Exploiting Netflix in the classroom

“What we learn with pleasure we never forget” Alfred Mercier 1816-1891

As a languages teacher I am always keen on finding ways to make the learning process relevant to young learners. Without a doubt, learning a language takes a great deal of commitment, practise and patience. Just like learning any difficult skill, the best way to achieve success is through using different methods. This motivates the students and they are then more likely to apply themselves.

Language teachers have always recommended that students watch films in the target language to improve linguistic skills. In this post, I will not go into the reasons why this method of study is beneficial but how I use it with teenagers in a classroom setting and what I gain from it.

Firstly, I had to find appropriate content for the age of my students which they would find entertaining. For my Year 11 class I chose “Unbreakable Kimmy” which is rated 15. For my younger students I opted for ” A Series of Unfortunate Events”. You may think this task to be straightforward but with a classroom full of teenagers, they have different ideas about what is acceptable and interesting. Namely, films/programmes which are rated 15/18 are the most popular. It is important that the content is appropriate for an educational setting and not to be swayed by “My mum lets me watch it” or “Go on Sir! We won’t tell anybody.”

With older students we watch 10 minute slots in the target language with English subtitles. Their first task is to make a small tick in their exercise book when they hear a word they recognise. What I am trying to achieve is for students to focus and avoid losing concentration. Next, I am trying to train their ear to the rhythm of the language. This is a very important skill for GCSE listening exams where understanding one or two words in a short description is the key to getting the answer right. I explain to student that listening for gist and not being overwhelmed by trying to understand everything is an important language skill to develop. Another activity is to give students a list of short expressions from the programme and they have to translate them after having watch the clip. It is necessary to have expressions where there are unknown words and encourage them to work things out from context.(Avoid using dictionaries here) Next, students work in pairs to manipulate the expressions. For example, changing from past tense into the future tense or changing the subject of the sentence. I am pleased that I now have older students who have continued to watch content on Netflix in the language they are studying.

With younger students I prefer to have subtitles in the target language and the audio in English. There are a number of reasons for this. The main one being, several students would struggle to  comprehend the English in the time allowed. I tend to do the same activities as with older students. So, when they see a word in the target language and they have to put a tick in their books. It never ceases to amaze me how students of all ages are surprised that the language they learn in class can be seen in a wide range of authentic situations. They have the impression that the language they are studying only appears in exams and textbooks! Also, they are starting to understand that to be able to communicate effectively in a foreign language requires a solid base of a few hundred words embedded in the their long-term memory which is feasible for most learners to achieve.

Finally, students request that I do this activity more often so use this as part of my behaviour management strategy. If the class gets noisy and start to talk over me, they know they won’t be able to do the activity later which often leads to the students managing each others’ behaviour which is a godsend at the end of a tiring day!

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