The use of films and motion pictures in the ESL classroom is becoming an accepted practice at many universities in China. This paper explores the various approaches to the effective use of motion pictures in the ESL classroom. The different types of tasks and academic exercises associated with the approaches are discussed.
Keywords: Class Exercises, ESL Audio-Visual Tools, Films, Motion Pictures, Visual Aids
Visual aids are a great enhancement for teaching an ESL class in China. An even better resource is a motion picture or video clip. The combination of both image and sound significantly aids in the achievement of the pedagogical goals of reading, writing, listening and speaking English. Academics debate whether showing either a short sequence or an entire film can replace the published text in the ESL classroom. However, based on the feedback of about 300 students enrolled in a Western culture course at a university in China's Henan province, it does significantly add to the learning experience. Conversely, no textbook is comprehensive, allowing the need for a good teaching aid such as a motion picture (Li, 2009). Finally, the presence of film and video changes the learning atmosphere of the class, as ESL students are hearing authentic English in real life scenes and natural settings.
SHORT SEQUENCES VS. WHOLE FILM:
Do we let them eat cake? If so, the entire cake or just a piece? Some academics favor the short sequence methodology as it tends to enhance the theme-based classroom discussion, especially for topics such as medicine, education, science, technology, business, history, marriage and the legal system (King, 2002). Also, there are facilitators that favor the whole film approach as motion pictures can function as the core content and become an integral part of the curriculum (Sommer, 2001). As lesson time in many ESL classrooms is often limited, the short sequence approach has been favored by many teachers who choose to use films in class.
The short sequence approach includes a single-scene approach in which only one segment from a film is played, or a selective approach featuring a few scenes from different parts of a film. This approach can better engage students as the play time is short and the focus relatively clearer. The short sequence approach is usually used to introduce a topic, or as a pre-reading or writing task to help students brainstorm ideas. Short film segments can also be used to focus on the linguistic structure and the form of the language. Shorter viewing time is also more favorable to beginners or younger learners who might find prolonged viewing too challenging linguistically (Yu, 2009).
With the whole film approach, ESL teachers are faced with a few issues. Most university level classes are two hour classes divided into two fifty minutes segments. While the need to start, stop and explain the film is not necessary, the students miss out on the critical background information needed to understand the context of the story. Moreover, this makes it difficult to complete and before, during and after exercises. However, some academics feel that the benefits of screening an uninterrupted film are numerous, if the film is suitable for that level of students. The film's dialogue must be both clear and comprehensible.
CAPTIONS VS. NO CAPTIONS:
To caption or not to caption? That is the question. Some academics feel that captions or subtitles in the ESL student's original language are better than showing a motion picture without captions (King, 2002; Kikuchi, 1997). In terms of listening and the overall ESL comprehension, captioned videos are more effective for the following reasons:
1.Students are more motivated to learn the English dialogue
2.The gap between reading and listening skills is bridged.
3.Students can follow a plot more easily.
4.Pronunciation of words is learned.