Working in MovieTalk

I am slowly figuring out how to use MovieTalk in a high school curriculum.

What I’m finding is that my beginners are mostly very enthusiastic about MovieTalk, because they love watching movies. The downside with ninth-graders is that evidently “movie” means “we don’t really have to pay attention.” I’m combatting that, mostly by keeping up the barrage of speech and questioning that we do in regular Storytelling, but for some of them the darkened room and the comfy chairs lead to…well…sleepiness!

I will be talking about issues of focus with them; I’m learning what I think by writing this!

The other point I have to make with them is that acquisition occurs effortlessly. They need to know that if it feels “too easy,” but that they’re understanding, it’s okay. That’s true acquisition. We got in a bunch of colors, clothing items, animals, and even some new verbs today that I hadn’t thought about, yet the kids were answering questions about them in full voice.

Each time I use MovieTalk, I realize anew that Ashley Hastings is right on about how rich every moment of a movie is. The pictures generate a thousand words, and I can choose which of the thousand (hundred, in my case) to use to discuss the scenes and the action.

This week, we’ve been talking about who has/doesn’t have problems. My two boys were absolutely into the game. One said his problem is that he doesn’t sleep at night. Turns out that his family is up singing heavy metal all night. The other boy said that his problem is he doesn’t have a friend. When I asked whether he has a girlfriend, he said, “Maybe.” We haven’t investigated too much. All this was leading up to the first paragraph of Poor Anna, but as it turned out, it led to the movie we’re watching, in which Crocodile Gena doesn’t have a friend and invites others over to be part of a club of friends.

Whether it’s prepping for reading or prepping for the movie discussion, those high-frequency structures just keep showing up, and the kids were pretty excited to understand parts of the dialogue in the movie without help. They thought I’d planned it, but I honestly hadn’t remembered; high-frequency is high-frequency. Fabulous. Oh! We started a song a while ago, “I’m not afraid,” and part-way through the movie, Shapoclyak asks Cheburashka whether he’s afraid of rats. No! He wasn’t! The crocodile was afraid though. That allowed us to go off script and discuss who was afraid of rats in the classroom. This is not a discussion I’ve ever had with Russian 1 before (reflexive second-type verb). It’s truly TPRS on steroids.

22 responses to “Working in MovieTalk

  1. Is MovieTalk something you invented or similar to what I found on Yahoo blogs? I’m looking forward to more posts and ideas. My students are always dying to watch movies and I dislike the tune-out time and worksheets with questions. Thanks!


    • Hi Kristin!
      I definitely didn’t make up MovieTalk! I haven’t seen anything on Yahoo, but I did just make a category of MovieTalk, which is one of the methods of Focal Skills, a system that Ashley Hastings invented to teach ESL students. If you click on the category in the right sidebar, you will find several posts about it, one of which links to the article he sent me on how to do this method. I’d be really happy if you tried it out, because we could exchange notes! If I were doing it for “real,” I would only be showing movies, as far as I can tell. I hate to water it down any, because we in school obviously don’t have anything like the three hours a day (plus extra class time) to teach kids our language. But I am not being successful in throwing myself completely into the system. I feel like one of those people who “does TPRStorytelling” for only five minutes a day. On the other hand, doing TPRS for only five minutes is a heck of a lot better than not doing it at all.


  2. “The other point I have to make with them is that acquisition occurs effortlessly. They need to know that if it feels “too easy,” but that they’re understanding, it’s okay.”

    I need to make a point of going over this with my students too – they complain because it is too easy and I don’t think the structures are below their level, because many students in the class are not showing they know how to use them yet. I think I’m still not going slow enough because I sense that they are getting impatient and I speed up, but I need to fight that feeling and not let them pressure me! I just need to figure out how to keep their focus so that they don’t zone out.

    Kristin Duncan


    • If a bunch are giving me that issue (they haven’t really done that this year), I put the structures in question up on the board and ask them to use them in a group story. They get ten minutes to create a story, and I get to hear what they’re capable of. Then I comment on what’s falling out of their mouths. “When this structure falls out of your mouth without your having to think of it, I will know you are ready to move on or use it in a more complicated way.”


  3. HI Michelle,
    This movietalk thread is really wonderful.
    I wanted to start small and try it out before going into a full length movie. Also, I didn’t have time to prepare a script and go over structures with a spoken movie. So I picked a pink panther cartoon from youtube (I adore the panther). Since it has no dialogue (only a few signs in English here and there) I could go any direction I wanted.
    I used this in an advanced class and got them talking and arguing (in Spanish of course). I was able to get a better sense of comprehension gaps and circled a few structures here and there. They really wanted to jump ahead and see what would happen next, but I didn’t let them so I could use the future tense to have them guessing against each other. It was totally unscripted on my part, but much, much fun. It made for a productive and easy Friday.
    What seems a little daunting to me about using a full length movie, is the amount of prep required to script it out. Are you doing this with the movie you are using?
    Thank you for your great ideas.


    • Hi Laura,
      Two things…one is that I am using this with my beginners, because it is presented on the FS website as the method to use to increase listening skills. You’ve reminded me that one of the questions I want to ask is up to what level the FS folks use this. I’d love to see the assessments the students must pass to move out of the listening module. Obviously we don’t have as much time (800 hours in a year) as the FS folks do. I already posed one question, which is whether it is fair to call what we’re doing MovieTalk if we aren’t sticking to the method full time, and I will let you know if I get an answer.

      Now, about how I am handling this: I read that a teacher can manage about 18 minutes’ worth of video in a class hour, typically in about 1.5 minute increments. As it turns out, I can manage about four or five minutes in a twenty or twenty-five minute session, so I guess that’s close to what the average is if I extended over an entire hour. What I do is watch, figure out the key structures that I’ll use, and think through the kinds of questions I can ask. I truly do not script it out, partly because I’m a bit lazy on scripting, and partly because I just can’t imagine having the time. If it’s not going to work without total scripting, I can’t bring it in as a technique. I looked through the scripts on this page
      to see what the ideal is.

      Maybe Dr. Hastings or someone else from the FS group will chime in here and give us thoughts. I have to think that our kids in HS would probably benefit from MovieTalk at all levels, and if your kids are ready to argue and discuss because of watching together, it’s great. It’s that shared picture that our researchers are telling us we don’t always get in the classroom. But I also wonder whether possibly your kids are beyond the point that they need to be for this method, if they can read and discuss, because at least my understanding is that we are flooding them with CI by narrating so as to improve their listening skills. (Did I just make any sense at all? I should probably say, “I don’t know!! If it works as motivation and gives a shared picture, and you’re getting more CI, then great! Is that MovieTalk as originally designed? No clue!!”)

      I’m so glad you’re doing this…I have been wanting to embark on MT with my advanced kids, but since we’re in the middle of the Virtual Move, I feel as though we can’t do something new until we all go to a movie together or something.

      You picked a perfect style of video. Dr. Hastings and Dr. Krashen suggested I use things like SpongeBob and other familiar videos, but for my classes, I’m using short little things.

      Keep telling us how it goes, and what you learn, okay??


  4. Hi MJ,
    Thank you for you response.
    I did read on Dr.Hastings site (thank you for the resource) that they only use the method with beginners. I guess I wasn’t using their method completely since I didn’t do much narrating, and circled a few structures I heard my students have difficulty with. It did work on this mini scale, but most likely wasn’t MT.
    In two weeks my beginner students will have watched a movie with the substitute teacher. So I’m thinking I could try going over it again (when they already know what’s going to happen), and do some real CI over that.
    When I get to that, I will report back.


    • Dr. Hastings did write me back, and he said that this method is great for beginners and intermediates, and they use it full time only with the listening module. So I think we’re both okay in his mind to say we’re doing MT. (I hate to misrepresent methods.) The fact that you’re using the movie as “picture” so that the same thing is in everyone’s mind seems like a pretty critical part of this. Do keep us informed. I think that MT gives us a lot more flexibility in class, not to mention heightening kids’ interest. And a big thing it does for me is give movie-showing a means of input. In the past, I sometimes had to go with movies as being cultural events, but never did very much with them. Now I have something valuable to do when the screen goes up!


  5. Hi Michele,
    I’ve been wanting to try Movie Talk with my beginning ESL class ever since I read your first post about it. Next week we’re going to start reading The Red Balloon, so I showed (and talked through) the movie today. It was an easy one to start with because there are only about 2 lines of dialogue in the whole 34-minute movie. It was a great intro for the book. I’m thinking now that after we read the book, I’ll show the movie again, stopping frequently for students to describe (retell) the story.


    • Cool!! I want to use your Pink Panther idea. The Masha videos are starting to pall a bit. I am also realizing that I have to turn the sound way down, or I strain my voice.

      Which PP video did you use that time??


  6. I am struggling with an advanced French class since they are getting “bored” of stories. I was thinking of showing a culturally relevant French movie and working through it a la MovieTalk. Not sure if this will be beneficial for advanced learners of the language, but I figure I can do half MovieTalk and half TPRS type activities to get more reading, writing and speaking in there. It should give us a lot to discuss too, which I think (hope) they are ready to do! Will let you know how it goes!


    • Can’t wait to hear about this! I’m so glad you’re setting off on this tack.


    • I’m planning on doing just that in December hopefully; if not, in January. However, I don’t think I’ll be choosing very MT appropriate movie for the advanced group but the one with meaningful plot and characters, the one that provokes thoughtful discussion and exchange of opinions based on universal themes set in culturally rich context. In my plan, narration steps back to bring forward personal connections, comparisons, and discoveries. I know it sounds idealistic, but it’s worth a try.


  7. The first day of MovieTalk did not go well at all – my students got very upset that they couldn’t just watch the movie and that I kept pausing it to speak French. Anyone else had this problem?


  8. Did you share the information about it with the kids?


    • Yep, I told them in advance that I would be pausing it and narrating the story. But they still were quite agitated that I wouldn’t “just let them watch it”.


      • That’s really interesting. I’m sure it’s something that others will come up against, because that’s how kids see movies. I have talked with mine at length about my concern that they will just “shut off” when we’re watching, and that I am using this because it has so many more pictures available to talk about. I have also told them how Dr. Hastings uses the system.

        It might be easier for me because I’m using a full-length movie only in my advanced and one adult class, and the others are cartoons. They’re still interesting, but they’re short. And…I do let them see the whole thing through at some point. A week ago or so, I admitted to one group that I was totally unprepared and needed to watch the cartoon and make some notes or I wouldn’t know what we were going to work with. I showed it to them. They actually commented that they didn’t understand as much, but it was fun to watch. I told them a complex structure that we’d be working with, and then proceeded as normal. I think it might have given the system some credibility, because they saw me sweating to come up with my plan for the video. On the other hand, I have to admit that telling them the structure was partly to add to the drama. I just needed to know what I was going to be talking about, and what I could repeat a lot.

        Keep us in touch with how it’s going. If this is going to be a system we use, we need to know the pitfalls to avoid in advance.


  9. I thought I posted this yesterday, but I lost it!! (in more ways than one tee hee!) I tried Movie Talk for the first time yesterday. It ROCKED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    It was with levels 3 and 4 and in some ways I was lucky. Because I wasn’t here on Friday they were a little more motivated to listen to me lol and because I started with Alma…which was amazing.

    My kids were clamoring also to “just watch” so I told them that if they stuck with me through the first half that they could go back to the beginning and watch the entire thing from the beginning non-stop. I paused right as the girl is looking in the door with a frustrated face because the door won’t open. I went around the room asking, Will she stay or will she go? Then I asked would you stay or would you go? Then we went back to the clip and watched the entire thing from the beginning to the end. They flipped. So I went back AGAIN slowly from the beginning and we looked for clues that had been there before that we had missed the first time through because we didn’t know the ending. ( the lost child posters on the wall of the building, the number of names on the grafitti wall, the little guy trying to escape, the dolls’ eyes moving etc.) We also talked about the weird doll just inside the door that looks less like a real person than the other dolls, the time periods represented by their clothing and the countries, and in particular the twin dolls, one of which had a eye missing…………………………

    Hoping to go back and work even MORE with it with the fours…next year I’ll bring it back for the threes…..

    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for the idea and the push to try it amiga!!

    And then, of course, I got sucked into looking for more of them lol Here’s one of my FAVORITES so far….

    I also used the concept to introduce a new song video….lovely, lovely, lovely…

    I am thankful for you.

    with love,
    PS I’ll be reposting some of this and some of your stuff on Movie Talk on my page too amiga.


    • I am so grateful to YOU!! I would never have thought about re-winding it and looking for clues. I’m going to save that idea and pull it out when something comes up on foreshadowing in another work. And I’ll watch this one.

      It seems to me that MT is world-changing. I am making a presentation for the local methods students tomorrow, and it’s everything I can do to keep myself from sharing this instead of a standard TPRS demo. Maybe I’ll do a combo, but I’m not really sure how, on a very beginning level.


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