English activities for teaching with documentaries

The following list of teaching ideas have been assembled to provide you with universal, ready-to-use activities that you can mix and match to create a lesson that will be tailored to your unique circumstances. All the activities can be adapted to any topic as well as any level of language proficiency. Most of the activities may last as long or as short a time as you need. Students can work individually, in pairs or in larger groups. 

We have strived to equip you with such activities that will be engaging, meaningful and that will provide an opportunity to use the language in a creative, fun way. Majority of the activities invite your students to communicate with their peers while reflecting on their lives, attitudes and worldviews.

We believe that planning English lessons around OWIS documentaries can be a way to approach English not just as a set of grammar and vocabulary rules but as a means of personal growth, learning about the world and connecting with others as well as ourselves. As you plan your lesson, don’t forget to always include an activity that will allow your students to reflect on their emotions right after they have watched the film. 

NOTE: The following list does not contain all activities. To see all, go to our handbook.

Activities before screening

What's the topic?

TYPE OF ACTIVITY: warm-up, lead-in, pre-teaching...
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What's the topic?

TYPE OF ACTIVITY: warm-up, lead-in, pre-teaching vocabulary

TIME: 5–10 minutes

LANGUAGE SKILLS: speaking, listening

OTHER SKILLS: guessing, analysis, tolerance of ambiguity

MATERIAL: a list of words connected to the topic, including words you want the Ss to know before they watch the film w

PROCEDURE: Write the words on the board and ask the Ss to check their meaning in pairs (They may use dictionaries.) and guess what the film is about. Get brief feedback with the whole class and tell them what the film is actually about.

EXAMPLE: (for the film “In Real Life”)

Hoax, cyberbullying, harm, post, identity, gender, disability etc. (answer: hate speech on social media)

TIP: You can divide the list of words into two sets and ask the Ss to explain the meaning of the words to each other in English.

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Word work

TYPE OF ACTIVITY: warm-up, lead-in, pre-teaching...
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Word work

TYPE OF ACTIVITY: warm-up, lead-in, pre-teaching vocabulary

TIME: 5–10 minutes

LANGUAGE SKILLS: speaking, listening, writing

OTHER SKILLS: guessing, analysis, categorizing, association, creativity c

MATERIAL: a list of words connected to the topic, including words you want the Ss to know before they watch the film. w

PROCEDURE: Give the Ss the list of words and ask them to work in pairs to check their meaning and to sort the words into groups by parts of speech (verbs, adjectives etc.). Then tell them to choose five words and think of three associations for each of them. They compare their ideas in pairs.

TIP: After you watched the film, you can ask the Ss to come back to the words and in pairs try to remember the context in which the words were used.

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Topic brainstorming

TYPE OF ACTIVITY: warm-up, lead-in TIME: 5...
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Topic brainstorming

TYPE OF ACTIVITY: warm-up, lead-in

TIME: 5 minutes

LANGUAGE SKILLS: writing

OTHER SKILLS: categorizing

MATERIAL: no

PROCEDURE: Give Ss the topic of the lesson and ask them to write down e.g. 6 verbs, 6 nouns, 6 adjectives connected to the topic. Ss can work individually or in pairs. You can follow-up with other activities using the words the Ss have written. For example, the Ss can ask each other meaningful Qs using the words etc.

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Alphaboxes

TYPE OF ACTIVITY: warm-up, lead-in, pre-teaching...
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Alphaboxes

TYPE OF ACTIVITY: warm-up, lead-in, pre-teaching vocabulary, prior knowledge determination

TIME: 10–15 minutes

LANGUAGE SKILLS: writing, speaking, listening

OTHER SKILLS: associating, creativity, explanation, clarity

MATERIAL: a copy of AlphaBoxes worksheet for each student/per pair (the Ss can also just sketch the grid into their notebooks) 

PROCEDURE: Give the Ss the topic and ask them to try to write at least one word into each box that they associate with the topic. The words can be any word class (nouns, verbs, adjectives etc.). The Ss can work individually or in pairs, but it is always interesting to encourage them to explain to each other what their association with each word is. Get brief feedback with the whole class and use this opportunity to pre-teach any necessary vocabulary. y TIP: You can also use this activity after you have watched the film to see what new words the Ss have learnt. You may also encourage the Ss to consult the vocabulary list provided with every lesson plan.

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Mind map

TYPE OF ACTIVITY: warm-up, lead-in, pre-teaching...
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Mind map

TYPE OF ACTIVITY: warm-up, lead-in, pre-teaching vocabulary, prior knowledge determination

TIME: 10–15 minutes

LANGUAGE SKILLS: writing, speaking, listening

OTHER SKILLS: associating, creativity, explanation, clarity, critical thinking

MATERIAL: a copy of Mind Map worksheet for each student/per pair (or the Ss can just sketch the diagram into their notebooks)

PROCEDURE: Tell the Ss to write the topic in the centre of the mind map and consider helping the Ss with the first level of subcategories. Ask the Ss to work in pairs to think of more ideas and connections (using nouns, adjectives, verbs etc.). You may need to demonstrate how organizing ideas into a mind map works with the whole class the first time you use this activity. Get brief feedback and use this opportunity to add more words and ideas to the mind map to pre-teach new words and concepts. Encourage the Ss to copy the new words into their mind maps.

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Sentence from the film

TYPE OF ACTIVITY: warm-up, lead-in TIME: 5–10...
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Sentence from the film

TYPE OF ACTIVITY: warm-up, lead-in

TIME: 5–10 minutes 

LANGUAGE SKILLS: speaking, listening

OTHER SKILLS: creativity, guessing, speculating

MATERIAL: a sentence from the film

PROCEDURE: Before the lesson, prepare a sentence from the film that will spark imagination and the Ss will be able to think of various kinds of contexts. Write the sentence on the board and ask the Ss to work in pairs and come up with different ideas about who/what/when/why etc. Encourage them to think of the details of the circumstances. Give the Ss enough time to do this, then get some feedback with the whole class. You may either give away the answer or let the Ss find out for themselves as they watch the film.

EXAMPLE: (for the film “Framing the Other”)
She didn’t pay enough to me for the pictures she had taken.”(19:51)

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Classroom scale

TYPE OF ACTIVITY: warm-up, lead-in, pre-teaching new...
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Classroom scale

TYPE OF ACTIVITY: warm-up, lead-in, pre-teaching new vocabulary

TIME: 5 minutes

LANGUAGE SKILLS: listening

OTHER SKILLS: self-awareness, critical thinking

MATERIAL: a list of statements connected to the topic of the film

PROCEDURE: Before the class, prepare a list of statements connected to the topic of the film. Say a statement and ask the Ss to indicate how true the statement is for them by standing on an imaginary line between two posts (I completely AGREE/ I absolutely DISAGREE) in the classroom.

EXAMPLE: (for the film “Device Free Dinner”)

  • I hate when my parents tell me
  • I spend too much time on my phone.
  • Parents use their phones as much as children.
  • I check my phone for every new notification.

 

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What I know

TYPE OF ACTIVITY: warm-up, lead-in, prior knowledge...
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What I know

TYPE OF ACTIVITY: warm-up, lead-in, prior knowledge determination, wrap-up

TIME: 5–10 minutes

LANGUAGE SKILLS: reading, writing, speaking

OTHER SKILLS: critical thinking, analysis, self-awareness 

MATERIAL: no

PROCEDURE: Write the “What I know/ What I would like to know/What I have learnt” chart on the board and ask the Ss to copy it into their notebooks. Present the Ss with the topic of the film or a short summary of the content of the film. Ask the Ss to complete the first two columns of the chart. Get brief feedback with the whole class. At the end of the lesson, ask the Ss to complete the last column of the chart. Ask the Ss to discuss their charts in pairs and then get whole class feedback.

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Correct the mistakes

TYPE OF ACTIVITY: warm-up, lead-in, pre-teaching...
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Correct the mistakes

TYPE OF ACTIVITY: warm-up, lead-in, pre-teaching vocabulary

TIME: 5–10 minutes

LANGUAGE SKILLS: reading, speaking

OTHER SKILLS: critical thinking, analysis, decision-making, tolerance of ambiguity

MATERIAL: a list of sentences connected to the topic of the film with one mistake each (grammatical, spelling, lexical…)

PROCEDURE: Prepare a list of sentences connected to the topic of the film, with one mistake in each sentence. Ask the Ss to work in pairs to correct the mistakes. Monitor and help with any unfamiliar vocabulary. Check the answers with the whole class and briefly discuss what the Ss learnt about the topic of the film as a lead-in to watching the film

EXAMPLE: (for the film “In Real Life”)

  • Hoax aims to harm certain group of people though a fictional negative message. (through).
  • There are a lot of hatefull comments on social media. (hateful).

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Activities while screening

Double-entry journal

OUR NOTE: We believe it is best when students are not...
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Double-entry journal

OUR NOTE: We believe it is best when students are not distracted with a specific task while they are watching OWIS documentaries. We want them to focus on the content of the film and fully immerse themselves in the story. That is why we are not suggesting any while-you-watch activities.

It can be useful, however, especially when watching a longer and more complex film, to suggest that the Ss take notes of specific moments of their choice. They may use their notes as reference in the follow-up activities later. They can either use their notebooks for this or you can provide them with our structured worksheet.

However, it is advisable to always remind the Ss that they should not take any notes if they feel it is distracting.

Download worksheet

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Activities after screening

Did you understand?

TYPE OF ACTIVITY: comprehension check TIME: 5–10...
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Did you understand?

TYPE OF ACTIVITY: comprehension check

TIME: 5–10 minutes

LANGUAGE SKILLS: listening, reading

OTHER SKILLS: tolerance of ambiguity, problem-solving

MATERIAL: a set of questions or true and false statements about the content of the film

PROCEDURE: Before the class, prepare a set of questions or true and false statements to check if the Ss understood the key moments in the film. After you have watched the film and allowed enough time for reflection, give the Ss the set of questions or statements and ask them to work in pairs to answer the questions or decide if the statement is correct or not. Check answers with the whole class.

EXAMPLE: (for the film “Black Sheep”)

  • Why did his family move out of London?
  • What happened to him when he was running an arrand for his mum?
  • Why didn’t he tell his dad about the racist comments?
  • How did he feel living in the new home?
  • What did he do to fit in?
  • How did he feel about the things he did with his racist friends?

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What's the order?

TYPE OF ACTIVITY: comprehension check, vocabulary...
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What's the order?

TYPE OF ACTIVITY: comprehension check, vocabulary practice

TIME: 5–10 minutes b LANGUAGE SKILLS: listening, reading

MATERIAL: a list of keywords and expressions or ideas from the film in a random order

PROCEDURE: Before the class, prepare a list of words and expressions or ideas from the film. After you have watched the film and allowed the time for reflection, give the Ss a list of keywords and expressions or ideas from the film and ask them to work in pairs to put the expression into the order in which they appeared in the film. Check answers with the whole class.

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Odd one out

TYPE OF ACTIVITY: vocabulary practice TIME: 5–10...
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Odd one out

TYPE OF ACTIVITY: vocabulary practice

TIME: 5–10 minutes

LANGUAGE SKILLS: speaking, listening, reading

OTHER SKILLS: analysis, creativity

MATERIAL: a few sets of related words, including one word that doesn’t fit the set

PROCEDURE: Before the class, prepare the odd-one-out sets of words connected to the topic of the film including new words. After you have watched the film and allowed the time for reflection, give the Ss the sets of words. Ask the Ss to work in pairs and discuss which word doesn’t belong in the set and the reason why. Encourage the Ss to be creative and come up with different ideas, sometimes more than one answer is possible.

EXAMPLE: (for the film In Real Life)

phone – post – spend – apple – bully

(Possible answers: apple – it is a noun, it has nothing to do with using mobile phones)

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Grammar focus

TYPE OF ACTIVITY: grammar practice TIME: 5–15...
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Grammar focus

TYPE OF ACTIVITY: grammar practice

TIME: 5–15 minutes

LANGUAGE SKILLS: speaking, listening, writing

OTHER SKILLS: analysis, creativity, self-awareness c

MATERIAL: an example of a grammatical/ functional structure from the film w

PROCEDURE: Before the class, find an interesting grammatical/ functional structure in the film. After you have watched the film and allowed enough time for reflection, show the Ss an example of the grammatical/ functional structure. Elicit from the Ss in which context the structure was used. Explain or revise its function and ask the Ss to use the structure creatively in a few meaningful sentences.

EXAMPLE: (for the film “Black Sheep”)

Cornelius says: “a blue flashing light became more brighter.” (00.55)

This is a typical mistake for learners of English. Native speakers make this mistake too, especially in informal English. In this case, a quick revision of rules for grading adjectives can be introduced. You may then ask the students to think of two comparative and two superlative sentences for the context of the film/ their family etc.

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Question cards

TYPE OF ACTIVITY: wrap-up TIME: 5–15 minutes LANGUAGE...
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Question cards

TYPE OF ACTIVITY: wrap-up

TIME: 5–15 minutes

LANGUAGE SKILLS: speaking, listening

OTHER SKILLS: self-awareness, critical thinking, creativity, active listening

MATERIAL: Question Cards worksheet (cut-up in cards – optional)

PROCEDURE: After you have watched the film and allowed enough time for reflection, tell the Ss that they are going to discuss the film in more detail. Have Ss work in pairs or groups to take it in turns to answer the Qs on cards. With the noncut-up variation, give each student in the pair half of the worksheet. You may need to change or adapt the questions in the worksheet, not all of them are always applicable. You can also encourage the Ss to make the Qs more fitting themselves. Monitor the Ss and prompt them to ask follow-up Qs.

TIP: This activity can be used as a mingling activity if you want a more dynamic class. Each student gets a card. The Ss stand up a move around the classroom to find a partner to ask their question. When both Ss have asked their question, they swap their cards and move on to another person with the new question in their hand. They go on like this until they have spoken to almost everyone in the class and answered most of the questions. If you notice one card has been used too often, you may supply the student with a new card from your pile (It is useful to prepare a few extra cards beforehand).

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One-pager

TYPE OF ACTIVITY: wrap-up, visual TIME: 45+...
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One-pager

TYPE OF ACTIVITY: wrap-up, visual

TIME: 45+ minutes

LANGUAGE SKILLS: writing, reading, speaking, listening

OTHER SKILLS: analysis, creativity, self-awareness, critical thinking, clarity, artistic expression

MATERIAL: card, markers, crayons, pictures

PROCEDURE: After you have watched the film and allowed enough time for reflection, show the Ss examples of one-pagers and tell them they are going to create their own based on the content of the film they have just seen. Explain that the point of a one-pager is to practice the ability to determine what the key information is and then to organize it into a clear message for themselves and their audience. Organizing different facts and findings and coming up with creative ways of expressing them enhances storing new information in the Ss’ brains and learning becomes more efficient as well as enjoyable. Moreover, using visual techniques have been proved to help memory retention. The Ss can work individually, in pairs or in groups.

Ask the Ss to include all the elements from this list (or make your own list) in their one-pager:

  • key themes/words in the border of the page
  • a picture that symbolizes the topic of the film with a quote/statement expressing the content of the film in the centre
  • main characters and their brief characteristics
  • interesting facts about the topic – new words learnt
  • Ss’ feelings about the topic/film
  • the most important take-aways/the main message(s) of the film
  • hope, ways out, inspiration – how the topic is connected to the Ss’ lives

Ask the Ss to think of the content and sketch out the layout of their one-pager first. The Ss may create their one-pager from scratch or use one of the provided layouts. The Ss may use any resources they need (vocabulary list, transcript, Q&A document, internet). Help and monitor. The Ss may then present their one-pagers to the class and display them in the classroom. y

TIP: Change the format of the one-pager to a square and tell the Ss they are going to create a mock Instagram post.

INSPIRATION

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