Airports and the flying experience

Martin Parr, Chicago, 1997

Communicative English class on the theme of airports and flying, based around photography and film clips

I teach a lot of business English and often find myself doing lessons about air travel. At the university where I work in France, I also do a lot of general English conversation classes and it is a theme that is often requested. Frequently in the past I have opted for bog-standard lesson plans found online or from a student manual but I have got bored of doing this and wanted to do something more student-led, based around film and photography. Continue reading

We need to talk about high school massacres

Communicative activity for the ESL/EFL classroom based on clips from films by Lynne Ramsay and Gus Van Sant

Following my recent post about fatherhood, one of the most striking and memorable depictions of motherhood I have seen in the cinema in recent years is that played by Tilda Swinton – in Lynne Ramsay’s 2011 adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s epistolary novel We Need to Talk about Kevin. Ramsay brings her impressionistic signature style – honed on breakthrough works like Morvern Callar (2002) – to the source material, a disturbing and topical story of a mother’s attempts to understand what led her son to commit a horrendous high school massacre. Continue reading

Uniforms and Uniformity


Henri Cartier-Bresson, School children, Moscow, USSR, 1954

Ideas for a photography and film-based ESL/EFL class around the theme of uniforms and uniformity

Writing about Walkabout the other day got me thinking about another theme that normally inspires debate in the English classroom, that of school uniforms and, more broadly, what constitutes a uniform or uniformity more broadly in society. The first clip from my Walkabout-themed lesson plan is particularly evocative in this regard, framing the school uniform as just one form of costume in a vision of Western society that is highly prescriptive and regimented: we see not only the blazered boys and girls at school but marching soldiers and besuited office workers all busying about as if in rhythmic unison. Continue reading

Survival English with Nick Roeg’s Walkabout

Communicative English class about Australia and desert survival based around clips from Nick Roeg’s Walkabout

A film I have returned to a number of times in my teaching is Nick Roeg’s Walkabout. Although unashamedly art-house, my students – both adults and teens – have responded well to it, the emphasis on the visual and non-verbal making it rich in potential for description and speculation. It also seems a fitting to post an article about the maverick British director as he died at the end of last year, leaving behind a small but beguilingly strange back catalogue, most of which dates from the 1970s.

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Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation

Communicative English lesson about surveillance based on Francis Ford Coppola’s classic film The Conversation

A companion piece to Antonioni‘s Blow-Up, or even Rear Window, Francis Ford Coppola’s Watergate-era surveillance thriller The Conversation (1974) may well be the director’s best film. A bold statement by a fan of the original Godfather films and Apocalypse Now, but Coppola’s self-proclaimed favourite strikes me now as the subtlest and most insidiously rewarding of his movies. Moreover, it is arguably the best of the Watergate inspired or themed movies, of which there was a glut in the mid 70s, including prestige productions such as The Paralax View and All The President’s Men.

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