working for the evil EduCorp. They want to destroy the gentle and pure Dogm’ee, who are resisting technology in education.

Click here to see the film.

Prepare for a humanistic sacrifice...


  • Based on: The Mist (Russian dubbed trailer)
  • The context: When the ash cloud hit Europe it threw everyone into turmoil and anxiety. Would we ever travel by air again? This trailer tells the story of a Saturday morning training session gone terribly wrong.

Click here to see the film.

"I think some crazy anti-coursebook bloggers put me here!"


  • Based on:  (Russian dubbed trailer)
  • The context: Ryan Reynolds plays… erm, me! Buried in a coffin underground and being forced to burn my books. But is this really an anti-coursebook plot or a cruel marketing trick from my publisher?

Click here to see the film.

Published in: on December 17, 2010 at 5:41 pm  Comments (15)  
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Six activities to do with film titles

The other day I was browsing through the Oscar nominees (as usual in Spain I’ve hardly heard of half of the films as they are usually just coming out) and I remembered all of a sudden some activities I had done with film titles in the past. Thought I would share here…

1 Title jumble. Write the words of several film titles all jumbled up on the board. Students must try and put them back into titles. For example, can you find the film titles in the words below? Good for work on lexical chunks actually.

hurt the locker air up in the education an this it is

2 Pattern analysis. In Scott Thornbury’s excellent book Natural Grammar he shows how keywords of English help build understanding of the language. On of his exercises focuses on the keyword “of” in noun phrases for film titles. Think about it, there are an awful lot of phrases like that (two in the last two sentences in fact). Gather a group of them, split them in half, and get students to put the halves together using “of the”.

List A: Lord / Planet / Return / The Silence etc.

List B: the Apes / the Jedi / the Lambs / the Rings

3 Translations. Compare how they are translated into other languages. Ask students to research films that have  a different title in their language to the English title (this could be English films translated into their language, or vice versa). They should bring these to class and compare the titles. For some reason my students (and I) have always found it really interesting to know how titles get changed. Did you know the Hurt Locker in Spanish is “En Tierra Hostil” (In Enemy Territory) and in French is “Mineurs”

4 Work with synopses. Get a bunch of film titles and short synopses (from for instance). Ask students to match the film title to its synopsis. Students then write alternate titles for the films and compare.

5 Have a laugh with them. Find a film title generator and you or your students create funny film titles. My favourite currently is this one (It’s an Action Film Title Generator. The last three I got were: Extreme Overkill, Fist of Retaliation and Triple Justice. I’d love to get students to write the synopsis for one of these! There is also, for the higher levels perhaps, the following Movie Title Puns Competition which is good for a groan.

6 Work on idioms. Many film titles use an idiom or fixed expression. Ask your students to find (in their coursebook or dictionary) examples of expressions that they have recently learnt. They must then imagine one of these is a title of the next Oscar-winning film. They must write a thirty word synopsis for the film. It’s best if they have already seen some examples of film synopses to give them examples of the genre.

Have any of you done activities with film titles? Feel free to share…

Published in: on March 17, 2010 at 2:14 pm  Comments (8)  
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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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Six activities with camcorders

Recently I acquired a new video camcorder. It’s a Flip Mino, a new generation of video recorders. It’s simple to use and cheap (less than $150 USD). Now just last month I was lucky enough to have a class of students where basically all manner of technology was available to me. We had projectors, laptop computers, internet connection, the lot. I decided to experiment a bit with the camcorder in class. Here are six ideas for video projects, including some actual examples that I did.

1 Film a local attraction, and annotate it

You or your students film a local attraction such as a fair, or street theatre or exhibition. Using a video editing programme like Movie Maker (which is on most computers), add music and annotations to the video. We did the following on Youtube itself (if you have an account it’s quite easy to annotate and overlay music – free to set up). It’s the video of the local Medieval Festival. You need to make it full screen to read the annotations. This was a very short example!

2 Make a video message with cards and music

I got this idea from a video I saw in a workshop by Melania Paduraru. The video was of kids showing cards with messages on them (can’t find it again now!) I decided to do something similar with my students. Here’s a video showing how we did it.

And here’s one my students (who are all schoolteachers) made with their own messages. Again, we made this quite short, but you could go longer.

3 Do a Word Association activity.

This was my first foray into little videos. I made this one at the IATEFL Hungary conference. The theme of the conference was Global Skills for Local Needs. I made this little video just by asking people to say words that go with Global or Local. In the final session I asked people to brainstorm as many collocations as they could using the words global or local. I then showed the video. You could easily do something similar with students and other words.

4 Get friends to record a message for your students

The name of the course I was teaching was Mejora tu inglés (Improve your English). Just before the course ended I had to go to the TESOL France conference. I decided to ask speakers and participants there to tell my students how to improve their English. I put these all together and then shared them with the class on my return. You could do something similar, or get friends to each tell a short anecdote, or something about where they live … lots of possibilities. It’s like making your own listening activity.

5 Record students doing a task or a sketch

Of course an obvious thing to record would be students doing a task in English. We did lots of little drama sketches in my class, but I did not film them as my students didn’t fancy having too much of themselves splashed on Youtube and this blog (understandably). But providing you do it just for yourself and the students then I don’t see why not. Again, adding background music or sound effects (you can find thousands of very funny sound effects to add to videos here) make it all the more professional and/or fun.

6 Do a lip synch, or a lip dub

Another thing doing the rounds of the internet now is lip dub. A lip dub is like a lip synch video, but often involves lots of people. You can read a lot more about it here but by far the best example, one I love, is below. This was done by students at a university in Quebec Canada. Unlike the other video projects this is NOT simple, but wouldn’t it be fun to do one?

So there you go. I realise I probably have not been that adventurous with my camcorder yet, but it’s a start! Have any of you filmed things to do with students? How did it go? Would you do any of these activities? Post a comment if you get a moment.

Published in: on November 16, 2009 at 10:15 am  Comments (15)  
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Six ways to exploit the Oscars in class

academy_award_oscarI have tried to avoid many of the “typical” topics at this site, which is why there wasn’t anything about Valentine’s Day last week. But the Oscars are too much to resist. For those of you, like myself, who are planning the week’s lessons and want to include a bit of Hollywood glamour then here are six ideas. None involve gawping at celebrities or debating who had the best dress by the way, I leave that to others.

1. Watch the trailers! You can see all the trailers in one place, here. Otherwise find them on youtube. Select half a dozen or so and make a worksheet to go with them. You could extract a line or two from each film trailer and then students have to listen and match. Include a couple of “distractors” too (lines that don’t belong to any film) to give extra challenge.

2. Make a speech! Ask students to work in pairs and write a one minute acceptance speech for an award. Use this to teach them phrases like: “I’d just like to thank…” “I owe a lot to…” etc. This could lead into discussion on the culture of speeches and speech-giving (who usually gives speeches in their culture, when is an appropriate time for a speech…)

3. Trot out your movie discussion questions! Lots of teachers I know have a bunch of these. Examples: What was the last film you saw? What’s your favourite film? Where do you sit in the cinema? What film do you remember from your childhood? How often do you watch a film on television? etc. I like to set up small groups with one person as the “questioner” who interviews the others and reports back. 

4. Make a scene! Put the students into groups. Give each group a title and a mini synopsis of one of the nominated films. For example: Revolutionary Road. A husband and wife in 1950s suburban Connecticut, dissatisfied with life, decide to move to France and their relationship deteriorates into an endless cycle of squabbling, jealousy and recriminations.

The students have to organise themselves into a frozen scene from the film. When they have done so, the other students must comment on what they think is going on. Alternatively, one of the students is the director and he/she explains the significance of the scene.

5. Organise a “class Oscars”! Basically, by this I mean a class awards ceremony. You could have different categories, for example: Best Joke told in Class, Quickest Speaker in English, Best Pronunciation Award… choose categories that won’t cause resentment depending on your students. Students could decide some of the categories themselves. Have an awards ceremony, having different students open the envelope and read out “And the winner is…” + the name inside. Winners have to make an acceptance speech.

6. Teach passives. Can’t bring myself to add an exclamation mark at the end of this one, but all this film stuff does lend itself very well to teaching or reviewing the passive voice. And we are language teachers after all. You’ve got “was won by…” “was played by…” “X and Y were both nominated for…” “was directed by…”. Impossible to ignore! One possibility would be to create a series of sentences about films, actors, awards etc. Students must complete the sentence with the passive, or switch the active sentences to passive or some kind of language focus work. Once they have done that, tell them that three of the sentences contain false information (e.g. Titanic was directed by Ridley Scott). They must decide which sentences are the false ones. That way you are focusing on form and meaning.

Published in: on February 16, 2009 at 10:25 am  Comments (3)  
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