Watching TV to teach language

The Disney show Weekend Family, that streams on Disney +, has characters of color, a same sex couple and a complex blended family. As it is a family show, the scenes depict scenarios that revolve around our students’ experiences, for example being dropped off at Dad’s for the weekend, making food together for Sunday brunch and getting kids out to activities like swim class. These are great contexts for Novice language.

As I see this show as an opportunity to teach language, I started thinking about how I could make the dialogue in the show comprehensible for my students. I want to make lessons that draw in learners, preview vocabulary, tease out cultural commentary and set up an activity that isn’t about language but uses language. The first step, I decided, is to make sure that the activity isn’t about evaluating students for a grade, but is about making the language in the film accessible.

Allow me to share with you the activity that I designed for the first two episodes of Weekend Family as an example of how to make input comprehensible for Novice learners. Here is a folder were you can find all of the materials. Use the slides with the whole class. And, you can make copies of the Google Forms by doing “control click” or “right click” on the thumbnails visible in the folder, then post them to your students’ Learning Management System like Google Classroom. 

You will notice that students preview lines from the episode prior to watching. I carefully chose lines that are important to understanding the main ideas. In class I have to translate some of these lines for the students, but once they have the meaning, then they are ready to use the language. These are the steps:

  • Teacher gives a few points of cultural commentary from ideas brought up in the show
  • Students in pairs guess who will say each line
  • Students in pairs predict what will happen in the segment we will watch
  • The class as a whole shares predictions
  • We watch the 7-12 minute segment together and students confirm who says what and answer one comprehension question

The work that the students are doing is not to evaluate them. It is to lead them through the input and to make it possible to watch the show to try to understand the main ideas. 

It is important to note that I am not attempting to teach the vocabulary that the show revolves around, I am teaching frequently used French vocabulary that builds on the other stories my students have heard in class. For example, when Fred first presents his children and his ex-wives, there is vocabulary around description. When the new girlfriend meets the ex-wives, there is vocabulary around saying hello and introducing oneself. When they are making a brunch out of just the leeks, there is vocabulary around preferences, “I don’t like leeks”. This distinction is important in how to teach language through watching a television show with your students.

5 thoughts on “Watching TV to teach language

  1. This is wonderful for my students. I’m having trouble finding the link for the first section of Episode 1. Thank you for sharing an amazing activity.

    1. Thanks for pointing that out. The very first section doesn’t have independent work. There was a google form posted to French Teachers in the US on Facebook made by someone else. Or, you can have the class watch together and then discuss with the slides I provided.

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