Silent Movies

I love to use short films in my classes. They add colour and variety to the lesson in a way that I’ve found students really enjoy. Furthermore, due to their brevity, you get the opportunity to share an entire narrative with students in a very quick way that is difficult to achieve with other media.

The following films are ones that I think have great potential for use in the ELT classroom. The one quality that they all share, apart from their length, is that they contain little or no dialogue. This is crucial to me, as most of the time I don’t want to use them as traditional listening activities just as I don’t generally like to use literature for explicit vocabulary acquisition. To me, the joy of the narrative form is in the characters, the story, the mood, the message and the opportunity to react with an opinion.

By using videos which have hardly any dialogue, if any at all, the distraction of language is removed. The students can then focus on the much more important task of reacting to the content with their own beliefs, ideas and their own language, which you can then work on together.

With each of the films I have written a brief idea for how it could be used. The great thing about them is that they are open to all kinds of interpretations depending on where and who you teach. If you have any ideas of your own you’d like to add, I’d love to read them, so please leave a comment.


I used this film in a movie review writing class, and it was a hit with my adult students.

Idea: Students often find it hard to retell a narrative. Show the film once and ask the students to collaborate on summarising the events of the story. You can then show the film again and ask them to fill in their blanks.

Plot Device

This is also a great film to use if you’re teaching movies. Make sure you show it until the end!

Plot Device from Red Giant on Vimeo.

Idea: As you show the film, ask your students to write down as many of the movie genres they see in the film as they can. After you’ve collected all the genres, you can ask them to add any genres that weren’t included.

Loose Fit – Table Beggar

Here’s a music video that gives you a unique look at identity.

Idea: Stop the video at 1:10 and ask the students to guess what they think the man looks like. You can ask them to write a description or draw a picture.

Idea 2: There are many interesting questions that this video raises:

  • Who is the man?
  • How did this happen to him?
  • Has he always been like this or has it just happened?
  • What is wrong with him – is his problem literal or metaphorical?
  • What kind of life do you think he has had?
  • What do you think he should do next?

The Gift

This is the most grown up of all the films due to the fact in contains a couple of acts violence, although nothing I would consider inappropriate in my adult classroom. Again this is a film that poses a lot of questions.

Idea: The most obvious area of interest in the film is ‘the unicorn’. What does that mean? What is in the box? Why does the android apologise to the box?

Idea 2: A boy finds the gift at the end of the film. Ask the students to speculate what will happen to him after he collects the box from the lake.

Conversation Piece

I have to declare a vested interest here. This film is directed by one of my oldest friends, but it’s not here out of nepotism. It’s a unique, fun film, the like of which you and your students have probably never seen before.

Idea: Ask the students to write a script so the ‘dialogue’ of the film is replaced by actual spoken words. They can then perform their version along with the film for the rest of the class.


Here’s one that’s probably best used with kids. Again, just make sure you show it all the way to the end!

Idea: Cooperation is the theme here, so play the video until 1:57 and ask them what they think is going to happen next. Will the rabbit and the racoon react in the same way as the moose and the bear, or will they do something different?


19 thoughts on “Silent Movies

  1. I like to use Buster Keaton shorts, such as 'The Goat' and 'The Scarecrow', I am definitely encouraged to be more thorough in future and think more about what I use and how thanks to what you have written. Thank you.
    Stay Beautiful.

  2. Great films! I also use BALANCE for my fifth grade uniton cooperation and competition. It goes great with Bridge in your collection. Thanks for sharing !

  3. I am planning to show Bridge to a group of Primary school teachers today to demonstrate the Pause&Predict technique. Will let you know how it went. The other videos have also been noted and will definitely be used on various courses – Thanks for these wonderful ideas!

  4. Oh they loved it – a few of them are doing Animals with their pupils.
    Have added the link to this post on our course Moodle site.

  5. Great suggestions James. I'd like to add another: I get my students to pause the film before each note is read and ask them to guess what is written, making predictions. Then after the movie there are lots of conversations to be had about the video.

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