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
ESL/EFL lesson about hotel experiences, reservations and complaints, based on clips from the Coen Brothers’ Barton Fink
Barton Fink is a film situated at the beginning of what I think it is fair to call the Coen Brothers’ heydey in the 1990s, preceding as it does Fargo in 1996 and The Big Lebowski in 1998, a run interrupted only by the fine, but admittedly lesser work The Hudsucker Proxy in 1994. A satire of the Hollywood system in the 1940s, it came out a year before Robert Altman’s more contemporaneous, multi-protagonist “comeback” movie The Player in 1992. I mention the latter as each film delves into the more soul-destroying undercurrents of Tinseltown with a metafictional twist: the eponymous playwright turned screenwriter in the Coen brothers movie and Tim Robbins’s studio mogul in The Player both – in their quest for Hollywood glory – seem to become literally authors of their own dramas. Continue reading
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.
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.
“Nail house” in Shanghai: Lucas Schifres/Getty Images
Film, music and photography-based ESL/EFL lesson about urbanization and nostalgia
My last post featuring Frank Sinatra’s It Was A Very Good Year reminded me of a grammatical structure I have seldom had cause to teach. Twice in the song we see the modal “would” used not in the conditional context that most students will encounter first, but rather to express habits in the past (“We’d hide from the lights / On the village green”, “We’d ride in limousines / Their chauffeurs would drive”). To build on this, as well as the structure “used to + verb”, to talk about our past routines, there is fantastic song which is also a rich basis for discussion about our relationship to the past, particularly as concerns urbanization and the irrevocable transformation of the natural environment into the built one. The song is Tar & Cement, a one-hit country-soul wonder by Verdelle Smith, written by Lee Pockriss and Paul Vance. Continue reading
Video-based ESL/EFL lesson plan on image rights, voyeurism and street photography featuring Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up
Following on from my post about Rear Window, a film I often like to use in class following Hitchcock’s masterpiece is Antonioni’s 1966 classic Blow-Up. While the main character’s casual mysogyny is jarring today, the film has not lost its intriguing power and ambiguity. I won’t reiterate the debate around what actually happens in the film here, suffice to say there are good grounds to doubt the veracity of what we see, particularly in relation to film’s central murder mystery. The film also includes one of my all-time favourite scenes, in which the hero photographer works – with increasing intensity – in his studio as he develops the photos that convince him he has unwittingly witnessed a crime, an extract of which features in my lesson plan below. Continue reading
Edward Hopper, Night Windows, 1928.
English class on surveillance, voyeurism and neighbourliness, featuring Alfred Hitchcock, Edward Hopper, Avril Paton and Ole Marius Jøergensen
Following on from my previous post about The Prisoner, which evokes among other things the theme of surveillance, and the post about Brainstorm, which imagines a dystopian technology allowing users to vicariously experience other people’s memories, this class focuses on the subject of neighbourhood watch, privacy and voyeurism. The clips I have used that best elicit discussions on these themes are from one of the all-time greats, Hitchcock’s Rear Window. Continue reading
Communicative English class about the Cold War, brainwashing and individual freedom
I have done many variations of a class based around clips from Patrick McGoohan’s iconic 1960s tv series The Prisoner, focusing in particular on the opening sequence and the first scenes of the debut episode. These work especially well as a basis for discussion as there is minimal dialogue and the narrative is almost entirely shown, with plenty of scope for description and vocab-building. The first episode is also rich in mystery, allowing lots of opportunities for student speculation. Continue reading