“Film in Action: Teaching language using moving images”: Book Review

The book review was originally published in EFL Magazine on 12 June 2015.


Film in Action book coverTeachers around the world attempt to engage their learners using various methods, one of which is the use of video in the classroom. When reflecting on video, I remember, within my first year of teaching, attempting to get all the young learners motivated by watching a cartoon or child-friendly movie. However, I was fresh out of ideas on how to exploit it in an educational manner. What I tended to do was just wheel out the TV and DVD player into the classroom and hit the play button. We would all just sit there and watch the DVD, totally immersed within the video with very little educational benefit. Now with the development and popularity of online video distribution websites, as well as smart mobile filming devices, teachers are now in the position to motivate and engage their learners with the language of English via the medium of video.

It now seems fitting that the latest publication from the DELTA Teacher Development Series attempts to illustrate the educational benefit by which teachers, and their learners, could use video to supplement the teaching of English. “Film in Action” (2015), written by Kieran Donaghy, is a wonderful resource for teachers seeking further ideas on how to exploit video inside and outside the classroom with their learners. As with previous publications from the DELTA Teacher Development Series, you can expect three parts to this book: Part A, Part B and, if you hazard a guess, Part C. Within Part A, Kieran attempts to answer six key questions related to:

  • The role of film within society;
  • Film within education;
  • The relationship between film and literacy in the twenty-first century;
  • The importance of the young analysing and creating their own personal films;
  • The educational benefits of creating moving images; as well as
  • Strategies to using films inside and outside of the classroom.

Each focus is clearly written, with reference to further reading in the bibliography, which guides the reader towards the relationship between education, film and teaching. The final focus of Part A – using film in the classroom – offers some invaluable and reflective tips for using feature films or short films in creative and educationally rewarding ways. Part A offers the reader websites related to short films, general film resources as well as additional lesson plans and projects.

Part B, which offers a wealth of lesson ideas, is split into two chapters: Chapter One focuses on learners actively watching film with the aim of improving their language skills as well as developing their visual literacy, while Chapter Two offers concepts of lessons designed to encourage learners to actively produce their own film with a focus on English. Chapter One, which contain in total 68 lesson ideas, in the predictable lesson structure which is clear, methodical and well organised. This simple and effective process, as with all of the DELTA Teacher Development Series, offer readers inspired lessons to incorporate films within the classroom. All the lesson ideas in this section are further split into 8 other categories related to actively watching film: exploring film (7 lesson ideas), exploiting moving images (12 lesson ideas), exploiting still images (7 lesson ideas), exploiting sound (12 lesson ideas), exploiting music (4 lesson ideas), analysing characters (8 lesson ideas), analysing scripts (8 lesson ideas) as well as exploring new film genres (10 lesson ideas).

Chapter Two, within Part B, focuses on learners producing and creating their own films in an educational manner. It is, again, clearly organized using the DELTA Publishing formula. The focus of learners actively producing their own films, of which there are 43 lessons, is split into three main areas: creating narrative (15 lesson ideas), creating images and sounds (9 lesson ideas) and creating moving images (19 lesson ideas). One of my favourite lesson ideas, within Chapter Two, Part B, is getting learners to create a ‘how to’ video. Kieran has written a wonderful lesson plan which naturally develops towards students creating their very own ‘how to’ video. The lesson itself is incredibly powerful as students are no longer restricted by the topic. They can work together to create a video, which can then be played back to the rest of the class.

There is a natural development towards Part C, which considers the adoption of a ‘three C’ approach to film: Cultural access, Critical understanding and Creative activity. Kieran considers exploiting the three Cs approach, within Part C, by considering four projects which readers could incorporate within their classroom: the film club, film circles, film chronicles, and the film course. With these four considerations, which any language institution could incorporate to supplement language courses, the author highlights very important aspects to consider. For example, with a film club the reader is reminded to consider equipment required, the environment, legal implications as well as selecting appropriate films. Additional resources and lesson ideas are offered for readers in the final Part, with readers feeling motivated to attempt film projects with their educational institution.

The book itself covers a variety of areas with film in the classroom in a well-defined and logical fashion that naturally guides the reader towards different aspects to consider when incorporating film in the classroom. Readers will gain confidence and inspiration when incorporating ideas suggested by Kieran Donaghy. There is such a wealth of recommended websites and links that it can initially seem daunting for any reader. Yet, with enough perseverance and determination, these websites can support and complement the lesson ideas. “Film in Action” is a vital book for those teachers wishing to incorporate film in the classroom with some stimulating and rewarding ideas for lessons. It would have saved me countless times when I incorporated film in the classroom.

“Translation and Own-language Activities”: Book Review

Last year, I wrote a book review for Philip Kerr’s book on “Translation and Own-language Activities” for IATEFL Voices. Today, I was participating in an ELT Chat discussion about own-language use in the classroom and I was looking for this book review for a while.  I suddenly realised that I hadn’t included it on my blog.  Apologies for the delay but please find the book review for “Translation and Own-language Activities” below.

Book Review: “Language Learning with Technology”

It was great news to hear that “Language Learning with Technology” (Stanley 2013) was nominated and consequently won the Duke of Edinburgh English Speaking Union English Language Book Awards.  A big congratulations to Graham for his continued effort with technology and language learning, I have always enjoyed reading his contributions to this field and was first introduced when I read “Digital Play” (Mayer & Stanley 2011).  Nevertheless, my latest book review is published in IATEFL Voices (please see below). This book is particularly invaluable for teachers who would like to gain more confidence when incorporating technology in the classroom and I would highly recommend language teachers and schools to consider getting it.

“Innovations in English Language Teaching to Migrants and Refugees” by British Council

A number of months ago, I was at the British Council in London for a seminar and asked to write a book review for the latest “Innovations in …” series.  The “Innovations in …” series which was published in 2012 focuses on the teaching of migrants and refugees with various case studies.  It is an interesting book and I would highly recommend this for those teachers which have an interest or involved in EAL or ESOL.  You are able to read my latest review below.  You can find more information about the “Innovations in English Language Teaching to Migrants and Refugees” at the following website.  You will also be able to download a PDF version of this book from the link provided above.

Again thank you to Mike Harrison for his help and support in getting this book review included in the latest NATECLA News.

“CLIL Activities” by Liz Dale and Rosie Tanner

CLIL Activities” is written by Liz Dale and Rosie Tanner and published under the Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers series by Cambridge University Press.  If you have taught young learners, you have probably heard a buzz word ‘CLIL’ bounding the teachers’ room.  However, what is ‘CLIL’ and what does it actually mean?  It is defined as Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) and the European Commission defines it as the “teaching a curricular subject through the medium of a language other than that normally used”.  Here you can see the relationship between language learning through education and young learners.  However, one should question whether there is a place for CLIL in an adult language learning setting.  Nevertheless, “CLIL Activities” is intended for subject teachers who teach their subjects through English, language educators working within a bilingual context, or those that are training to become subject teachers or language educators in a bilingual context (p.1).  The book is just over 280 pages and split into three sections.  Part 1 (Background to CLIL) includes a comprehensive background to CLIL, Part 2 (Subject pages) focuses on subject matter with CLIL and Part 3 (Practical activities), which offers practical activities, is split into six chapters which include the following: Activating, Guiding understanding, Focus on language, Focus on speaking, Focus on writing, and Assessment, review and feedback.  The book attempts to consider the benefits of a ‘multi-faceted’ approach with the teaching of CLIL.  These benefits are also echoed on the European Commission’s website which are illustrated below.

European Commission: CLIL’s Benefits (2012)
The main emphasis of CLIL is that it immerses language learners with particular subject knowledge and this in itself motivates learners.  Thereby, language educators are teaching through a language rather than in another language which assists learners acquiring “both language and content as they learn a school subject” (Dale and Tanner 2012 p.5).  However, one criticism of CLIL is that learners are only learning how to communicate in English through a course subject and their are other stakeholders in education who appear to suggest that it may hinder the learners’ first language as well as perhaps jeopardising their language status inside or outside the classroom (International CLIL Research Journal 2010 p.47).  Nevertheless, “CLIL Activities” attempts to introduce newly qualified or more experienced teachers who have little practical or background  experience with a CLIL-based classroom with the publication of this book.

Part 1: Background to CLIL

The first section to the book, “CLIL Activities”, introduces the reader to the whole subject of CLIL with the authors considering the benefits, challenges and suitability of CLIL in the classroom as well as comparing CLIL with content-based language teaching (CBLT) and immersion.  As noted before (and also highlighted above), the benefits of CLIL include aspects of motivation with CLIL, development of language production and meaningful communicative ability, as well as learning the culture of a subject (Dale and Tanner 2012 p.11-13).  One of the first activities, which is accessible with an attached and highly invaluable CD, is a questionnaire, which could be incorporated into CLIL-based workshops or Teacher Training Sessions, and develops the noticing and awareness-raising of CLIL in the language classroom.   Other aspects to the background of CLIL include the use of scaffolding learner produced language, the relationship with the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (henceforth CEFR) as well as the rubric that might be created to assess learning from the classroom.

Part 2: Subject pages

The second section illustrated attempts to answer the most common question facing English language teachers: What subjects could I teach with CLIL?  “CLIL Activities” breaks down particular subjects which could adopt a CLIL approach: Art, design and technology, Economics and business studies, Geography, History, Information and communication technology (ICT), Maths, Music and drama, Physical education (PE), as well as Science.  Essentially, throughout Part 2 there is a “collection of subject-specific pages” (p.41) and offer examples of CLIL material with each of the nine subjects above.  The authors also consider potential challenges facing CLIL learners with “subject-specific” lessons that are then incorporated in the classroom.  These include affective, emotional, as well as cultural implications and are covered with further explanation.  The first “subject-specific” example (which is arranged alphabetically) is based on Art, design and technology and offers readers the opportunity to see ‘CLIL in action’ which is broken down into how language is used in the subject.  Furthermore, there is a sample text and is broken down into different grammar functions.  The third part in the ‘subject-specific’ section refers to the CEFR level and is split into the differing productions of English which is related to possible aims.  The second part of the book, is wonderful and can be referred to by potential CLIL subject teachers and also could support the development of a CLIL curriculum by potential schools.

Part 3: Practical activities

The final part of “CLIL Activities” offers readers the opportunity to incorporate ‘CLIL-related’ activities by using the accompanying CDs with the book.  The activities are split into six sub-chapters and are named: Activating, Guiding understanding, Focus on language, Focus on speaking, Focus on writing and Assessment, review and feedback.  The first sub-chapter (Activating) aims to initiate learner interest in “subject-specific” activities.  For example, the first CLIL activity aims learners to complete sentences from prompts and it is quite entertaining to view some of the suggested activities which could be developed for variation of CLIL subjects.  The second sub-chapter (Guiding understanding) and a wonderful example of a related lesson suggested by the authors include the use of an “Interactive PowerPoint®” lesson.  It advises teachers to prepare different images referenced to specific subjects and teacher created questions which correspond to the images.  An example is provided in the book with in reference to Geography: Who is affected by logging?  What does deforestation mean for the world climate? (p.126-127).  The third sub-chapter (Focus on language), aims to develop as well as differentiate learner awareness of CLIL-related vocabulary with a wonderful example suggested with the first activity (a differentiation between Academic Word List and General Vocabulary: happen/occur, main/major, etc).  The authors recommend an Academic Word List from the University of Nottingham and is a wonderful resource for future reference and the development of similar word lists.  The fourth sub-chapter (Focus on speaking) is predictably related to prompting CLIL learners to develop their speaking skills with fourteen suggested activities.  Any teacher which adopts a ‘conversation-driven’ approach, a continuing complication is prompting learners to authentically converse in English with other learners as well as with the teacher in the classroom.  The fourteen suggested lesson ideas in “CLIL Activities” offers teachers additional ideas to essentially get learners speaking with different prompts used such as questionnaires, debates, etc.  The fifth sub-chapter (Focus on writing) develops ideas on CLIL-based writing through the use of fourteen suggested lesson ideas.  Many of the ideas suggested by the authors include class magazines, posters, as well as framing and using prompts to develop writing.  The final sub-chapter (Assessment, review and feedback) obviously provides CLIL teachers the opportunity to continuously assess learner progress with different lesson templates, the use of learner-centred correction, as well as developing learner awareness of language and commonly produced mistakes by using of jigsaw activities.  Within the appendix the authors offer additional reference to the CEFR as well as additional resources for reading related to CLIL.  There are lesson plans and notes related to CLIL material which are accessible via the BBC Skillswise website. There are also a range of different reading suggested by Dale and Tanner in appendix.


In conclusion, the book is a lovely introduction to CLIL and the background reading offers budding teachers the opportunity to develop further understanding so that one could create a CLIL-related curriculum for their language institutes.  “CLIL Activities” could be used to teach CLIL-type lessons but additional resources and materials would be recommended to create more dynamic and engaging lessons, such as the use of English based school materials and books.  It is a challenging and time consuming process to create CLIL material for language institutes, as having developed a lesson related to British Culture (art, history, the Royal Family, etc) but the book’s authors develop ideas and tips to assist with the creation of materials and lesson activities.  Therefore, this book should be accessible in the Teachers’ Room and I would recommend those teachers (native and non-native), who are teaching in a public or private language school context, to refer to this book to develop ideas and techniques to essentially teach language through the use of a subject.  Finally, it is great to see an accompanying CD included with “CLIL Activities” which can be used for a variety of operating systems such as Windows® and Mac®.

Additional Resources

CEFR (2012) Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, [Online], Available: http://www.examenglish.com/CEFR/cefr.php (22 Nov 2012)
Coyle, D., Hood, P. and Marsh, D. (2010) “CLIL: Content and Language Integrated Learning” Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Dale, L. and Tanner, R. (2012) “CLIL Activities” Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Deller, S. and Price, C. (2007) “Teaching Other Subjects Through English” Oxford: Oxford University Press.
European Commission Languages (2012) Content and Language Integrated Learning, [Online], Available: http://ec.europa.eu/languages/language-teaching/content-and-language-integrated-learning_en.htm (22 Nov 2012).
Yassin, S. M., Tek, O. E., Alimon, H., Baharom, S. and Ying, L. Y. (2010) “Teaching Science Through English: Engaging Pupils Cognitively” International CLIL Research Journal, Vol. 1 No. 3 (2010), [Online], Available: http://www.icrj.eu/13/article5.html (22 Nov 2012).