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Review of  Feature Films in English Language Teaching

Reviewer: Kirsten Colquhoun
Book Title: Feature Films in English Language Teaching
Book Author: Britta Viebrock
Publisher: Narr Francke Attempto Verlag GmbH + Co. KG
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Language Acquisition
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 28.2448

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Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


Feature Films in English Language Teaching, by Britta Viebrock, discusses the use of films in the Advanced English as a Foreign Language (EFL) classroom. It provides a general introduction to using film in the classroom and then offers in-depth cinematic analyses of sixteen films from five countries to instigate consideration for use in the classroom – each chapter written by a different contributor. These films were chosen not for their entertainment value but for their ability to communicate geographical, historical, political and social issues. The book is aimed at students, teacher trainees, in-service teachers and university colleagues but should not be considered an activity book for the classroom, though it does provide a set of materials which can be used with the films. Instead it should be read by the teacher in preparation for dealing with interesting topics in the classroom through the medium of film. The use of the films is intended for Advanced EFL learners of English at high school or older.

The volume is introduced by Viebrock as she considers the usefulness of using film in the EFL classroom. She comments on the fact that films are a good option for the classroom because of their visual elements and how they can contribute to our students’ visual literacy. However, while film is often utilised for discussion on plot, theme and character – and, of course, for linguistic purposes - this resource hopes to introduce elements of terminology and cinematographic aspects into the classroom to supplement this standard practice. The author appreciates that teachers are constantly on the lookout for teaching materials and activities, but proposes that there is a further need for guidance on content and suitability. Essentially this is what this book aims to do: provide a thorough analysis and comment on topical films so that they can be utilised effectively in the classroom.
The book begins with an introductory chapter on film literacy in the English language classroom. The introduction looks at the rationale behind using film in the EFL classroom, different theories of film literacy, the peculiarities of film, criteria for the selection of film, a discussion on the various approaches to working with film in the EFL classroom and legal issues to be aware of.

It is argued (quite rightly, I believe) that our learners today are constantly surrounded by visual images and so need a new kind of literacy, a multi-modal literacy, in order to understand the texts they are exposed to. Because films have become such a big part of their everyday lives, it makes sense to make use of (appropriate) films in the classroom so as to maintain interest in language learning. In fact, films lend themselves so well to the classroom situation that they can be utilised for more than language instruction; they can further be exploited to investigate historical, social and cultural issues.

A discussion on the different theories of film literacy follows. The argument for dealing with film texts in classrooms as proposed by this book is supported by Blell & Lutge’s (2004) argument that films should not only be used as a springboard for discussion but also to raise awareness of cinematographic techniques and their effects on the viewer. What’s more, films are to be appreciated as more authentic than the usual texts found in EFL coursebooks, simply because dialogue in film is not written for didactic purposes and so ends up being more realistic teaching devices. Finally, we are reminded that the fact that film-making is a commercial industry needs to be highlighted in the classroom as well.

The particularities of film are then laid out, ostensibly to clarify issues for those teachers who are not familiar with film techniques and jargon. There are explanations of the different dimensions of the medium: narrative, relating to plot and characters; dramatic, relating to the cast and set; and the cinematographic dimension, relating to post-production. There is a useful summary of technical language and practical issues which may not be familiar to all teachers but would be necessary to be able to teach using film in this way. This is supported by a glossary at the end of the book, which is a very necessary addition to the volume.

A justification for using film in the EFL classroom is then laid out, according to national curricula (in Germany, specifically) and to the Common European Framework of Reference for Language (CEFR). The use of film as a tool for teaching language is thus supported on numerous levels and is a necessary addition to any EFL classroom. The process of selecting an appropriate film is described by identifying key considerations, most notably the language level of the film and the students, the topic of the film and the interests of the students, and the possibility for the students to identify with the characters, but also including orientation, film aesthetics, intertextuality and diversity.

The chapter then moves on to more practical issues. In terms of how to utilise a film in the EFL classroom, teachers can make use of a straight-through approach, a segment approach, a sandwich approach or a clip approach. Of course, how the film lesson is handled will depend on the preference of the teacher and any practical constraints. Regardless of which approach is chosen, there needs to be three steps involved: pre-, while-, and post-viewing activities. While many teachers may be familiar with activities for all three stages, there are a range of ideas given here to provide further inspiration.

Finally, there is a discussion on the legal issues which surround the use of film in the EFL classroom.

The rest of the book is divided into five sections, each section corresponding to a country – namely, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the United States of America and Great Britain – and a discussion on three films from each country. Each chapter provides a synopsis of the film, a discussion of the film’s historical, social and political background, a discussion of the relevant cinematographic elements in selected scenes and teaching ideas related to the specific film. There are worksheets related to the teaching ideas available on the publisher’s website, which are an added bonus.


While each chapter provides a thorough enough analysis of the film in order to inform the teacher before utilising the material, the use of these films and the corresponding teaching ideas will depend on both the teacher and the students. Some of the films contain content which is decidedly adult in nature and may not be suitable for certain age groups or cultural situations. The materials too, though definitely helpful, will need to be analysed carefully by the teacher in order to ascertain their appropriateness.

The films range from the well-known – Invictus, 12 Years a Slave, Dallas Buyer’s Club and Brick Lane – to the more unknown – Skin, Anita and Me, and All or Nothing – so, again depending on circumstances, some of your students may be familiar with the films but others probably not. This should not cause you to discard a film, though, because in the classroom the film would most certainly not be approached in the same way as it would be in your students’ free time.

In summary, this is a useful volume for teachers thinking about utilising film in the EFL classroom. The background detail given for each film is essential information for the teacher to be able to handle the topic effectively and saves the teacher from having to do their own research. The discussions on the particular social, cultural, historical or political themes relevant to the film provide information which will adequately inform the teacher. The film analyses are equally useful but somewhat technical so may not be easy for everyone to grasp. This is surely affected by the teacher’s attitude toward teaching with film, as this is the aspect of teaching with film which will probably be most unfamiliar to teachers with no background in the media. However, the sections on how to teach using the films and the extra materials provide ample resources with which teachers can expect to successfully exploit these films.

If a teacher is interested in introducing film into their EFL classroom and is looking for ideas on how to do so which are not traditional, this volume is a valuable tool. Teachers may need to be selective about which aspects of the volume they utilise and consider carefully how they would incorporate the film into their lessons, but the volume is definitely necessary for a solid understanding of these particular films, especially in relation to cinematographic aspects. As with any teaching materials, how you use this volume will depend on your particular teaching circumstances.


Blell, G. & Lutge, C. (2004). Filme im Fremdsprachenunterricht. PRAXIS Fremdsprachenunterricht 6/2004, 402 – 405.
Kirsten Colquhoun holds an MPhil in English and Applied Linguistics from the University of Cambridge, as well as the DELTA. She currently works as a freelance TEFL teacher, teacher trainer and materials writer. She is interested in topics related to English language teaching and second/foreign language acquisition.