16 short films and videos that work well with teenagers

Here are 16 short films and videos I’ve been using for the past few years in my classes and which have worked well with teenagers (at least in my context!) The selection includes different types of video content, but they all provide such unique contexts that any lesson or task we design around them will help to make that skill or specific language area we’re practising a little bit more stimulating and engaging. Their flexibility is another advantage, since we can use the videos both to suit different levels and to adapt them to meet specific learning objectives.

It is difficult to keep up with so many changes around us, and teenagers’ interests and expectations today are different from, say, just five years ago. In our case here, though, I think this is not a bad thing, and actually the older certain short films and videos the better: the students are not likely to be familiar with the material, so that element of surprise or engagement many of them bring will not be missed.

By the way, I first tried categorising them in some way, but finally decided to list them in alphabetical order for easier reference. I hope you find this useful!

1. Alike

This short film on how the system affects our creativity and imagination, the relationship between father and son, and the use of colour as a symbol for change and transformation, is the perfect introduction to a lively discussion or an opinion essay. Stop the film at regular intervals to analyse the characters’ feelings and how these change throughout the film.

2. Are you a robot?
I wrote this activity based on a video by Stevie Martin which explores the different ways in which computers ask us to prove our humanity.

3. BBC Interview
Ah, if only we knew we’d be doing video calls for such long hours from home in a few years’ time! We did find this video hilarious back in 2017, when Professor Robert Kelly’s daughter and son walked into the room as he was explaining South Korean politics live on the BBC. Has anything similar happened to you in the past few months? 😉

Here’s an interesting lesson plan by Luiz Otavio Barros based on this. And make sure you don’t miss the parodies that followed!

4. Choice

A lovely lesson plan from AllatC based on “Choice”, a visual poem which documents the filmmaker’s thoughts and emotions on a four-week holiday travelling around South Africa and Mozambique.

5. Dumb Ways to Die
Back in 2012, this Australian campaign video which promotes railway safety went viral:

The pre-watching speaking task from AllatC will certainly get your students talking!

6. Fresh Prince: Google translated
Google Translate may have got a little better, but meanings are often missed in context and the results are often rather bizarre. You may want to warn your students by watching and discussing this video (and perhaps having them try for themselves with lyrics they’re familiar with!)

7. Going viral

I used this lesson from AllatC a few weeks ago and, yes, the videos have dated a little. Still, the activities in the lesson are great practice.

Students can then agree or disagree with Kevin Allocca’s reasons for videos to go viral, decide if these elements are still true these days, and provide any new ideas:

8. I forgot my phone

The students work on vocabulary and word formation as they analyse this thought-provoking short film about how much mobile phones have taken over our lives.

9. I’m a creep
“Fear lies. Learn to conquer it.” Stop the video after each scene to describe the place, the characters, their feelings, and the students’ personal reactions.

For a writing activity idea based on the video, click here.

10. Just
What would you do if you found a middle-aged man in a suit lying on the pavement? Radiohead’s iconic video clip is a fantastic opportunity to work on pronunciation as the students take turns reading the dialogues and answer questions related to the scene and the people involved. Have students write down what they think the man uttered at the end!

11. Kidnap

When was the last time you got one of those hilarious excuses for being absent or failing to do some homework? This lesson revolves around the theme of school excuses and gets students working on past tenses, reading and listening comprehension, and creative writing.

12. Procrastination
A great lesson on procrastination from LessonStream!

13. Multiple Choice

Three students oversleep and miss a final exam. They phone their teacher telling him they’ve had a terrible car accident. Will they get away with this excuse?

14. The rotating house
Revise vocabulary related to the house with this project: a space-saving, four-room house in which every floor is also a wall and it rotates on command!

15. Tick Tock
What if you were told you only have 5 minutes to live? What would you do? This frenetic short film shot in one take and viewed in reverse shows what a young guy would do in this situation. Apart from having students reconstruct the plot and put it in chronological order, the words we can read throughout the film (cowardice, reputation, greed, indifference, laziness) will certainly help to analyse the meaning of the film.

16. Wallet mystery
A wallet full of money lying on Regent Street? And only one circle around it to prevent it from being stolen?

Which short films and videos you have used would you recommend?

A helmet has always been a good idea

1. Have the students work together and fill in the speech bubbles in the conversation below. When a word is provided (sail, ships, annoying, to ruin), ask them to use it:

2. The students share their stories with the rest of the class and discuss any differences. This is the perfect time to work on intonation!

3. Play the video and allow some time for personal reactions. Do the students think this is an effective campaign? Why/Why not?

4. The students write one of the following:

You have just watched a road safety campaign encouraging people to wear helmets. Write a report analysing the use of helmets where you live. Make sure you include a series of recommendations.

Would increasing bike lanes be a good idea where you live? Write a letter to a local newspaper explaining your point of view.

Should the minimum legal age for driving a car or a motorbike be increased? Discuss.

Write an essay analysing the different modes of transport where you live, such as walking, cycling, cars, motorbikes and public transportation. Make sure you include issues such as safety, pollution, noise or health.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” alphabet book

My younger students read a graded reader based on “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” this term. As a post-reading activity, the students have created an alphabet book with two DIN A3 papers on cardboard and 28 flaps (26 for each letter, and 2 extra ones.)

I asked the students to start by including words related to the settings and as many characters as possible, and then to use the rest of the letters for any key words in the story. On the outside of each flap, the students wrote the word for the corresponding letter (we found it was difficult to find words starting with a couple of letters, so we agreed a few could just contain that letter.) On the inside of the flap, they wrote one or two sentences explaining why that word was relevant in the story. Finally, on the upper part, the students wrote a short extract from the book in which the word is used, including the page number.

We are now going to take turns presenting the books to the rest of the class, especially focusing on the key words each pair has chosen. As a final task, the students will be asked to fill in the remaining two flaps with one of the following:
– Your opinion about the play.
– A summary of the play.
– A piece of music you would choose to go with the play.
– A short monologue by one of the characters explaining their feelings after the events.

“I want a hippopotamus for Christmas”

Remember that weird thing you once badly wanted for Christmas? Something you were completely sure would change your life and bring eternal happiness?

The following lesson, based on the song “I want a hippopotamus for Christmas” (John Rox, 1953), tries to recapture some of those childhood memories and associated feelings. These provide an interesting context: they are distant enough to be looked at quite comfortably, you can laugh at them with some degree of confidence, and even if they become the object of conversation in a random English lesson, we all know that memories are fallible and are often reconstructed and manipulated, don’t we?

1. Ask students to think about something they once wanted for Christmas, why they thought they really needed it, and whether they finally got it or not! You may want to have pairs talk about this for 2 or 3 minutes, and then have students talk about their classmates’ past Christmas gift wishes.

2. Tell the students they are going to reconstruct a text in which the narrator explains what he/she wants for Christmas, including the reasons for this. For the first part of the song lyrics, the students use the fireplace bricks: starting at the bottom of the fireplace above number 1, the students choose the following line by selecting one of the bricks in the row immediately above until they reach the last row at the top. Continue with 2, 3 and 4.

KEY:

1. I want a __ for Christmas / Only a will do / I don’t want a doll, no dinky Tinkertoy / I want a __ to play with and enjoy

2. I want a __ for Christmas / I don’t think Santa Claus will mind, do you? / He won’t have to use our dirty chimney flue / Just bring __ through the front door /
That’s the easy thing to do

3. I can see me now on Christmas morning / Creeping down the stairs / Oh, what joy and what surprise / When I open up my eyes / And see my __ standing there

4. I want a __ for Christmas / Only a __ will do / No __ , no __ / I only like __ / And __ like me too

3. Do your students know what this person wants for Christmas yet? Elicit a few ideas.

4. The students focus on the second part of the text. Display or give out copies of the stockings for students to put in the right order:

KEY : 1. Mom says a __ would eat me up but then / 2. teacher says a __ is a vegetarian / 3. There’s lots of room for __ in our two-car garage / 4. I’d feed __ there and wash __ there / 5. And give __ __ massage

Using the new information, allow a few minutes for students to write down what this person badly wants, providing reasons for their choice. Share a few of them with the whole group.

5. Tell the students they are now going to listen to the song and find out the answer. Ask them to fill in the blanks with the right words as they listen. “Hippopotamus”, “hippopotamuses”, “rhinoceros”, “rhinoceroses” or “crocodile” may well require some spelling work at some point, too!

6. Read this article with the students:

Discuss the following:
– In your opinion, which is the weirdest Christmas gift request in the list? And the funniest?
– Are any of these gift requests similar to the ones you and your classmates shared at the beginning of the lesson?
– What is the weirdest Christmas present you’ve ever wanted or received?
– Can any of these gift requests tell us something about a child’s personality? In what ways?

Inside a painting

Jumping straight into a painting and immersing ourselves into the beauty of Van Gogh’s art is what Mathy147’s astonishing work allows us to do. Hosted on Kuula, which features all kinds of virtual tours, this imaginative 360º painting is actually a mixture of several paintings by the artist: “Café Terrace at Night”, “The Church at Auvers”, “Sunflowers”, “The Night Café” and “Starry Night”.

With an interactive painting like this, the starting point of any task we design needs to be inside the painting itself. The students first choose where in the painting they want to be by thinking of the following:
– Look at the painting. What can you see? How does it make you feel?
– You are going step inside the painting and become part of it. Where in the painting are you? What are you doing? Why are you there? How do you feel? What were you doing an hour ago? What are you going to do in an hour?

Once they have defined their viewpoints, the students should be ready to perform one of the following descriptive tasks:
1. Write a description of the painting from your point of view.
2. Hold a conversation with a partner describing the scene.
3. In groups of 3 or 4, write text messages describing what each of you can see from where you are standing.
4. Record some voice messages describing what you can see.

You may want to have the students use the following words to help them with their descriptions or to have them look for details they could have otherwise overlooked. The students cross out the words as they use them:

No matter the task they choose, the students should avoid saying where in the painting they are so that the rest of the class can guess when sharing their work, and therefore have another purpose to read or listen!

Come rain or shine

1. Write the word “rain” on the board and ask students to come up with words related to it. Write them down. Are they positive or negative? Can they sometimes be both? Why?

2. Introduce a few idioms with the word “rain” in them. The students read the definitions and write the corresponding idiom next to each of them. Then they decide whether the idiom is positive, negative, or whether the meaning can depend on the context.

KEY: 1. come rain or shine; 2. save up for a rainy day; 3. be rained in; 4. when it rains it pours; 5. right as rain; 6. rain down on (someone or something); 7. come in out of the rain

3. The students read a few lines from “Singin’ in the Rain” and complete the lyrics with them. Encourage the students to use the rhyme and the context to look for possible combinations, and tell them there might be more than one option. Have the students listen and check their answers:

Elicit what the song is about. The students circle any weather words in the lyrics and decide if they are used in a positive or negative way. Can they use any of the idioms in activity 1 to describe the song?

4. Read the information about “Singin’ in the Rain” with the students, and how it became popular with time. What if Rihanna’s “Umbrella” had appeared in the 1952 musical? The students read the lyrics of the song first and then make any necessary changes: all the words in each stanza are correct, but some of them are in the wrong order; the students look for pairs of words in each cloud and change their order so that the lines make sense.

KEY: Cloud 1: star – heart, dark – car, always – never; Cloud 2: shine-shines; together – forever; my – your; stand – stick; now – more; still – that; Cloud 3: world – fancy; together – between; cards – part; mend – hand; Cloud 4: rain – arms; be – don’t; distance – love; I’ll – all

5. Ask the students what the song is about and tell them to compare both “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Umbrella”, paying special attention to how rain is used in each of them. Introduce a few more weather idioms and have the students use these and the ones in activity 1 to write down a few comparisons.

KEY: 1g, 2i, 3c, 4e, 5h, 6f, 7b, 8a, 9j, 10d

The rotating house

A couple of seasons of George Clarke’s “Amazing Spaces” were broadcast this summer on national public TV here in Spain. I had seen clips on the internet and knew about the show, but I didn’t know it’d be so addictive! Anyway, the main project in one of the seasons was the building of a space-saving, four-room house in which every floor is also a wall and it rotates on command! I thought I might well need a pencil and some paper to watch the last programme, and the following listening comprehension lesson for B1-B2 students was designed based on this.

1. Students watch the video till 1:07. Using the information in the video, ask the students to make a quick sketch of the project with whatever they think it might look like at this point. What potential problems can they see?

2. Now watch the video till 2:14. Pause the video and have the students compare the actual project with what they sketched in step 1. Discuss the differences.

3. Tell the students they are now going to watch the rest of the video and get to see how the rotating house works and what each room looks like. To check comprehension, the students use the worksheet below with four cubes for each room: 1. hallway; 2. kitchen, 3. bedroom and 4. living room. First, have the students read the box in the middle with a series of household objects and parts of the house. Then, tell them they will be drawing the ones they can see in the video in the right place within each cube. There are four words they won’t need!

4. Pause the video every now and then to allow time for students to draw inside the cubes and label the rooms, pieces of furniture or any other items. After each room, have a few students describe what the room looks like using prepositions of place. Which words in the box are not needed?

5. Ask the students to match the words to make compound nouns and adjectives used in the video. In pairs, the students decide how and why these compound nouns and adjectives were used in the video and write a short explanation: e.g. “vac-packed” was used in the bedroom to describe the wardrobe.

6. Discuss the following:

  • Would you live in this house? Why/Why not?
  • What do you like about the whole project?
  • Is there something in the rotating house you wouldn’t mind having at home?
  • Even if it doesn’t become a reality soon, do you think it could be used in the future in some way?

“To Space and Back”

Sally Ride was about to become the first American woman in space when she boarded the space shuttle “Challenger” on 18th June 1983. In “To Space and Back”, Sally describes what it’s like to launch into space.

Lead-in

1. Discuss the following questions:

  • Would you like to be an astronaut? Why/Why not?
  • What characteristics make a good astronaut?
  • Do you think travelling in space would be an exciting or a boring experience?
  • What would you be afraid of?
  • Is space exploration important?
  • How about space tourism?

Reading

2. Tell the students they are going to read an extract from a book written by Sally Ride, the first American woman that travelled into space back in 1983. Explain that the first extract will help to set the scene and revise and/or learn a few words related to space shuttles. As they read, the students label the picture of the space shuttle with as many words from the text as they can. (Examples: elevator, launch tower, nose, space shuttle, pad, access arm, movable walkway, hatch, tail, windows.)

3. Ask the students to look for the words “strap”, “awkward” and “safety” and to explain why they are used in the text.

4. The second extract is a fascinating account of the launch itself, marked by the use of action verbs. The students first have a look at the verbs in the box and decide which words they know the meaning of, which ones they are not sure about, and the words they definitely don’t know. This time the students will be filling in the gaps in the text with one of the verbs that matches the definitions provided and using the right form. (KEY: 1. whirring, 2. quivers, 3. light, 4. shakes, 5. strains, 6. launch, 7. leaps, 8. are rattling, 9. zoom, 10. burn out, 11. fall away, 12. streaks on.)

5. The students read the text again and look for a series of synonyms. (KEY: a. pulls away, b. check, c. decide, d. rough, e. instant, f. barely, g. smooth/quiet, h. faint.)

Follow-up

6. The students write a short personal response based on their thoughts and impressions about the text. Would they like to be right there with Sally Ride and the rest of the crew? You may also want to revise some of the questions discussed at the beginning of the lesson and check if anyone would change any answers after the reading the texts!

Cover image: https://pxhere.com/en/photo/119192

Hitting the headlines

I’ve used this “Let’s write an intriguing science headline!” cartoon by Tom Gauld to design a speaking activity in which students will be providing short explanations for each headline and adapting them to suit different audiences.

1. Have a student throw a die three times: the first number will be used to choose one of the options in the second column, the second number will determine one of the three verbs in the blue column, and the third one will decide which one of the options in the green column will be used to complete the headline.

2. Read the headline aloud. Notice that these topics have been selected for teenagers here, but you can easily choose any others to target different age groups.

3. Provide some think time for the student or team to come up with an explanation for that headline (and yes, it’s OK to come up with crazy speeches!)

4. Once the students are ready, say they will now be choosing the audience that they will be speaking to. Throw the die to choose one.

5. Have the student(s) start the explanation adapted to that type of audience. You may want to throw the die after some time to change the audience, and therefore the register. Or even do it several times!

Depending on the level, the students will use different types of linguistic resources to accommodate their speech. More advanced students should be able to include some formal, informal or colloquial language based on the audience, but it’s always interesting to see which strategies the rest of students adopt (volume of voice, body language, use of a few colloquialisms they may be familiar with, etc.) With all students, however, this is the perfect time to listen, take notes, and teach a mini-lesson on register based on student production.