Undeniably, hearing + seeing foreign conversation increases students’ oral English abilities. Well-used films can bring to life your vocabulary unit, helps practice listening comprehension, and increases new words or phrase retention. When I taught in 2015, it was especially helpful to use short holiday specials to explain Christmas! Pull it together with some thought-provoking questions or a role-playing exercise, and you’ve got an engaging lesson plan.

Remember, you’re missing the mark if you show a movie in class as a time-filler; Films can be incredibly useful if paired with great preparation and a class debrief. Be sure to:

1.       Introduce the film’s context. What’s the title, year produced, main actors, etc.

2.       List the main characters. You can also introduce setting (time and place) and main plot.

3.       Introduce new vocabulary or key phrases; this will help your students start and stay engaged with the film.

4.       Include subtitles! For young students, use Chinese subtitles. For mid-advanced students, include English subtitles.


The big-name western films many of your students have seen; like Sherlock Holmes, Marvel films, and new Pixar or Disney releases. However, by showing them different films, you can give them a taste of home, and maybe reminisce a little too.


Here’s 6 films most Chinese students wouldn’t, but should, see. (Numbers are not indicative of rank!)


#1: Space Jam

                Basketball is widely popular in China, and many students know of Michael Jordan. Seeing this legend interact with American cartoon characters they call “Rabbit Brother” (Buggs Bunny) and “Small Angry Man” (Elmer Fudd) is new and exciting, even if the film is almost 20 years old. It teaches a great lesson on the importance of teamwork, believing in yourself, and has arguably the best soundtrack of all time (it went platinum 6 times!)


#2: SpongeBob SquarePants

Spongebob uses low-level English that students can easily recognize. Episodes are short enough to easily facilitate an activity before or after. They’re great if you are sick, and want to leave your class with a worksheet instead of a study hall or extra math lesson.


#3: Charlie Brown’s Christmas Special

My first Christmas away from home came as a teacher in China. Sharing the holiday with my students helped infinitely with homesickness and spreading holiday cheer. Christmas in China is largely a "retail holiday", and showing this film (which directly contradicts commercialism) gave my students a new insight to American holiday meaning, and traditions like ice skating, decorating a Christmas tree, and caroling. WARNING the film does discuss Christianity, which I found useful for explaining the origins and historical context for the holiday! Here's some great ideas for a Charlie Brown-themed Holiday Party!

#4: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Cartoon Version)

Another holiday classic. There's several quite "Seuss-y" nonsense words in the film; however, it pairs nicely with a poetry unit (since the narration is directly taken from the book!) and explains again the reason of Christmas: "it's not a gift in a store, but maybe, something a little bit more". The physical comedy and facial expressions from the Grinch keep younger students' attention. Here's a great class activity to pair with the film.

#5: The Emperor’s New Groove

                This movie is filled with amazing vocabulary (boo-ya, llama, lever, squeak squeaker squeak squeaken, etc). It also has infinite humor tropes and sarcasm, something that many second-language speakers have trouble detecting. Here's some life morals taught in the film.


#6: Mulan

If Kung Fu Panda is any indication of how popular a China-themed movie can be, Mulan is sure to be a hit with your students. Seeing familiar themes explained in a second language will hit home, and help them talk about their own traditions and culture with new vocabulary from the film. Mulan also has a top-shelf soundtrack, with classics like "Be A Man" power jam, and Lea Salonga's "Reflections". Here's a detailed lesson plan for the film!

What films would you add to the list? Comment below!