Introduction to MovieTalk

Updated December 25, 2017

Overall my students love this activity 1.

MovieTalk is a language-teaching technique developed by Dr. Ashley Hastings 2. The research that Dr. Hastings and colleagues conducted with the technique showed that students’ listening abilities progressed significantly faster than students in comparison programs 3 / 4. MovieTalk was then brought to K-12 world language teaching by Michele Whaley in 2012 5 / 6. The ultimate goal of a MovieTalk is to provide comprehensible input (CI). If you are unfamiliar with input-based language teaching, I suggest that you read this post first.

Preparing for a MovieTalk

  • Choose a video: A successful MovieTalk depends on choosing the right video. There are many videos that are well-suited to MovieTalks that you can find in the MovieTalk database or on MovieTalk Pinterest boards. You can use commercials, short films, music videos, etc. that correspond to your unit goals. However, in general a good MovieTalk video should be:
    • Short: MovieTalk videos shouldn’t be longer than approximately 5 minutes because otherwise the activity will take too long.
    • Silent: It’s better for there to be little dialogue in the videos for several reasons. First, it is distracting when you are playing the video. Second, dialogue-driven videos are difficult to narrate and keep comprehensible.
    • Visually-driven: MovieTalks use visuals to keep the language comprehensible. So, if the video is dialogue-driven it will be more difficult.
    • Simple: We’re not looking for cinematic masterpieces. The plot needs to be simple enough for the teacher to describe and the students to follow along.
    • Engaging: Videos should be interesting to students of course!
  • Study the video: Familiarize yourself with the video and think of how you will make the story comprehensible to your students. One way to do this is to identify 2-4 target structures (important chunks of language) that you will use frequently to describe the video. Some teachers also write a script for their MovieTalks, which makes it easier for them to use a limited, comprehensible vocabulary.

The MovieTalk Process 7 / 8 / 9 / 10 / 11 / 12

The goal is to provide comprehensible input, not to just watch the video. The power of MovieTalk is that concrete images are used to support comprehension! 13.

  • Introduce new language: Before beginning your MovieTalk, establish the meaning of your target structures (if you have them) or other key words by writing them on the board with translations in the students’ first language underneath (Click here for an explanation of why). Additionally, you could create a gesture to accompany the words or ask some PQA questions. If you’re doing a MovieTalk with familiar vocabulary, you don’t need to introduce the words again. Haiyun Lu suggests creating a 5-sentence introductory reading to the video.
  • Establish rules & expectations: Annabelle Allen’s rules for MovieTalk are: No spoiling, No whining, and 100% participation 100% of the time. If students break these rules, there is a major hit in her classroom points system.
  • Pause & discuss: Now it’s time to start the video. Pause the video every several seconds to talk about what you see. Keep pausing and describing until you finish the video. Instead of pausing, some teachers use screenshots 14. While narrating the video, you should also ask your students occasional comprehension check and PQA questions.
  • Replay clip: After you’re done describing, most teachers replay the entire clip without pausing so that students can enjoy the clip in its entirety without interruptions.
  • Followup activities (optional): Technically it’s not necessary to have follow-up activities for a MovieTalk, but why wouldn’t you want to take advantage of the lesson to its fullest potential and get additional repetitions of the target structures? Here are some ideas of things to do after a MovieTalk:
    • Read the script: Students read the MovieTalk script and do a Reading Activity. You could also write an Embedded Reading for the MovieTalk. The simplest way to do reading is to project the script on the board and read it together as a class as the teacher circles, asks comprehension questions, points out grammar patterns, etc.
    • Quiz: One way to do this is an Up/Down Listening Assessment where students all put their heads down, and the teacher asks true/false statements about the video. Then students put their thumbs up or down to signify true or false.
    • Re-tell: Replay the video and ask students to describe the action.
    • Timed Writing: Students write for 5 minutes about the MovieTalk. Projecting several screenshots from the video clip will help students to add more details. If students didn’t like the ending, the prompt can be for them to write a new ending.
    • Ordering Activities: Students place events from the MovieTalk in order. Read here to see how Annabelle Allen does it.
    • Captions: The teacher shows a screenshot and the students write a caption for it.
    • Dictation or Running Dictation: Dictations focus students’ attention on grammar patterns and proper spelling. Running Dictations accomplish the same, but they are more fun.
    • Flyswatter Game:The teacher reads a caption aloud and students compete to smack the corresponding image on the board.
I was worried […] How was I going to make a 3 minute video last for a whole class period? […] But the first time I did the talk, which was, in my opinion, the worst of the run-throughs, it took 40 glorious minutes. We had just enough time to watch the whole video again with sound, and for me to pass out an exit ticket for students to complete. And each time, the questioning, pausing, and gesturing got better. I asked better questions. I got better responses […] I was worried that they would be completely bored with it, wondering why we’ve been looking at one clip for so long. Around the end of class, they did get a little squirrely. But have you seen this video? The kid throws a completely adorable dog on the floor. And then later, he kicks it. My kids were so emotionally invested, one girl actually cried. And the plot twist ending? My room fell silent and I could see the emotion on my students faces change. It was beautiful […] I hope that this inspires you to find, look into, or try a Movie Talk in class! This was my first experience, and I promise that it won’t be my last! 15

MovieTalk Tips

  • Actors: Having students act out part of the MovieTalk adds a lot of engagement.
  • PQA: Read this article if you don’t know what PQA is. While describing the clip, you should also ask questions to your students to relate it to their lives. For example, if the character in the clip is playing video games, ask students if they play video games, what their favorite game is, etc.
  • Add details: As if it were a TPRS story, ask your students for additional details about whats going on. For example, they could give the characters names if they are none, or they could decide why something is happening. Class-added details make MovieTalk a bit more engaging for the students and offers an opportunity to repeat the target structures 16.
  • Comprehensibility: Pointing to the visuals will boost students’ comprehension, but there is still room for ambiguity. For example, pointing at the image of a butterfly could be interpreted as insect, wings, flying, etc. If butterfly isn’t an essential word, then relying on the visuals is fine. However, for important words, make sure you do occasional comprehension checks. Pre-teaching important words is also essential, and make sure you go SLOW.
  • Limit vocabulary: Focus on the target structures and attempt to use them as many times as possible. You could ask several of your students who need help focusing while listening to count how many times you use each target structure. Don’t use MovieTalk as a way to introduce tons of new vocabulary.
  • Details: Don’t get so bogged down in describing the details that the students become bored or the storyline becomes unclear. This is why target structures are so useful: they give you something to focus on. MovieTalk is a great way to get repetitions of descriptions like numbers and colors, but these details shouldn’t be your primary focus.
  • Run out of time: Annabelle Allen had the idea of “accidentally” running out of time right before getting to the ending and telling the students to watch the ending as homework. This is perfect if you work at a school where you have to assign homework. If you chose an engaging video for MovieTalk, there is a good chance that many students will do the homework and watch the end of the video!
  • Student suggestions: Tell your students to email you if they find a great video for MovieTalk. They’ll be excited when you use their recommendations in class. However, make them do more of the work and tell them that you’ll only consider their suggestion if they also suggest previously taught words or structures in the target language that you could use while discussing the video. Annabelle Allen says that this makes her students think about Spanish every time they watch their favorite Youtube channels!
  • Emotions: You don’t need to be an actor to do MovieTalk, but you should make the students emotionally involved somehow. As Wendy Farab said, “I was able to capture a lot of students attention with emotions.”

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How long should a MovieTalk last?
My students get frustrated by the constant pausing. What should I do?
Aren't MovieTalks providing a lot of incomprehensible input?
Why are MovieTalks effective?
What are the benefits of MovieTalk?
What are the drawback of MovieTalk?


  1. Miriam Patrick, Movie Talk/Movie Shorts (2014)
  2. Ashley Hastings, MovieTalk (2012).
  3. Ashley J. Hastings, The FOCAL SKILLS Approach: An Assessment. In Second Language Acquisition: Theory and Pedagogy, edited by F. R. Eckman, D. Highland, P. W. Lee, J. Mileham, and R. R. Weber, pp. 29-44 (1995).
  4. Bai Yu, A Comparison of English Proficiency Gains in One Focal Skills and Two Traditional ESL Programs (1998).
  5. Michele Whaley, Focal Skills on using Movies (2012).
  6. Michele Whaley, Skyping with Ashley Hastings (2013).
  7. Kalee Rump and Yaz Waters, MovieTalk Presentation (2016).
  8. Cynthia Hitz and Krista Kovalchick, 1, 2, 3 MovieTalk (2015).
  9. Martina Bex, MovieTalk + TPRS® = Magic (2016).
  10. Allison Wienhold, How to MovieTalk (2016).
  11. Diane Neubauer, Haiyun Lu, and Pu-Mei Leng, Making Movie Clips Comprehensible for Culture Impact.
  12. Chris Stolz, How Do I MovieTalk? (2014).
  13. Martina Bex, #iFLT16 highlights from Wednesday (2016).
  14. Here’s a piece of advice from Carol Gaab via Arianne Dowd. If you’re doing a PowerPoint with screenshots, don’t tell the students that there is a video. If they don’t know that there’s a video, they’re not going to get antsy about watching it. Señor Wooly gave this exact same piece of advice.
  15. Wendy Farab, My first Movie Talk (2017).
  16. Michael Coxon, Going Beyond MovieTalks (2015).
  17. Kristin Bruno Archambault on CI / TPRS for French Teachers (2016).
  18. Annabelle Allen, Movie Talk is the BEST THING EVER! WHY?! (2016).

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