5 Engaging Activities with Film Plots

In a recent YouTube lesson I decided to approach grammar through a list of my top 5 favorite disaster movies. I figured it would make the discussion of prepositions much more entertaining. I focused on confusing phrases like in the end, by the end, and at the end. 

Some of the movies I included are very popular, for instance, Independence Day (1996), so the chances of your students being familiar with the plots are very high. But even if students haven’t seen a full movie, they can still participate in a fun activity based on the plot.

Here are five activities you can use for one-on-one or group instruction.

1. Oral story chain. 
Take turns recalling the plot in chronological order. Each speaker contributes one line at a time. Note useful phrases on the board for reference, including in the very beginning, right from the start, by the end, and at the end of the movie. Invite students to suggest additional sequence markers: then, after that, by that time, etc.

2. Prequel/sequel writing activities.
I originally suggested these small group writing tasks back in a 2009 post. Students could write a prequel plot even if they haven’t seen a full movie. Reading a film synopsis on IMBd would give enough background information. In contrast, a sequel plot is best done if students have seen the full movie. Encourage everyone to contribute, but designate one scribe. Remind students that plots are often written in the present tense.

3.  Famous one-liners.
Take a well-known line from a memorable scene. Discuss the context. Then create a new dialog that incorporates that same line. Students can aim to retain the original tone, mimicking the actor’s speech. Consider, for example, an amusing conversation that makes use of Will Smith’s line from Independence Day  after punching out an enemy alien: “Now that’s what I call a close encounter.” (View clip on GetYarn. Learn more about GetYarn here.)

4. Plot changer.
This is a speaking or writing activity based on what ifs. Within a group that is very familiar with a movie, what if questions can prompt alternative plot lines. It’s wonderful for students who need practice with unreal conditionals. With a large class, students can work in pairs or small groups. They write down a what if question and then exchange papers. Students must discuss possible answers and choose to write out one alternative outcome. Models:
– What would have happened if Sam, the boy in The Day After Tomorrow, had decided not to stay at the New York Public Library?
– What could happen if some of the aliens survived at the end of Independence Day?
– What would be different if Jo fell in love with a different storm chaser in Twister?

5. Plausible plots.
Here’s an idea that actually depends on students’ not being familiar with a movie plot: Select a movie poster from an unfamiliar film. Model: The Searchers (1956). (Find other movie posters here.) Students will study the images and text and then guess what the basic plot is by discussing possibilities and noting them down. Encourage use of target language, such as modal for assumptions (could, may, might). Then reveal the actual plot by sharing a synopsis from IMBd. Students can earn a point if a guess was accurate.

Note: Some of the older Hollywood films are dated and wouldn’t be considered politically correct today. Plots from such movies could lead into a larger discussion about how times have changed.

Besides discussion and reading script excerpts, what other activities are possible? Feel free to share.

Photo credit: Cinema, Strip, Movie, Film, Video by Geralt. Retrieved from the Public Domain at https://pixabay.com/en/cinema-strip-movie-film-video-64074/.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Dave Weller says:

    Good ideas! I can imagine my students talking to each other after they’ve neglected to do their homework again… “Now that’s what I call a close encounter.”

    1. Ha ha. Enjoy. I also like this exchange:

      Steve’s fast, reduced speech is a challenge, but with repetitive listening, our students should hear his suggestion.

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