Freshman Fever Goes to the Movies

Lola Gayle Moriguchi and Mark Lewis Bunkyo University



  • Key Words: Video, Listening Comprehension
  • Learner English Level: All levels
  • Learner Maturity Level: Jr./Sr. High, College/University, Adult
  • Preparation Time: About one hour
  • Activity Time: Ten to twenty minutes for each group of students to present


Working with false-beginner English students could be rewarding; we just knew it. But after one semester of teaching listening comprehension, my colleague and I felt we were losing the student engagement and enjoyment we sought. There was little positive energy coming back to us as teachers. We were using good texts (Airwaves and New English Firsthand) and we felt we were providing challenging lessons while encouraging student involvement. Many of the students, however, were required to take our classes and, after questioning them, we discovered that many did not want to study English nor, after the rigors of their junior and senior high school lessons, did they like English. We tried many things: humor, games, music, and role plays; but as that first semester progressed, students became more and more uninspired and distracted. Our classes were large (between 45 and 60 students) and many students were becoming lost. Hmmmmph.

Over the summer we put together plans for a video project. Each student would work together in a group of two or three and choose an English video for a 2-3 minute dialogue exchange. Each student would assume one of the videoユs character's roles. The project would include (a) introducing the video to the class, (b) explaining why that video was selected (example: "We like Bruce Willis movies."), (c) describing whether the movie is a comedy, adventure, romance, etc., (d) memorizing and then performing the selected dialogue for the class, and (e) providing class members with a copy of the selected dialogue.

We provided students with these instructions in English and Japanese so that everyone could understand what was expected. First presentations would take place in two weeks, and during those two weeks we brought to class scenes from popular videos (Home Alone and Pulp Fiction) and performed these scenes as examples. Students could see exactly what we had in mind and their eyes seemed to brighten.

The video projects lasted about four weeks. All of our students participated by joining groups and working together outside of class. During those four weeks we noticed a considerable change in behavior and attitude. Upon entering the class each week, we could see students sitting together in their groups practicing their dialogues. They were laughing and having a good time. Other students would be waiting to ask questions concerning vocabulary or their video choice. They seemed to be genuinely interested and involved and found the project stimulating and worthy. We were delighted. The restless mood of disinterest had been replaced by a lighter bubbly enthusiasm, and students were absorbing English through their favorite movies.

While we believe there can be no substitute for viewing a full-length movie in its entirety-simply for the enjoyment of it-we also discovered that beginning students can catch a foothold in a second language by grasping certain phrases memorable to them, such as Schwarzenegger's famous "I'll be back!" Surrounded with the backdrop and glitter of a film's story, language becomes entrenched in a meaningful situation and becomes necessary for the least inspired student. This is the natural role of any language.

As with all large classes, there were a few managerial problems. Our university's English video lounge encountered a frenzied period of teaching many students the video check-out procedure. Another problem was that a few groups actually performed the same scene from the same movie-which, when one considers the possibilities, seems highly coincidental.

However, we believe the video project was a success because it asked students to take control of their own learning and it lent them the freedom to do it. Although the video project asks students to dissect bits of language, it adheres to whole language processes because students encounter and imitate language from supposed natural situations. They are also provided with many English speakers as models. We think the project was a success, and more importantly students became excited about speaking English.