Scary movies

Scary Woods

scary woods - chris-rice

Student-led live listening

This post was inspired by last week’s #eltchat about maximising student talking time (amongst other things).

Scary movies is a materials-light lesson plan built around student-led live listening. It gets students talking and, just as importantly, listening carefully to each other.  And it’s not just one lesson -it’s an infinite number -as the basic shape can be used again and again, with different levels and almost any topic you can think of.

(A special thanks to @markalloyd. Follow the link to his blog, the speaking cyclist, to   find out more about how we first started exploring speaking cycles and for a list of ten more lesson plans using the same basic template.)

stage 1 brainstorming

Ask students to brainstorm the elements that make a movie scary. I usually ask them to do this in small groups and then ask representatives to board their answers. This is a great stage for inputting some initial topic vocabulary. It’s a very easy, risk-free opener. Everyone has something to say, whether they like scary movies or not.

stage 2 initial discussion

Working in small groups, students discuss the following questions:

  • What’s one of the scariest films you’ve ever seen?
  • Did you see it at home or at the cinema?
  • Were you watching it alone or in company?
  • What made it so scary?
  • How did you react? did you scream? close your eyes? jump out of your seat?
  • Do you think you’d be just as scared if you saw it again?

This stage allows for fairly “safe” speaking. The questions are prompts for the conversation and are not to be followed slavishly. In fact, students usually want to chip in on each question, agreeing, adding information, going off on tangents. This is, obviously, all good stuff and to be encouraged.  The idea here is to give an opportunity for free, unpressured speaking.  This is a great stage for inputting more vocabulary, or taking notes of interesting language that’s emerging. I often keep a note of this on the board, using the notes to prompt and support if necessary. We take time to look at what’s come up before moving on to the next stage.

stage 3 : preparation for the live listening

Each group chooses one film, the one they have most to say about, and a spokesperson.  They then help their spokesperson prepare to tell the class about the film.  This stage can be tricky at times.  They don’t always understand what’s expected of them and can need quite a lot of support from the teacher.  But the preparation and rehearsal time is vital if the live listening stage is to be successful.

I direct students back to the points we brainstormed in the opening stage, and the questions in the discussion,  and ask them to plan out a rough shape for the spokesperson’s long turn.  Once students have experiences one of these live listening cycles, they soon learn what’s needed.

stage 4 : the live listening stage

Whilst the spokesperson for each group is speaking, the others need to listen carefully. They are set two tasks. The first is one they must complete while listening.

Listen and answer these questions:

  • What made the film so scary?
  • Does the speaker scare easily?

The first question focuses on the content, the second on the speaker. I always try and keep this balance in the questions, it helps focus the audience as they’re listening. And this is the key to the activity: to create an attentive audience. This pushes the speaker to perform, to choose their words more carefully, to communicate as clearly as possible. There is more at stake here, this is not the same “safe” environment as the initial discussion.  The speaker is on the spot and this can really focus attention and heighten the processing, potentially pushing the student beyond their usual level of output.

I take notes as each spokesperson speaks and use these to give individual feedback after the lesson, either face to face, or in writing (these days by email immediately after the lesson).

After listening, when all the students have spoken, the groups discuss the following questions:

  • Which film was the scariest?
  • Which speaker has the highest “fear-threshold”?

Here the students are processing what they heard.  The speaker can take part in the discussion, or you might want to use this time to give some initial individual feedback on their presentations. (For me this is a time to give positive global feedback  on their performance and genuine personal feedback on the content. I do not comment on surface errors). Again the first question focuses on content and the second question focuses on the speaker. This is the pay off for the speaker. They love hearing the feedback on their classmates’ thoughts on their fear threshold.

stage 5: feedback

1 The groups feed back to the speakers on their discussion.

2 The teacher feeds back to the class on language. This often focuses on good use of language, on successful communication or on any linguistic needs or requests that came up during the live listening task.

(As a follow up and consolidation task, you can ask the students to write a summary of the discussion, or of their own, personal take on it.)

When I first started using this task cycle, I was working with a low intermediate group who were very hesitant to speak and struggled painfully with the disembodied voices of the coursebook CDs.  We repeated the task on different themes every fourth or fifth lesson.  They loved them and it really seemed to make a visible difference to their confidence and motivation.

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6 Responses to Scary movies

  1. Maria says:

    Hi, Ceri
    I would like to thank you once again! It’s proven to be a great lesson. I think I mentioned on Twitter, that I would teach a class full of avid horror films fans. I practically followed your plan, eliciting and even learning some new expressions-since it is an intermediate level class. We had a lot of fun-as usual-during the brainstorming fase.

    Then, we moved on to the “safe” stage, as you call it; we draw up a list and the students chose two films (Saw-the latest one, I’ve lost counting…, and The Wolfman). It was a smooth passage from brainstorming to this fase. You could say that brainstorming didn’t really stop because they immediately linked the expressions fase with producing their opinion on those two particular films, eager to say what they thought of those films.

    Since this class is a small one, the students were divided in two groups. Then one thing led to another, and we ended up moving chairs and desks, transforming the classroom in a mini-movie theatre… We pretended that there was the screening of the films before the premiere. (I turned off the lights, students were screaming or even laughing, just for some moments)
    Consequently, the first group pretended to be the film magazines reporters and paparazzis outside of the theatre, waiting for the public’s impression! The second group pretended to be the audience coming out of the theatre; they were stopped at the “exit” (the door of the classroom…) having to practice all the questions and answers we had already prepared. There was a reporter and the rest of them were the paparazzis…Fortunately, my voice wasn’t heard at all during the recording, because as you said, they would turn to me for help. However, I urged them to be as natural as they could.

    When we listened to their interviews, they recognised their own mistakes, and even critised their own pronunciation, saying that they have to improve! They felt so excited about it!

    Anyway, long story short, I found out that this was a truly student-focused activity that limited my talking time dramaticaly! I will try to use it again, as you wisely suggested, with other topics! I should have gotten my camera!

    Thank you so much!

    • Ceri Jones says:

      And thank you so much for such great and detailed feedback. It sounds like a fantastic lesson. You really took the plan to another level. I love the idea of the premiere. Was that planned or did it just emerge? I wish you’d had a camera too 🙂
      Thank you so much for sharing!

  2. Maria says:

    The idea of the screening emerged out of the blue. I’m sure you know that feeling; while teaching, a twist comes up. I personally look at the clock first to see if there is enough time. I have to say that it was all that class’ “fault”! Don’t get me wrong, they are nice children, but they are teenagers and I’m struggling to get them interested in anything at all. Consequently, when the opportunity arose, I grabbed it. I wanted to keep them moving and talking. It was so pleasant hearing something else other than the usual one-word responses. And all this thanks to your plan!!!

  3. Ceri says:

    I know that feeling! It’s so great when a group of teenagers decide to take charge of the class (in a positive way of course!). That was the inspiration for my latest post (W is for … words).
    And by the way, I’d say it was all thanks to you and your students, not the plan! It’s the class and the moment that make it work 🙂

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