Channeling TV Guides Into the Classroom

The listings in a TV guide provide a wealth of material for the ESL classroom. The authentic source places common grammar structures and high frequency vocabulary in an entertaining context. Here are just a few ideas for putting this material to use to facilitate your instruction.

  • Adjective clauses.

Plot summaries of films and TV show premises often contain adjective clauses as well as reduced adjective clauses and appositives. You can present one listing at a time and challenge students to identify the adjective clause(s) used.

Example from The Week. September 25, 2009, p.34.

Movies on TV

Dances with Wolves

Seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Director, went to Kevin Costner’s epic Western about a cavalry officer who joins the Sioux. (1990)


  • Comparatives, superlatives, and equatives.


Films are usually listed with critics’ ratings. Presenting two or three movie listings would allow students to answer questions such as: Which has the higher/ highest rating? Which movie is rated as high as ____? Looking at film dates, students can answer: Which films are the most recent? Which film is the oldest? To test their comprehension of the plot summary, you can ask: Which movie is least/ most appropriate for children? Which movie seems the most interesting to you?


  • Idiomatic, general, and academic vocabulary.


A single TV listing can be turned into a vocabulary exercise with the help of a dictionary. Simply copy the listing and prepare questions that require students to find synonymous words/ phrases for the definitions you provide. [Find the word or phrase that means ___.]


Example from The Week. September 25, 2009, p.34.


Show of the Week

Brick City

…[T]his five-night documentary series follows young Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker from public meetings to schools to midnight basketball games as he struggles with the city’s high rates of gang-related crime and violence. It also introduces us to Newark’s police director and community leaders, including a former gang member who has turned her life around – but who in Episode 1 must turn herself in to authorities on a 4-year-old parole violation.


  1. Find two phrasal verbs. Which one means to change in an important way, especially for the better? [turn around] Which one means to give someone or something to the police? [turn in]
  2. Find the word that refers to the police. [authorities]
  3. Find the word that means fight (against). [struggle (with)]
  4. Find the word that means was before, but no longer is. [former]
  5. What is the adjective we use to describe something that is four years old? [four-year-old]
  6. What is the adjective we use to describe something that lasts for five nights? [five-night]


  • Conversation starters.  

The premise of a TV show itself can be a conversation theme. Students don’t necessarily have to have seen the show to form an opinion about it. For example, the merits and dangers of reality shows and TV competitions (e.g., Dancing with the Stars, The Biggest Loser, etc.) are an appropriate topic for upper level students. Also, footage from actual shows can stimulate great discussion. American TV episodes are available online. One source is TV Full episodes are downloadable for a small fee, but short clips (approx. 2 min.) are free. From sitcoms to dramas, the choices abound.  Prepare a few stimulating questions based on one clip, and you’ll have 15-20 minutes of discussion. Couple it with a focus on language used (grammar, vocabulary, or pronunciation), and you’ll have a complete lesson.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Claudio Leopoldino de Mattos says:

    Wonderful suggestion.
    I love it. thank you so much jennifer…
    Claudio Brazil

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