Using YouTube to Discuss Genre

Christopher Nicklin, Rikkyo University

Quick Guide

  • Keywords: Speaking, genre, YouTube, movies
  • Learner English level: Pre-intermediate and above
  • Learner maturity: University and above
  • Preparation time: 5 minutes
  • Activity time: 60 to 90 minutes
  • Materials: Computer with internet access, connected to a large screen or projector

The following set of activities involving the use of edited movie trailers can be used to encourage discussion about conventions of different genres. In the first trailer, a horror movie has been edited to seem like a family drama. In the second trailer, a romantic comedy has been edited to seem like a horror movie.  


Step 1: Check the video links to make sure that they work and familiarize yourself with the material.

  • Video 1: The Shining Recut, HD
  • Video 2: Sleepless in Seattle (psychological horror redux)
  • Video 3: The Shining (1980) - Trailer
  • Video 4: Sleepless in Seattle - Trailer


Step 1: Briefly introduce the word genre and give a simple example, such as science fiction, and provide a famous example, such as Star Wars. As a warm-up exercise, assign the class into pairs and give them two minutes to write down as many genres as they can think of. 

Step 2: Elicit examples from pairs and write them on the board as a word cloud. Ask each student to provide an example of a movie that fits the genre to make the meaning of each example word clearer.

Step 3: Introduce Video 1 by asking students to watch the clip and answer the following questions: what is the name of the movie?, what is the genre of the movie?, and what makes you think that the movie is an example of that genre?  Show Video 1 and then give the pairs as much time as they need to answer the three questions.

Step 4: Repeat Step 3 using Video 2.

Step 5: Ask each pair to report their answers to the rest of the class. Inevitably, most students will discuss why The Shining is a family drama, and why Sleepless in Seattle is a horror movie.

Step 6: Reveal to the class that they were all wrong! Tell them that The Shining is a horror movie, and Sleepless in Seattle is a romantic comedy. Show them Videos 3 and 4 and talk about how different modes of communication, such as music, lighting, and framing, can affect meaning.

Step 7: Assign one of the genres listed on the board to each pair. Ask them to make a list of what they would expect to see and hear in a typical trailer for a movie of that genre. 

Step 8: Have students use their smartphones to watch trailers and report their findings regarding their assigned genres’ conventions to the class.


Discussing genre in English was something that most of the students I taught had never done before, and it provided them with ideas and vocabulary that they could use in other English classes. These exercises can be used to help students think about communication multimodally, and could also be followed up with activities involving the production of roleplays or videos using genre conventions.