Chilling Cinematic Scenes to Teach Verb Tenses

I’ve always enjoyed working Halloween themes into lessons. The holiday has always encouraged three loves of mine: candy, creative costumes and decorations, and scary movies. Yes, I’m one of those people who enjoy being thrilled by ghosts, goblins, and paranormal activity. I don’t care for gore. I like suspense and chills. Would you consider showing a few exciting scenes to illustrate verb tenses as part of a review? The clips promise to be memorable (with no gore). Here are my picks:

  • Present Progressive. Film: The Others. (1) Use the trailer and ask students, “Who is living in the house? What are the mother and daughter arguing about?” (2) If you own the DVD, show the scene near the end of the movie where the truth is revealed. Have the students form the present progressive to complete these sentences: The daughter’s ghost is whispering. She‘s telling the medium the truth about their deaths. The mother (Nicole Kidman) is watching it all with great anxiety.


  • Simple Past and Past Progressive. Film: The Sixth Sense. Use the trailer and ask students, “What happened at the beginning of the clip? Who got hurt? Was the woman badly injured? Where was the woman standing while the boy was talking to his mother?”


  • Simple Present. Film: The Sixth Sense. Show the complete trailer and ask students, “What is the problem? What does the boy complain about? What kind of relationship does he have with his mother?”


  • Simple Past, Past Perfect (Progressive), Future with “going to”. Film: The Shining. Use the chilling yet classic scene where Wendy discovers that her husband (Jack Nicholson) has written page after page of “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”  Ask students, “What did the wife discover? What had her husband, a writer, been typing?/ What sentence had her husband typed over and over again? What do you think Wendy is going to do with the baseball bat?”


  • Simple Present and Present Perfect. Film: Poltergeist. (1) Use the trailer and challenge students to list verbs in the simple present tense as they are spoken. Thanks to a partial narration done slowly, the task is manageable. In the trailer, the couple mentions disturbances they‘ve experienced (or: been experiencing). (2) If you own the DVD, use examples of those “disturbances” and have students summarize the situation using only the simple present and present perfect (progressive). Example: There is strange activity in the house. Furniture has moved by itself. Lights have gone off and on by themselves.

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