The Breakfast Club

Breakfast Club meme

ESL-EFL class about teenage peer pressure and personality types, based on clips from The Breakfast Club

I’m going to put my cards on the table here and confess to a not-so-guilty pleasure: The Breakfast Club. John Hughes’s 1985 high-school comedy-drama is by a long distance the film I have seen the most times. If I were to guess I would reckon I’ve watched it on over 30 occasions. The film was a great comfort to me in my teenage years when I probably bunked off school to watch it, but I was first introduced to it by my older brother when I was still in primary school and have revisited it more recently on DVD. Continue reading

Love in the digital age

Copyright Jori Bolton

Communicative English class about romance and smartphone app obsession, based on short film 97%

One of my favourite films of the last ten years or so is Spike Jonze’s Her (2013). It is at once science fiction and science present, with many of its ideas about artificial intelligence and its effect on relationships already seeming quite plausible. What I feel is the strength of Her is its uncynical view of love in the digital age. A dystopia it may be, but it is neither judgemental or preachy. Continue reading

Active bystanders

Video-based English class on taking action and not being a passive bystander

I was recently teaching a variation on the Toxic Masculinity class I posted here, including some work on the Gillette “Best Men Can Be” advert, inspired by this great lesson plan by Kieran Donaghy. Having had to split the lesson over two separate classes, I was looking for a short video I could use as a warm-up / engage activity to kick things off on the second week. Semi-spontaneously, I decided to show my students – in this case, B2/C1-level adults – this short Australian public service announcement made by the State Government of Victoria, Australia. Continue reading

Escaping the gridlock

Communicative English class about traffic and congestion, featuring cinema, rock videos, adverts and more

My last post about Michael Patterson’s work and portals to other dimensions put me in mind of one of cinema’s mindblowingly strange opening scenes, namely that of Fellini’s 8 1/2 (1963). The sequence shares much of the urban claustrophobia and anxiety that characterizes Patterson’s Commuter, as well as its framing of that unease within the context of travel and transport. Continue reading

Pop portals and prepositions

Communicative English class about portals and prepositions of movement featuring an iconic pop video and the work of visual artist Michael Patterson

I’m a big fan of portals into other dimensions. Watching the David Lynch/Mark Frost television series Twin Peaks on BBC2 in my second year of secondary school was something of a gateway drug – if you’ll pardon the pun – to all manner of strange and surreal culture. Dale Cooper’s final disappearance into the Black Lodge, a kind of purgatorial antechamber peopled by backwards-speaking dwarves and taciturn giants, tapped into a long tradition of portals into other realms, notably in children’s literature, horror and science fiction. Continue reading

Protest songs and lords of war

ELT class about protest music based on Buffalo Springfield’s For What It’s Worth and its use in cinema

Following my last post about the exploitation of natural resources and Seth Boydon‘s animated short film An Object at Rest, I have been thinking of films and scenes which chart the progress of an object through time. The Hudsucker Proxy‘s key scene does something similar with the hula hoop, as I described here, while the canonical movie of this type might be said to be Albert Lamorisse’s classic 1954 short The Red Balloon (Le ballon rouge). Setting aside these fine works for the moment, a scene that belongs to this tradition is the opening credits to Andrew Niccol’s 2005 movie Lord of War, starring Nicolas Cage. Continue reading

The exploitation of natural resources

ESL-EFL Class about sustainability and the environment featuring clips from dystopian sci-fi and animated short film

With the Extinction Rebellion currently raging in London, and Brits proving they have a taste for protest and civil disobedience after all, it seems the right time to post a class on the environment and particularly the unsustainable pillaging of world resources. Clearly it is a subject that warrants more than a cursory one-off class, but I thought I’d share a few clips that might generate some interesting discussion and help build vocabulary. Continue reading

Hopes and dreams and could have beens

Norman Rockwell, Breaking Home Ties, 1954

Ideas for a communicative English class about aspirations, regrets and changes in fortune

American painter and illustrator Norman Rockwell is a great source of inspiration for ESL and EFL classes. His works reflect many of the social concerns of his lifetime (1894–1978), notably the anxieties of a nation at war and racism, as this excellent class idea by Chrysa Papalazarou shows. Yet it is arguably for his vignettes of American family life that he is best known. As concerns lesson ideas, Rockwell’s works are particularly full of potential due to the stories they appear to suggest, and which the students can speculate upon and complete themselves. I was particularly struck by his 1954 piece Breaking Home Ties, above, which provided me with the final missing element for a class on hopes and dreams. The image and the class outline below would work nicely as a companion to my post on fatherhood, not to mention the themes of notalgia and regret explored in my posts on the stages of life and urbanization. Continue reading

Sound effects and setting the scene

Creative English class on describing scenes of suspense based around Brian De Palma’s Blow Out

Brian De Palma’s 1981 movie Blow Out makes no secret of the fact that it is an elaborate hommage to Antonioni’s virtual namesake Blow Up and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation, two of my favourite films (around which I have structured classes here and here). Much has been written about the links between these three films, and someone has even taken the trouble to edit a three-movie mash-up out of them. The result is catnip for film geeks. Continue reading

Offices, workplaces and working conditions

Film clips for communicative English lesson on the theme of workplace environments

I have to thank Kieran Donaghy at Film English once again for alerting me to this clever and biting animation The Employment by Santiago ‘Bou’ Grasso. In a darkly comic critique of our value system, people are seen fulfiling absurd everyday functions such as being a stand for a lamp, the legs of a table, or a place to keep keys for the central character, whom we see going about his daily routine and commuting to work. In an ultimately bleak vision of society, everyone is apparently someone else’s dogsbody, with the protagonist himself revealed not to be above this exploitation, ending his commute in an office building where he literally prepares to be someone’s doormat. Kieran structures his class around employment and jobs vocab, as well as the expression “to work as”. I would like to expand slightly on that by comparing the representation of working life in The Employment with other darkly comic interpretations from cinema. Continue reading