The article deals with some aspects of integrating films into the English classes. Teaching through films is presented as a valuable instructional tool aimed at development and improvement of students’ language skills and raising their motivation.
Advances in technology have substantially changed the way we teach and learn foreign languages and considerably enhanced opportunities of teachers to integrate films into their language-course syllabus. Using films as a medium for language learning is not a completely new instructional tool, which has just been introduced into the repertoire of the English language teachers. Actually, they have been using it for at least several decades but today due to the development of technologies language teachers have more resources at their disposal such as an ample variety of websites which do not only offer films for watching but also provide teachers with well-designed activities and even lesson plans that might be instantly integrated into their syllabus. Furthermore, with the increased accessibility of online resources more and more independent learners choose to watch films in order to master their language skills.
Many researchers today share the opinion that learning through films may have numerous advantages. Before making a decision about integrating films into their lessons language teachers have to give careful consideration to all the benefits it may give them. We always try to find ways to motivate students and using films is considered one of them. Students like watching videos, TV series and films on the screens of their smart phones and computers; it has become part of their life. So, incorporating films into language-course syllabus and giving students a chance to acquire languages in the way they like might considerably enhance their motivation. Furthermore, films provide authenticity helping students gain knowledge from real-life situations rather than from textbooks. As King notes, “learning English by use of films compensates for all the shortcomings in the EFL learning experience by bringing language to life. It is a refreshing learning experience for students who need to take a break from rote learning of endless English vocabulary and drill practices, and replace it with something realistic, a dimension that is missing in textbook-oriented teaching.” 
Exploring culture through films might present one more benefit to learners of English. As Sherman puts it, film is “a window on English-language culture and it shows how people live and think and behave — local culture with a small ‘c’. A small amount of showing is worth hours of telling from a teacher or a course book.”  Thus, when we use films for teaching, we give our students an opportunity to learn about other cultures and other societies and to understand them better; we also encourage film viewers to compare different cultures and, as a result, to get a deeper insight into their own culture.
Once you have made a decision to integrate films into your language course, you have to start by choosing appropriate films for your classroom. Our experience shows that to succeed in it you need to be provided with some clear criteria that will guide you through the film selection process. According to Donaghy and Whitcher , such criteria might include:
− syllabus fit
− language level
− task potential.
Any teacher who has decided to use a film as an instructional tool should, first of all, think about how it relates to other teaching materials or how it fits with the language-course syllabus. The film may be connected to the topic of the unit or its subunit or sometimes even to one particular text which discusses some interesting issues. Some examples from our own experience may be provided to illustrate how we incorporate films that might have a relation to our coursebooks. The first example relates to the coursebook ‘Language Leader Upper Intermediate’.  After reading and discussing the text ‘Psychological Profiling’ describing psychological methods of crime investigation we offer our students to watch an episode from an American crime television series ‘Lie to Me’, which thematically is very closely connected to the text. The series shows how Dr. Lightman and his colleagues skillfully apply their knowledge of psychology to identify if people involved into a crime investigation are lying or not, to understand their reasons and eventually to solve the crime by finding a real criminal. The film provides its viewers with a high degree of visualization of the methods Dr. Lightman’s group uses in order to find the truth; we see how they study facial expressions of suspects, their body language and postures, how they analyze the movements of their eyes, eyebrows, lips and how it helps them interpret the emotions of people subjected to investigation. Such a great visual support may lead to a really meaningful and interesting discussion of the topic covered at the lesson and at the same time it may enhance students’ motivation and develop their positive attitude towards language learning.
Another example from our experience is connected to the coursebook ‘Global Intermediate’.  Some activities from this coursebook focus on the discussion of the film ‘Strangers on a Train’, a psychological thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock. First, the students are asked to discuss the picture of one of the scenes from the film showing the first meeting of the main heroes, and then they have to listen to the script of the scene and predict the development of further events. We think that instead of discussing the picture of the scene and listening to its script students may be given an opportunity to watch this scene, which is really crucial to the development of the plot. Here the idea of ‘criss-cross’ murder is introduced for the first time. In this scene two complete strangers meet on a train and one of them tells the second person about his idea for the perfect murder, he actually offers him to exchange murders and help each other get rid of people they hate. The first conversation of these two strangers sets in motion a dramatic chain of events; students feel intrigued by what they hear and want to know what is going to happen next. So, you may interrupt the film after this scene and give students a task to work in pairs or bigger groups and anticipate the course of events or even to develop a plot of the film. It becomes more interesting to do such tasks after viewing than after listening to the script because watching the scene provides the students with some visual clues that help them analyze the behavior of these two strangers, the way they speak, their manners and form the first opinions of their personalities. After the students have shared their predictions you might decide to watch some more scenes from the film or even the whole film to see whose predictions are closer to the real storyline. It is important to note that integrating films related to other class materials helps teachers bring variety into the language classroom and break the routine of learning only from coursebooks.
It should be mentioned that a film selection process might become a really challenging experience for teachers as they have to evaluate films from different perspectives. Sometimes they need to watch several films in order to choose the most appropriate one for showing in the classroom. It is important to select a film that may arouse the interest of students as only in this case we expect them to be actively engaged in viewing and discussing activities. That is why we believe that sometimes the right to choose a film should be given to students or at least they may be asked to express their wishes about the films they would like to watch. Not less important is to select a film taking into account the language level of the students’ group as they feel discouraged and lose their motivation if they find the film very difficult to understand or a storyline very hard to follow. In this situation as King states, “viewing films could easily turn into a frustrating experience for learners who might give up this stimulating tool for English learning.”  To prevent this, teachers should evaluate the film very carefully before selecting it and predict the difficulties students might encounter while watching the film. Sherman  claims that it is difficult to watch films with strong regional accents and dialects, films, where there is a lot of speech with very little action, where words don’t match the action, where everyone is talking at once and actors talk with their backs to the camera. All these things tend to hinder comprehension of students, especially of less advanced ones. To solve this problem, some researchers suggest showing older films to students with relatively simple plots and audible dialogues. We tried showing some classics to our students and after watching they admitted that such films are really easier for comprehension.
The duration of the film is a very important factor which should be considered when we think about its integration into the lesson. Language teachers have a wide variety of options here: we may choose a short video, an episode of a series, a single scene or several scenes from a longer film, or a full-length film. Our choice is usually determined by the goals we set and the time we can allocate for viewing and discussing activities. Using short videos or scenes from the longer film might be very convenient as it does not require as much time as watching a full-length film; they may be viewed several times and each viewing can be provided with new activities.
Choosing a full-length film might be problematic because of the time restrictions we have: our usual class lasts for 90 minutes and it is very difficult to show the whole film and to do all the activities during one class. So, we always must solve the problem of how to organize viewing and doing all the activities in the most effective way. Despite the difficulties we like incorporating the whole film as it gives our students a great opportunity to check how they can cope with the comprehension of a longer film and if they do it well, it affects their motivation in a very positive way.
We usually start working with the film with pre-viewing activities. Their choice and variety may depend on our objectives, theme of the film, its connection to the topics discussed in the classroom, the level of the group and some other factors, and all of them are aimed primarily at aiding students in preparing for viewing of the film. Here we may do some vocabulary activities. If the theme of the film is related to the topic already discussed in the class, we may ask them to make a list of words which they think could be used in the film. If there are a lot of difficult words and phrases, which will hinder comprehension, we introduce them to students and ask them to match these words to their definitions, synonyms or antonyms. After that we offer them some gap-filling activities and ask to think about situations in which these words can be used.
In addition to prediction and vocabulary activities, we should create some assignments targeted at developing background knowledge of students as it, to a certain extent, influences the comprehension of the film. We may ask them to do a web research and find the information concerning the events of the film, the time when it was released and explaining why the action was set in this or that place. For instance, before watching the film ‘Casablanca’, a 1942 American romantic film directed by Michael Curtiz, we asked students to find information and to answer the following questions:
- What do you know about Casablanca, the city where the action of the film is set?
- What role did Casablanca play during World War II? What important conference was held there in 1943? Who participated and what were the main issues on the agenda?
- In the film they refer to Morocco as the territory of “unoccupied France”. Why? What was the political status of the country at that time?
- What do you know about the Vichy Regime?
Besides, at this stage we can plan some reading activities. For example, students may be asked to read the film review and put the paragraphs in the correct order.
After doing all preparatory exercises we move to the watching stage. Before it students get acquainted with while-watching activities but actually we check them only after viewing. All the activities here are meant to check the comprehension, to see if students can follow the plot, to identify the main characters and to pay attention to details. Very often we ask students to do these activities at home and only check them at the lesson. We noticed that weaker students benefit from it as they can learn at their own pace and may stop the film and watch some scenes as many times as they need to comprehend them better. Here are the examples of while-viewing activities:
- Match the underlined words with their meanings.
- Name the main characters of the film and explain who they are.
- Identify the speaker and the scene of each of the following lines. Explain what is meant.
- Identify the themes the film deals with. Think how these themes are illustrated.
- Who do the underlined words refer to? Who said the following phrases?
- Complete the dialogues with the missing words. Recall the situations.
- Put the following lines in the correct order.
- Mark the following statements as True or False.
- Answer the following comprehension questions.
Students must be very active viewers and put a lot of effort into doing these exercises and if they manage to do it, they prepare very well for post-viewing activities as they know the plot, have learned some new vocabulary, can describe the main characters and easily recollect the scenes from the film.
After checking how well students could cope with while-viewing tasks we pass to post-viewing activities, which we focus mainly on enhancing their productive skills. But not only on them, we also aim at developing learners’ critical thinking, which is crucially important for university students. We ask a lot of different questions here and to answer such questions students have to analyze the events from the film, compare them to their own life, to think how they would behave in the same situation. Students are encouraged to give their opinion and explain their reasons why they think in this way. Here are the examples of such thought-provoking questions:
- What did you like about the film? Why?
- What did you dislike about the film? Why?
- Which character do you find the most interesting for the development of the plot? Explain your reasons.
- Which character do you sympathize with? Explain.
- How would you behave and what would you choose if you were…?
- Which scenes from the film affected you most? Why?
- Compare your life to the life of … Try to find some similarities and some differences. Discuss.
- What is your opinion of the ending of the film? Could you predict it or it came as a surprise?
- Could you understand the motives of the main characters for making their choice?
Students usually tend to express different opinions and it may lead to an engaging discussion or a debate. Additionally, they may be asked to agree or disagree with the opinions of their group mates, to comment on some quotes related to the film, to read some reviews and to express their opinion about them. After oral discussion students are usually given short writing tasks; they may be asked to write a review of the film, a recommendation to watch the film or an alternative ending for the film.
To conclude, we see that teaching and learning languages through films may become a rewarding experience for teachers, who invest a lot of time and effort into choosing a film, planning and creating activities for its viewing and discussing and it may be highly beneficial for students, who get an opportunity to master their language skills in a very enjoyable way. To aid our students to get the utmost benefits from it, we should integrate films into our lessons on a regular basis, at least several times per semester.
- King, J. Using DVD feature films in the EFL classroom. http://www.moviesgrowenglish.com/PDF/CATESOL/Films_for_EFL, %20J.King.pdf
- Sherman, J. Using Authentic Video in the Language Classroom. Cambridge University Press, 2003, pp.2–5.
- Donaghy K., Whitcher A. How to write film and video activities. Training course for ELT writers. 2015. ELT Teacher 2 Writer. Retrieved from: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/529397
- Cotton D., Falvey D., Kent S., Upper-IntermediateLanguage Leader Coursebook, Pearson Education Limited, 2008, pp. 106–107.
- Clandfield L., Benne R., Intermediate Global Coursebook, Macmillan Publishers Limited 2011, pp. 46–47.