Seismic Shift?

I think that two of the above statements in this thread on MovieTalk by two teachers who are new to this work, John and Laura, should be well noted:

…as a teacher in his first year of teaching entirely with CI, I have found MT’s to be by far the most successful activity for me…. (John Bracey)

…last year I had the MOST success and was the MOST inbounds with MT…. (Laura Cenci)

Could we, in fact, be witnessing a seismic shift in the major focus of all comprehension based instruction to MovieTalk from stories? I think we are.

It is true that stories have value that MT doesn’t:

1. We can personalize stories.
2. We can get the kids up acting.
3. We can get our artists involved with stories.
4. In stories we can create something new by asking not telling.
5. We are the ones who choose the words we say in stories, whereas in MT too much can be going on, requiring us to take our speech repeatedly wide and out of bounds as we talk about what we are seeing.

What are the advantages offered in MovieTalk?

1. We have visual access to and can therefore get frequent repetitions on previously taught vocabulary, something not so easy to do in stories.
2. Establishing meaning is done so much faster since we need merely point to an image in an MT class and it is done.
3. As Laura Cenci pointed out, there is a natural and powerful transition from TPR into MT (vs. into stories).
4. We can use an MT clip as a PQA jump-off point, thus connecting the clip to a potential story created by the class.

Other advantages of MT?

I am sure that stories will not go away. Both of these supercharged techniques offer unique advantages. But when newer teachers say that MT works better for them than stories, we need to keep that at the forefront of the discussion and pay attention because the biggest problem of all for new teachers with storytelling, and this goes back decades, is that stories are too hard to do.

MT therefore has the potential for teachers who are just dipping their toes into CI waters to get them to actually swim out a bit further instead of immediately complaining about how cold and deep the water is and running back onto the beach.

Perhaps MT will become something used more in level 1 and 2 classes, with stories happening in level 2 and 3 (level 2 being a transition ground from MT to stories). Then at the upper levels, as we have decided is best here in recent discussion over the past year, we dive deeply into reading, with writing emerging slowly as time goes by, and with speech happening only in unforced and natural ways more and more as well.



35 thoughts on “Seismic Shift?”

  1. I was also thinking that if we take the time to write out the particular movie clip in story form, you could then fill in the blanks as it were (Matava style) to ask a story using the basic structures found in the movie clip. (It seems like I saw this elsewhere on the site, but I don’t remember exactly where.) That would also give students something very comprehensible for them to read, since you’ve already gone through it with them using Movie Talk.

    On the other hand, you could start with the reading, or ask the story, and then lead into the Movie Talk. To my mind, the advantage of starting with Movie Talk is that it’s highly engaging and comprehensible right off the bat.

    It could also be very interesting to take an entire film and break it up into 5-15 minute chunks and work on one part a week. It would take a fair amount of time to get through an entire film, but if it’s interesting enough I think it could be quite worthwhile for the students. I haven’t tried this yet myself, but it has a lot of possibilities.

    1. Bryan, your last paragraph is just what I’ve done for a few years with a very fun Chinese film. Not for level 1, I don’t think, but I used the approach with 8th graders (in their 4th year with me) and Chinese 4 high schoolers this fall.

    2. So Bryan you said:

      …I was also thinking that if we take the time to write out the particular movie clip in story form, you could then fill in the blanks as it were (Matava style) to ask a story using the basic structures found in the movie clip….


      …on the other hand, you could start with the reading, or ask the story, and then lead into the Movie Talk….

      So this definitely ramps things up a bit, the idea (and like you I can’t remember who first suggested it) that we blend MT with scripting stories and doing both at the same time as part of the same lesson.

      I sure hope we don’t forget this idea. It’s major and we don’t want to lose it and thank you for bringing it up.

        1. Ahhh….how nice to see a NJ colleague on this site! I have been having such fun with MovieTalk this fall, as I sneak CI into my very traditional east coast high school…I have been using “Alma” and “Destiny” from Martina Bex’s website

          1. Leslie, you don’t know how happy I am to see your face and read your comment here!!! I had no idea you were on the PLC here. This made my day!

            I absolutely must come see you teach. If not during my 1 1/2 hour break in the middle of the day, then definitely when my position ends Feb. 3. Especially if I can come on a day you’re doing Movie Talk. I’ll even pay you, or bring you Starbucks, whatever!

            Very excited to read that you’re doing MovieTalk right down the road (with our two districts being very similar from what I’ve seen when it comes to WL). I think I’ll try sneaking in some MT myself over the next few weeks – will check out the two videos you mention above.

      1. Sabrina did this at the Maine Conference this October. While she was doing MT, she was doing PQA , AND weaving a story about Skip and Beth into it!!! She is a Master!!!

  2. Another thought is that if you’re creating a script from a movie clip you could make it into an embedded reading so that you would have texts of different levels of difficulty. That way more advanced classes could work with the more advanced texts while the less advanced classes would work with the simpler texts. You could work on the same video clip with all the levels of your classes at once so that it would cut down on prep time / get more out of the extra work you’re putting into it.

    1. I do that with the videos I use and I believe I first read about it on the moretprs list serve last year from someone who did the clip Carrot Talk – I bet the materials are in the yahoo files. This teacher took screen shots from the video and put captions under it and taught from there. He or she made worksheets, all the materials you would find for any other starting point (novels, Sr. Wooly is doing it with all his things now). I love nothing better than spending an evening with a video I think my kids will love and coming up with the embedded readings and picking the screen shots. Maybe it was discussed here, whether or not to start with the video or with the slide show – it is fun to tease the kids with the slide show and teach the targets first that way, then treat them with the video and have them shout out the structures as they appear.

  3. Addressing the difficulty of story asking, today, after a week and an entire class story, I did the OWATs activity and the kids LOVED it. Thank you so much Bob for sharing this activity! My students really want to make their own stories, without compromising their vision for other students contributions, and giving them the focus of the key structure cards plus lists on the walls kept them in bound. Letting them group with their friends let them use their own micro-personalized clique-styles, but they’re using vocab that the other groups were using too. So tomorrow when we share, everyone will understand they story and get to enjoy the uniqueness of other groups’ special stories, then have the opportunity to show off their own. That is a great idea. It really helps me get a handle on the story asking facet of TPRS.

    Back to MT, re: con #1 – it may not be personalized, but we can do PQA or OWATs with the target structures from the video. Re con #2 – I did have kids act out action parts of the videos and I think it was more successful/easier than acting from reading because they were imitating exactly what they saw on screen. There was less room for interpretation (goofiness) and it really tied them closely to what the whole class had seen on the screen. Like one step removed from TPR gesturing. Then, re con #3 – after watching it lots of times and they are ready to write, either groups or individuals do retells in their own words and illustrate.

    For me there is no downside. And as with the TPR, the visuals of the video are so strong that when they see it again later in the year, the words pop out.

    I don’t teach beyond Spanish I, but I would like to hear from those who do whether story asking is easier in higher levels where the vocabulary base is larger and kids can make the stories more interesting, more the way they want.

  4. My take: mix is best. The thing with media is, the kids are SATURATED with screen time already. Typical kid spends like 4 hrs/day onscreen. So a la Pato and Neil Postman, in my view education oughtta be countervailing. So I strictly limit movietalk. Having kids watch, listen and respond to live people is a woefully under-developed skill.

    I have also tried what Adriana Ramírez does with her “actors”: have them sit in their seats (with props etc). Makes them a lot less self-conscious.

    1. Chris, I’m currently reading Neil Postman’s “Teaching As a Subversive Activity” (Which, interestingly, I found in the library at the school I’m teaching at). Talk about some subversive ideas!

    1. True that it can be, James! All depends on how we use it.

      If anyone ever gets a chance to see Sabrina demo MT, you can see how she uses them as PQA jump-off points.

      Example: The video I used today started with a soda can and we ended up discussing the kids who don’t drink soda, peoples’ favorite sodas, where to buy those sodas, good/bad things about soda, etc. One kid finally yelled, “play the video!” and we all had a good laugh.

      There is a continuum of interaction in MT. (narration question everything). If you don’t ask enough questions, kids can zone you out. We should all try mixing choral and individual responses, because with choral responses kids can fake it.

      Also, if you want more movement, then be sure to have gestures for all the structures. Take moments to have the class gesture the structures while you say them during the MT. Another technique: take moments to retell from the beginning and have the entire class or a few students act it out. Do some simultaneous Reader’s Theater.

      1. I didn’t mean “more passive” as a bad thing. Sometimes we all need to calm down and focus on something besides needing to get actors, the artist, etc. working. And of course “passive” is meant in a particular way, because the kids are still actively listening and understanding and therefore acquiring L2.

    2. Yes. Too much, and you get the reputation for only showing movies in class. My students have been delving into novels this quarter, so when we come up for air I’m going to give them some MovieTalk to get some breathing room before we do some more story creation. This is definitely a powerful tool for us, but I don’t think it can necessarily REPLACE story building.

      What these threads have been showing me, though, is that MT can be MORE than just a fun side thing. Bryan mentioned upthread about starting with a story and then doing a MovieTalk, which I have done with a Julieta Venegas video. It was fun for the kids and they were into it, but I think I could have devoted more class time to really make it a thing. Their stories get a week or more. Why not MT too?

        1. Thanks for the Monster Inc clip on your website. That’s a perfect example with lots of TPR. I will add it to my cache.

  5. One of the ideas that I have latched on to is when we interact in class using targeted structures, we need to have a CATALYST. A story is a catalyst for interaction. A discussion (aka PQA) is a catalyst for interaction. Movie Talk is an amazing catalyst.

    with love,

    1. Yay CATALYST! I love this idea, Laurie. The only times that my classes have been disasters is when I fail to come to class with a good catalyst to generate PQA. I’m going to try picking my MT videos based on potential for PQA. I have found out the hard way that impersonal CI is not much different than lecturing. The kids are only superficially involved in the process and they know it. I’m going into to my classes tomorrow with the question, “what is going to be my catalyst for interaction today?”

    2. MT works to get kids acquiring language. It’s easier and less tiring, likely because classroom management is easier. The kids are good at staring at a screen. That said, I want to reflect on what Chris S. and Laurie have said (and I paraphrase) . . .

      We want to also teach students interpersonal skills. They already have a lot of on-screen time. – Chris

      At its core, we are about more than language acquisition, about more than getting kids to pay attention. (MT does both of those very well). But we are about the students.

      We’d be wise to remember that if we make MT a permanent heavy hitter (rather than an infrequent novelty trick) in the classroom. If we are purposeful about it, MT can be used to foster interpersonal communication and we can still use it as the catalyst to love on our kids.

  6. I think what I need is to see a video of Movie Talk in action with real students (Any offers????)

    Even after reading about Movie Talk on here and on the Movie Talk website, each time I have tried it, I’ve never gotten it to lift off the ground beyond a dry session of questions and answers about what the students see on the screen. For some reason with stories I always feel I am just a question away from the story picking up wind. I feel safe with stories but not at all with Movie Talk. Each time I have done Movie Talk I feel like I am just having the students narrate the clip (through my questions), then I try to personalize it by asking them questions related to the clip, then I run out of things to talk about. Of course I guess I could simply jump into a story when the Movie Talk dies out, but then I would have to have a script planned that uses my target structures from the clip. Is that how you all keep Movie Talk going after describing what’s on the screen and PQA?

    I do want to keep exploring Movie Talk -it seems like a party waiting to happen if I can just figure out how to get it past the Q & A narration session (Or maybe it doesn’t need to get past that).

  7. It’s probably not for everybody, but as an added beat in the rhythm of stories and MT, I’ve been throwing in longer stories that I write which incorporate as much target stuff as possible. First we read them, then the students act them out and other stuff…one great activity has been Martina Bex’ cooperative mural . They’ve gone over well and I get reps on exactly what I want. The only problem is you have to think of plots, but that’s a skill I think can be learned and built.

    1. Thanks for the idea, Angie! After seeing you teach for a few minutes in Maine, I’m willing to give anything you suggest a try 🙂

      I have also found that I can write longer and better stories using MT’s as a jump off point. The video saves me from having to think too hard about coming up with a good plot. Once the structure is in place, I find it easier to add tons of recycled structures as plot details.

  8. I have done two movie talks this year with my 8th graders and both of them of were accompanied by a reading that I had created. My movie talks have followed this sequence:

    1) Establish meaning of the target structures.
    2) Watch a few seconds of the video. (Tell the students that we’ll watch the whole video without interruption after this part of the activity.)
    3) L&D the image.
    4) Spin into some PQA
    Repeat 1-4 until the video is over.
    5) Play the video without interruption.
    6) R&D the reading.

    This formula has been very successful with my 8th graders (who had me in my more traditional form last year). I have been trying to teach them Latin using primarily pre-created stories based on mythology with spotty results. Despite the stories being fairly compelling, I haven’t been able to get any decent personalization going. Today I tried doing PQA and mini-story with them and my most resistant classes suddenly bought in! I would rank the effectiveness of the different approaches in my 8th grade classes as follows:

    1) MT’S
    1) Asking Stories
    3) Pre-Written Stories
    (MT’s and Story-Asking are now tied for number 1)

    I suspect that a healthy mix between the three will help keep my classes varied and full of CI.

    I think that surviving the transition to TCI hinges upon clinging to whatever activities are working for your kids. I use my classes with the most goodwill and buy-in (aka my 7th graders and one super sweet group of 8th graders) to experiment with, but MT’s have been the richest source of CI for my more resistant groups.

  9. I only use MT to recycle structures/voc . Only started last year with TPRS and my ‘circling skills’ are not yet how I want them to be. So I try to make up for the lack of repetitions with MT. It makes me a more relaxed teacher: when I realise I go too fast through the process ofTPRS ‘ in the heat of the action’ , I know there is also MT to back me up.

  10. I’m still in my first year of teaching ESL full time, but I’m finding movie talk to be a home run with my students, especially my barometer students that sometimes have a hard time getting with the game. I’ve had really good results with my supplemental listening class (almost entirely guys), and found some useful Movie Talk mini-activities almost completely by chance.

    Materials: Computer with Netflix, projector, firewire (Wi-Fi is iffy), whiteboard, laser pointer

    Trial Run: MacGyver Intros (First Season)

    After reading the Movie Talk description on the Focal Skills website, I started thinking of some action packed shows and movies to try out. MacGyver seemed like a good option because the novelty/interest level is high, dialogue isn’t too crucial, and action drives the plot pretty well.

    My instinct was to use the 5 minute shorts before each episode. These were nice because we only have 80 minutes a week, which is just about right for 10 minutes of footage. Within five minute a classmate, Timmy, climbed up a cliff, he made a Russian soldier “take a nap”, he took the Russian soldier’s clothes, he freed our gym teacher from a wooden cage, used a paperclip to turn off a bomb, and then jumped off a cliff with the gym teacher after shooting a machine gun at some Russian soldiers (nothing overtly graphic). This brief clip lasted a period and a half. Since the novelty level was so high, folks seemed to retained a lot of vocab from this one short lesson.

    In terms of activities, the imagery lent itself to a lot of good circling and PQA:
    “Is that soldier from Mexico?” [NO!] “Right. That’s silly, of course he isn’t from Mexico. Then, where is the soldier from?” [Mongolia.. China.. Russia] “That works, he’s a Russian soldier. Did Timmy just hurt the Russian soldier?” [Yes] “No! Timmy didn’t hurt the Russian soldier; he just made him ‘take a nap (former story structure)’. Is the Russian soldier napping or eating his soup? [Napping!] Right! Timmy is eating the Russian soldier’s soup; the Russian soldier is taking a nap!”

    With Movie Talk, it’s actually fairly easy to make things personal (and quite amusing). Just ask what MacGyver’s name is, and suddenly everyone’s best friend, Timmy, is saving the world with a paperclip and some rope.

    Another activity that was great went something like this:
    (Pause the show)
    “Okay, (hands laser pointer to student) Timmy what’s one thing you see?”
    (Timmy points at a crashed airplane)[I see an airplane]
    “Good! That’s great! There is a airplane on the cliff. Class, is the airplane broken?” [Yeah!] “Right, there’s a BROKEN airplane on the cliff.”
    (Walks to white board and adds a title to the broken airplane, then circles a bit if students need some practice with ‘broken’ or ‘airplane’)
    (Timmy hands laser pointer to someone else, and we talk about snow, trees, cliffs, and Russian soldiers)

    For a trial run, MacGyver clips worked really well. After 3 or 4 little stories, my students started getting squirmy and demanded full length episodes rather than the 5 minute intro clips. We tried a bit of one, but there was more dialogue than I wanted to deal with, so I moved on to something else.

    Round 2: Jumanji (1995)
    We’ve been doing Jumanji for 2 weeks now, with fairly good results. I was originally hesitant about a full-length movie, but Jumanji has so much crazy action and suspense that people are hanging in there with it. Folks moan whenever the bell rings at the end of class and ask to keep going during our five minute break.

    Here are some reasons why I think this is working:
    ~White board, white board, white board… white board, white board: When-ever a funny word like ‘exterminator,’ ‘bat,’ or ‘traffic cop’ pops up, we can throw it on the board, play with it, ask who’s seen a bat or who’s parents have called an exterminator. We’ve talked about the difference between ‘traffic cop’ and ‘traffic light,’ then did some pronunciation practice with ‘cop’ and ‘cup.’ Without the white board, I think folks would miss so much comprehensible magic.
    ~Regular (but not constant) action: Action scenes are honestly hard to narrate, things happen too fast to be comprehensible. They do capture kids’ attention though. Today, we stopped the movie right as a monkey is catching himself on fire while standing on a kitchen stove. We spent more than five minutes playing with that picture. Again, projecting the movie on the white board helped because we could write, “The fire is burning the monkey,” and play with that thought for a while.
    ~New Vocab: Movies are great for vocab. All I need to do is pause the movie, hand my laser pointer to a student, and say, “What’s one thing you see?” Even with a wide range of proficiency levels, everyone can name something. These moments are also great for pop-up grammar. I feel like they are a confidence booster, since everyone can usually name something.
    ~Games: I tried this today, and will probably go for it again in two weeks:
    1st) I made a list of all the cool words we played with during movie talk.
    2nd) I put students into two teams and assigned an older student served as our “judge”. (Students wanted to do their own teams, but I had three folks with low confidence against three with high confidence, and that didn’t seem right.)
    3rd) I made one strange sentence using our Movie Talk words…
    3.5) Then, students had 20 seconds to draw the scene on the board. An example from today: “The mice were gambling on the coffee table.”
    4th) The judge picked the most accurate picture, and the winning artist got to draw a point on the board for his team.
    5th) If there are some teachable moments, I like to use these pictures for pop-up grammar. For example, one student only drew one mouse gambling. After that, we talked about the difference between ‘mouse’ and ‘mice’.

    While there’s a lot of positive things happening in this class, I feel like I need to talk about areas for improvement to make this complete.

    ~Pre-screen the clip: Ashley Hastings suggests using a movie you know inside and out. Honestly, I think watching the days clip two or three times before class will help me pace things much better, stop at the right moments, and make everything more comprehensible.
    ~Structures, structures, structures: We have a TPRS class outside of Movie Talk time, so I haven’t really tried to introduce story structures, but I’m feeling like this will really help improve learning outcomes with movie talk. I need to watch the week’s clip, and then pick out some solid, reoccurring structures to give the kids. Even if I am already doing this orally, I really need to throw some reoccurring structures on the board so that my kids feel more solid about using them
    ~ Staying in bounds: Along with writing structures on the board, I need to use structures and vocab more frequently. I’m doing alright with this, but I need to step it up. The “—or—” circling questions might be good places to re-introduce old words.
    ~More personalization: Giving the characters in the story students names will elevate the story a lot. Even with a great Movie Talk movie like Jumanji, a little personalization could add a lot.

    Big thanks to Ashley Hastings for introducing this technique and to all of those that are using it, writing about it, and sharing their comprehensible gold. If you haven’t read it yet, here’s a detailed description of Movie Talk I found linked to the Focal Skills website:

    Any comments, critiques, or suggestions would be much appreciated. Thanks!

    1. Ooops. Please pardon the typos above. I tried to edit after posting but didn’t see an edit function.

      That said, big thanks again to everyone sharing their ideas and experiences.

      1. Cool, Daniel. Sounds like you’re doing more MovieTalk as originally conceived by Hastings: longer clips (movies) and less targeted CI. Then you’re also mixing in some TPRS-style techniques (personalization, questioning). And MT was designed for ESL, your teaching situation, so this way may make more sense.

        In a FL class we have much less time and kids are getting much less exposure to the language, so we heavily target. Otherwise, we won’t get the concentration of reps we need. We use shorter clips with repetitive plots and target a few words/phrases. Then, we read the story.

        You may find the optimal balance between targeted and non-targeted to be different based on your situation.

        1. I think of there being two different approaches and think of them as MovieTalk — the full-length movie, Ashley Hastings creation, and Video and Discuss — short video clips with much more circling/questioning. I find that MovieTalk works for upper levels and that Video & Discuss works for all levels. MovieTalk: more simple, clear narration with a few comprehension check questions, best when using a longer movie and as Eric said, less targeted or non-targeted CI; Video and Discuss: lots of questions and student ideas added, more like story-asking with visuals provided, best for shorter clips since you’ll be doing a lot of discussion on very brief segments of it, and better for targeting CI.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • Search

Get The Latest Updates

Subscribe to Our Mailing List

No spam, notifications only about new products, updates.

Related Posts

CI and the Research (cont.)

Admins don’t actually read the research. They don’t have time. If or when they do read it, they do not really grasp it. How could

Research Question

I got a question: “Hi Ben, I am preparing some documents that support CI teaching to show my administrators. I looked through the blog and

We Have the Research

A teacher contacted me awhile back. She had been attacked about using CI from a team leader. I told her to get some research from

The Research

We don’t need any more research. In academia that would be a frivolous comment, but as a classroom teacher in languages I support it. Yes,



Subscribe to be a patron and get additional posts by Ben, along with live-streams, and monthly patron meetings!

Also each month, you will get a special coupon code to save 20% on any product once a month.

  • 20% coupon to anything in the store once a month
  • Access to monthly meetings with Ben
  • Access to exclusive Patreon posts by Ben
  • Access to livestreams by Ben