Movie Talk originated as an element of the Focal Skills approach developed in the 1990s by ESL instructor Dr. Ashley Hastings. Movie Talk is an essential component in developing what is known in Focal Skills as the “Listening Module.” In Focal Skills, students spend intensive amounts of time developing their listening comprehension before time is devoted to the other modes of communication. Focal Skills was developed in response to Dr. Stephen Krashen’s Comprehensible Input hypothesis.

In Hastings’ Movie Talk, the teacher uses a full-length movie, shown in small chunks. The teacher begins by showing a small chunk of the movie without stopping. The second step is showing the same chunk again, often with the sound muted. The teacher narrates the action and describes the characters and setting. The teacher makes the narration as comprehensible as possible. Comprehension is enhanced by pointing to images on the screen as the scene is described. During the narration, the teacher asks questions of the class as a form of checking for understanding.

Movie Talk was introduced to the “CI community” by Michele Whaley, a Russian teacher in Alaska (and finalist for ACTFL Teacher of the Year!) and quickly became a favorite activity of teachers who were looking for new and novel ways of delivering comprehensible input. The CI community adapted the original Movie Talk to better suit their needs and style of teaching, and it has really evolved into something a little different that the original intent of Dr. Hastings. We like to call it ‘Modified MovieTalk’ or ‘Video-driven input’. The suggestions given in this post reflect the generally-accepted practices of “Movie Talk 2.0” that is currently being embraced by acquisition-focused teachers of world languages.

The first step is selecting a movie. We have already written a detailed post on this process HERE! Find a short video–10 seconds to 2 minutes. Keep in mind that two minutes is a LONG video when you are trying to extend it to maximize input.

KRISTY: I have found that for me, Movie Talk works best when I DON’T show students the movie at first.
CAROL: I have the most fun / success when I don’t even tell them there is a video at all!

A great way to prime students and to provide CI is to take screen shots from the video and organize them in a PowerPoint or Google slide presentation. This allows us to focus on the parts we really want to focus on and keeps us from goofing up and giving away spoilers without meaning to! It’s fun to take specific screenshots that might be interpreted in a funny or distorted way to prevent students from predicting what the video will be about. There are quite a few ways to use the screen shots, and here are some of our favorites:
— Look at each photo and use one phrase/sentence to describe what is happening in the photo.
— Put the photos into a logical sequence.
— If students KNOW there is a video coming, predict the sequence and the storyline of the video.
— One-word Image: Use one screenshot to use as a prompt for generating compelling discussion about what is happening in the photo or scene.
— Matching: Write sentences that look like they correspond to at least one photo; make sure the sentences do no give away what actually happens in the video. (No spoilers!) It’s most fun when the sentences could apply to more than one photo (aka: screenshot).

Doing all this “Pre-game Warm-up” helps us to avoid the big challenge to Modified Movie Talk– IMPATIENCE! Most teachers agree with us… When we jump right into a video, stopping, starting and rewinding it frequently, students get impatient to the point of being annoyed! They just want to watch the video. This defeats the purpose of using this engaging approach to delivering CI! The point is NOT the video! The point is to use the topic of the video to sustain interaction in the target language / provide oodles of CI!  Warming up with one of our pre-game activities, reduces impatience and removes the temptation to give in to student pressure to simply show the video. WE REPEAT! It’s not about watching a video! It’s about using the video as a strategical platform to interact in L2!

Once you start the video, students will clamor on about just being able to watch the video. Don’t succumb to the pressure! Extend pre-video activities as long as you can sustain them, and then once you reveal that there is a video and/or start the video, don’t move beyond the ‘poster’ frame, which is the frame that shows when you start the video. If you embed the video into a slideshow (PPT, keynote or Google), you can select the scene that you want to be visible, just like you can choose a thumbnail for a video you upload to YouTube.  Once the ‘poster’ is revealed, ask students as many questions as you can about the image. Once you’ve exhausted all questioning/discussion options, THEN start the video, BUT…

… Do NOT play more than a second or two of the video! After students see the blip of action, ask them a prediction question about what they are about to see. If they are novice-level learners, give them 2-3 answer options and make them choose their answer “with their feet” by moving to one side of the room or the other to cast their vote.  If they are more experienced in the language, allow them to answer the prediction question with their own ideas.

Play just 1 to 2 more seconds of the video and ask the prediction question again. Allow students to change their answers based on the next 1-2 seconds of the video that they were allowed to see. Have fun and try to influence student answers by replaying the last few seconds of the video and using voice inflection to insinuate that they are predicting incorrectly. Continue (re)playing just 1-2 seconds at a time and encourage students to (re)evaluate their predictions. Continue the shenanigans until students do not tolerate your prediction game any longer.

Here is an example from a Verizon commercial.

I, (Kristy) use this commercial when I begin teaching the Esperanza reader. The main character in Esperanza is getting some unwanted and unexpected phone calls, and this commercial allows me to activate some of the same language structures that students will be seeing in the reader!

Once I have created my slideshow, I simply show it slide by slide to the class and tell them about the story, characters, and setting in very simple, comprehensible language. Just as I would when using any verbal storytelling in class, I write new/unknown words on the board as we go (if I am really organized I add them to the slideshow in a text box!). I use the image as an aid to comprehension by pointing at whatever aspect of the image I am describing. Just like I would do in verbal storytelling, I check for comprehension by asking questions. I make my way through all of the slides in this manner, alternately telling the story in comprehensible language and checking for comprehension.

Once I have finished describing the entire story, we then watch the movie. I do sometimes stop the video to reiterate something and provide more input, but this phase goes much faster than the slideshow phase.

After I finish showing the video, I personally like to do some follow-up activities. It is not necessary to do any additional activities, but I really like to squeeze all the comprehensible input out of a video that I can possibly get! These are just a few options for follow-up after a Movie Talk:

  • Make a slide with 4 of the screen shots you made for the movie talk. Label them A, B, C, and D. Describe one of them and have students identify which you are describing.
  • Give students several images from the screen shots you made. Scramble the order. Have the students put pictures in order according to the video and prepare oral or written recap of the events.
  • For lower levels/younger students: Give students several images from the screen shots you made. Scramble the order. Write one summarizing statement for each picture on another slip of paper. (They will have a set of images and a separate set of statements.) Have the students put pictures in order and match the appropriate statement to each photo.
  • Discuss with the class… Looking at the pictures, what can be said about someone’s personality/mood/interests?
  • Make some statements that are inferential. Ask the class which inference they feel applies to which picture. Example: The woman is an introvert. The man thinks the woman is beautiful.
  • Possible vs. Probable. Make statements that require students to think about the likelihood of something. Example: The video shows an elderly lady not moving and reclining in her chair. Teacher says: “The grandmother is not really dead. Possible or probable?” To further the discussion, have students rate the odds 1-5 (5 = very likely, 1 = not very likely).
  • Finally, we like to additionally type up a reading based on the Movie Talk. We simply describe the video in written form. If you feel a script would be beneficial to you as you do your first few Movie Talks, this reading can be made in advance and serve as a script for the teacher!

For more tips on a successful Movie Talk experience, download this handout. To download a FREE Movie Talk lesson for Spanish classes, click HERE!

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