The Hudsucker Proxy

Communicative English class about supply & demand, the production process, marketing and fads

This scene from the Coen Brothers’ 1994 screwball comedy The Hudsucker Proxy is one of the great comic sequences in cinema history. With a little *chunking* and judicious control of sound it has enormous potential in English as a foreign or second language classes, both for general English and, as we will see, business English. As always, the lesson plan below is just a guide and a starting point for a conversation-based language class. The clip works very well in tandem with any discussions about childhood fads/crazes, as well as the way products are marketed and sold, and can be used as a platform for fun creative activities. Some suggestions for how to follow up on this class feature below.


Level B1+

Warm-up

Brainstorm: “Classic children’s toys”
What were some of your favourite games/toys as a child.

Clip analysis

Viewing 1

Watch the first 54 seconds of the clip*
Make notes around the following simple “gist” questions:
Who? What (is happening)? Why? Where? When?  
Discuss your ideas in groups before sharing with the class.

*[NB: You could do this first part without sound, depending on the level. Eliciting ideas before watching the extract again, this time with sound, should the dialogue prove problematic]

Viewing 2

Watch the clip until 3’50” and make notes.

Discuss with a partner / group:

Describe the sequence of events in the clip. What does each step represent?
What do you think happens next? Why?
Discuss your ideas in groups before sharing with the class.

Viewing 3

Watch the rest of the clip and make notes describing what happens next.

Discuss your ideas in groups before sharing with the class.

Productive/creative activities

As a follow-up activity in groups, you could have students do one or a combination of the following:

  • students invent and present an imaginary children’s toy. How was it discovered, how did it become popular etc.
  • students invent and present an imaginary story behind a real children’s toy. This could be completely ridiculous.
  • students discuss “fads” and “crazes” from their childhood. Teacher can provide a series of questions around this subject. This might be more appropriate for adult learners.
  • students create an advert for a toy or product. This could be real or imaginary. If they need help, the teacher can provide ideas.
  • Business English students could potentially use some of the acquired vocabulary to explain a procedure or process, the history of a product, or changes in demand.

Some crazy products the students could present

Potential areas of language focus:

Whether you are a fan of Boomerang ESA or Task-based learning models, you might prefer to deal with language issues having observed the students during the task phase and reacting accordingly. If you if particular language goals in mind for the class, you could do it before. In either case, some of the potential target language areas I indenified are:

  • reviewing sequencing words (first, then, next, after etc.)
  • reviewing tenses (past, present, future etc.)
  • reviewing relative clauses (a hula hoop is a children’s toy that/which adults can play with too; a hoola hoop is a children’s toy for an adult who likes to keep fit etc.)

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