Wiki by Danielle Hawley and Ben Stein
While using film and media has the potential to benefit all students, ELLs in particular may benefit from such instruction. ELLs not only need to acquire literacy skills in a new language, but they also need to learn how to “read” a new culture. Reading, writing, speaking and listening are embedded in social and cultural contexts, so English teachers can help ELLs acclimate to a new language and culture by exposing them to film/media during instruction of other skills. Film and media integration can provide context and a visual complement to lesson material. Teachers can also provide ELLs with the opportunity to create their own media, in which case it acts as a scaffold for them to acquire higher order skills even as they adjust to a new language. In our wiki, we will show you some ideas and lesson plans using film/media to teach short stories.

Tip #1: Use film to contextualize content.

Joseph B. South (2008) explores how video narratives can help supply context to ELLs in his design case study. While many language textbooks for ELLs come with pre-recorded videos, they are often artificial and simplified. South notes that frequently material taught in school is de-contextualized for students, which can be especially harmful for ELLs. If students have no prior knowledge or context on which to connect new material, the new ideas or skills will not be acquired easily. By using more in-depth video narratives, South argues, teachers can provide ELLs with rich contextualization and greater depth of a topic, high engagement, and exposure to authentic language and culture.

While English teachers may not always have the time or find it appropriate to show video-length features of the content or stories they are teaching, some might consider using “authentic” video clips to supplement material and provide context. For instance, a clip from the news or a television show can give students necessary background and help them engage more fully with lesson material. Here are some examples of how a video clip may be used to accomplish the goal of contextualization, engagement, and exposure to authentic language and culture.

Lesson Idea #1:
Shirley Jackson’s powerful short story, “The Lottery,” makes no sense without prior knowledge about what a lottery is and how it usually works. The irony of the story lies in the fact that normally winning the lottery is a very exciting experience, but for the protagonist in Jackson’s story, it is a very horrifying experience. Prior to reading the story with an ELL audience, a teacher may show the following news clip:

After viewing the clip, a teacher may ask ELLs the following questions to help prepare them for reading the story.

  • How did this couple feel after winning the lottery?
  • How did the lottery change their lives?
  • Would they play the lottery again? How do we know?
  • How would you feel if you won the lottery?

This video clip shows ELLs an authentic scenario, where a real-life couple won the lottery and is interviewed for a news story. Their experience winning the lottery can be the backdrop against which ELLs read Jackson’s story.

Lesson Idea #2:
Richard Connell’s famous short story, “The Most Dangerous Game,” involves a man who ends up stranded on the island and forced to participate in a very unusual game. He must learn to rely on himself in extreme circumstances. A modern parallel may be drawn to the many reality television shows that depict men and women facing unusual challenges. Prior to reading the story with an ELL audience, a teacher may show the following clip from Man Versus Wild:


After viewing the clip, a teacher may ask ELLs the following questions to help prepare them for reading the story.

  • What challenges did the man face out in the wild?
  • How would it have been different if someone else had been with him?
  • Who was he talking to?
  • How would you feel if you had to face a challenge like this?

This video clip shows ELLs a scenario from a reality television show, which is an increasingly popular part of American culture. In fact, teachers may want to spend extra time discussing the nature of reality television shows with ELLS, who may not have had prior exposure depending on their home origin. Most importantly, watching Bear Grylls fish for piranha in the middle of Ecuador wilderness will give ELLs a context through which to understand Connell’s story.

Tip #2: Use “blogs” for students to respond to what they’ve read.

Practicing teacher, Glori Smith (2009), documents her successful experience using blogs with her ELL students. She contends that through blogging, her students obtained language skills such as reading, viewing and listening; learned how to process and analyze messages on both surface and deeper levels; and became more adept at constructing their own messages through synthesizing ideas. Because blogging is a more public venue, some ELLs may feel more pride in producing their best work as well as more excitement that others can read and respond to their entries. Smith provided her students with open-ended prompts to jump-start their writing process and noticed great improvements in her students as they became more familiar with blogging.

There are many great blogging hosts designed for teachers and students, though not all of them are free. For instance, Smith mentions her use of, an online classroom platform with blogging capabilities. From my understanding, schools must pay fees or purchase a membership to have access. Smith was already using Moodle with her students but had not taken advantage of the weblog feature until her experiment with blogging. This platform is a great option for teachers since it can be closed to the general public and create a safe environment for students to express themselves.

Another great option that is free for teachers and students is This website is designed for teacher and student use, and though it is a free service, teachers can set up controlled environments for student bloggers to participate. Teachers and students can also participate in communities with other teachers and students around the world. In this sense, blogging has the chance to reinforce the idea that students are participants in a global community.


Blogging has the potential to fit in perfectly in any English classroom. Like Smith, teachers can design open-ended prompts to precede or follow the reading of any short story or novel. Students can respond on their blogs and comment of the entries of their peers, building their language skills and also strengthening their sense of learning communities.

Lesson Idea:
Before students read D.H. Lawrence’s “The Rocking Horse Winner,” a teacher could give ELL students the following writing prompt: “Some people believe that money is the root of all evil. Do you agree or disagree? Why or why not? Use one or more examples to back up your opinion. Respond on your blog with at least 1 paragraph and comment on two of your peers’ entries.”

After students read the story, a teacher could give ELL students a new, creative writing prompt: “Write an extension of the story, focusing on the boy’s mother. After her son dies, do you think she would change or would she stay the same? Show what would happen in your extension. After writing your ending, comment on two of your peers’ entries.”

Tip #3: Use graphic novels and/or comic adaptations of stories to teach ELLs, or have students create their own media, such as a comic strip, in response to what they’ve read.

Many researchers have studied the effects that visuals have on ELLs, including Jun Liu (2004) who studied the effects of comic strips on ELL’s reading comprehension. He discovered that low-level readers could better comprehend and recall a high-level text if they were also given a comic strip accompaniment. Therefore, a meaningful visual text can serve as a scaffold for ELLs, especially beginners, during a reading experience.

In addition, researchers have discovered great benefits to having students design their own comic strips. Rachel Marie-Crane Williams (2008) explores how teachers can help students create their own comics in her article “Image, text and story: comics and graphic novels in the classroom.” She argues, “Pairing visual images with words is an easy way to help students develop stronger visual literacy. Comics offer an opportunity for students to scrutinize how interdependent images and words can create a strong sequential narrative” (13). Two other scholars, Wright & Sherman (1999), discuss the literacy and writing skills students can acquire in the creation of comic strips, arguing that teachers should use comic strips as both a method and medium for instruction. They also note that students have the chance to learn about explicit versus implicit messages.

Despite popular misconceptions, graphic novels and comic strips are not juvenile and can be used with any age group. A teacher may consider looking for adaptations of stories or novels in the curriculum for ELLs. For instance, there is a great series (No Fear) of graphic novel adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays:

Another great series, Graphic Classics, brings to life classic short stories and novels in graphic novel form. Many of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories, including “The Cask of Amontillado” are adapted and illustrated in this text:

In an elementary setting, a teacher may choose to read a graphic novel or comic book to the class. In a high school setting, a teacher may give an ELL student a graphic novel or comic book to accompany a class reading of a difficult text.

In addition, having students create their own comic strips can be a powerful activity after having read a story. If teachers have access to technology, has a great online comic creator.

If using computers is not an option, students can still easily create a comic strip using construction paper and colorful pencils or markers.

Links to Elementary Lessons:

Rationale for Media Use in the Elementary Classroom: The Hare and the Tortoise

Having taught ESL at the elementary level, I can attest to the fact that the use of media in the classroom is particularly beneficial to English language learners. In the lesson on The Hare and the Tortoise linked above, I use video as well as still photos to introduce the characters of the fable. In general, front-loading lessons with media gets students excited; furthermore, it activates their learning by providing context and background information, both of which are crucial for students with limited English proficiency. This is the case because audio and visual elements transcend language. For example, by looking at a picture or a video of a hare, students will immediately recognize that a hare is a lot like a rabbit.

In addition, based on research and experience, I know that in order to optimize the efficacy of media in the classroom, especially video, it is important to state a specific purpose for viewing. When watching a video such as the storybook video of The Hare and the Tortoise, students may be asked to pay attention to how the characters are portrayed, how the setting affects the story, etc. In my lesson, I ask students to pay attention to the beginning, middle, and end of the story with the specific purpose of being able to recall and restate what happens. By giving students a specific purpose for viewing media, the teacher emphasizes that while the activity may be fun, the purpose for doing it is to learn something and/or practice a skill.

The entire text of the fable appears on the screen throughout the duration of the storybook video for The Hare and the Tortoise. The combination of images and sound makes the text more comprehensible for the students. While some ELLs may be able to read and understand the majority of the text, those who are unable to do so will still get the gist of the story thanks to the video. Students who struggle with reading in the target language will be able to make connections between key words in the text to the images that they see and the sounds that they hear, which, in addition to promoting comprehension, also promotes word recognition and pronunciation.

For ELLs, and for elementary students in general, media is an important tool to incorporate in prewriting. I use photos and drawings to help my students recall what they just read and to help generate discussion about the text. When it’s time for them to respond to a text in writing, they often draw what they’re thinking and then write about their drawing. In the lesson on The Hare and the Tortoise, the final assessment is a student-generated media product—a 3-panel comic. I am a big proponent of using media as assessments for ELLs because it enables students to meet goals and to be held to standards despite their limited English proficiency. For example, one of the objectives of my lesson is that students will be able to “comprehend and retell key events from a fable.” Even a wordless comic strip, which an entering-level ELL would be likely to produce, can be used to assess this objective.

Rationale for Media Use in the Elementary Classroom: The Triangle Factory Fire

Like the lesson on The Hare and the Tortoise, this lesson is front-loaded with media for the same reasons as above. For this lesson on the fire at the Triangle Factory the media used is a graphic novel. The use of graphic novels and other media alongside a traditional text is extremely relevant in the ESL classroom because it makes students aware that they can often get the same content from alternative sources which may be more comprehensible and more interesting to them. Also, the inclusion of media such as graphic novels in the classroom validates students’ interests outside that classroom, which usually makes them more engaged and willing to participate. This lesson allows students to repurpose existing texts in order to create their own nonfiction graphic novels. As was the case in the lesson above, students are creating their own media. Because they are using the computer to create their final project, even students who are not artistically inclined are able to participate with minimal anxiety. Finally, the lesson concludes with the display of student work and the opportunity to view it and provide peer feedback. This activity, in addition to fostering a sense of pride and ownership in students’ work, re-emphasizes the importance of media in the classroom.

  • Golden, J. (2001). Reading in the dark: using film as a tool in the English classroom. Urbana, Ill.: National Council of Teachers of English.
  • Hobbs, R. (2007). Reading the media: media literacy in high school English. New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Liu, J. (2004). Effects of comic strips on L2 learners’ reading comprehension. TESOL Quarterly 38, 225-234.
  • Ranker, J. (2007). Using Comic Books as Read-Alouds: Insights on Reading Instruction from an English as a Second Language Classroom. The Reading Teacher, 61(4), 296-305.
  • Smith, G.H. (2009). Voices from the field: obtaining, processing and constructing English: blogging in the ESL classroom. The National Association for Media Literacy Education’s Journal of Media Literacy Education, 1, 75-80.
  • South, J.B. (2008). Designing video narratives to contextualize content for ESL learners: a design case study. Interactive Learning Environments, 16.3, 231-243.
  • Williams, R.M.C. (2008). Image, text, and story: comics and graphic novels in the classroom. Art Education, 61(6), 13-19.
  • Wright, G. & Sherman, R. (1999). Let’s create a comic strip. Reading Improvement, 36(2), 66-72.