Table of Contents
2. Teaching Films in General
3. Angela’s Ashes in the EFL classroom
3.1. Summary of the Plot
3.2. Important Topics
4. Didactic Analysis
4.1. Pre-Viewing Activities
4.2. While-Viewing Activities
4.3. Post-Viewing Activities
Using films in the EFL classroom is now easier than ever before. The wide range of the internet, DVD players, whiteboards and digital video projectors offer various possibilities for teachers to use films in lessons at school. This medium is rather quick and relatively straightforward to handle and control. Especially the DVD provides a great variety of options that can valuably be included into teaching lessons, e.g. subtitles, comments by directors, authors or actors, trailers, sound tracks and dozens of extra features.
Thus, films may be useful in different ways to enhance motivated learning. This depends, on the one hand, on the qualities of the film that is to be dealt with. Is the topic interesting for the students? Is it possible for the viewers to identify with certain characters or with the happenings? Does the film have any educational potential? How vivid does the film convey its message and how is this emphasised through film language? On the other hand, it is relevant which educational aims the teacher has got and on which aspects he or she mainly focuses on, e.g. music, film language or intercultural learning.
Angela’s Ashes, released in 1999, is a film that offers many possibilities that are valuable for the EFL classroom. These educational values are described and analysed in this seminar paper.
The movie, that has got a running time of 145 minutes, is based on Frank McCourt’s autobiography of the same title. It was directed by Alan Parker. Emily Watson, Robert Carlyle, Joe Breen, Ciaran Owens and Michael Legge are only some actors who shall be listed here.
Angela’s Ashes tells the story of Frank McCourt’s childhood and youth during the 1930s and 1940s. He and his family have to come back to Ireland after they have failed in America due to financial problems and family reasons: Frank’s father has become unemployed and addicted to alcohol. Back in his home country, Frank has to face many difficulties. Not only is poverty and hunger a huge burden for the family, but also their bad living conditions, the death of children due to illnesses. However, Frank will later be able to return to the land of his dreams, America, by earning and saving enough money.
As can be seen, the film itself includes several interesting topics that are worth discussing. Thus, “Immigration”, “Poverty”, “Growing up and Taking over Responsibilities”, “Unemployment”, “Religion”, the “History of Ireland” or the “Relationship between Father and Son” are only a few that shall be mentioned here. Furthermore, film language, music and setting are quite interesting in a way that they underline the basically sad mood that is conveyed and, hence, are worth being analysed. Finally, the film is useful for getting in touch with Irish English as one of the varieties of English.
In this paper, the issue of teaching films in general is introduced, first. After that, the film Angela’s Ashes, that is to be considered here, will be presented in detail also with regard to its topics. The final part concentrates on the didactic analysis of the film including its value for the EFL classroom, possible teaching goals and teaching methods as well as recommendations for pre-, while- and post-viewing activities.
2. Teaching Films in General
As already explained above, the medium of film gains more and more popularity with respect to teaching. Its advantages are obvious, as Weißling claims: videos provide vivid and colourful three-dimensional motion pictures in 3D. With regard to this, watching movies is usually more exciting for students than reading novels or poems, as proven from experience, and, thus, it is quite more motivating for the children and even more practical for teachers. According to Stempleski, it “[...] provides a source of authentic and varied language” and it communicates “cultural values, attitudes and behaviours,” as well. Furthermore, a film attracts several senses simultaneously. Hence, the students are asked to watch and listen at the same time. In this way, motion pictures offer the opportunity to convey the characters’ emotions by showing their gestures and facial expression or they provide the setting in general as well as paralinguistic features, such as gender, age, social status, clothes, the characters’ place of work (cf. Weißling 2001: 6).
Moreover, teaching films not only supports the traditional four core skills of language teaching, such as listening and reading comprehension, writing and speaking, as Sievers determines, but also facilitates a fifth ability, visual comprehension: “This competence is not only important for the understanding of speech, but also of crucial relevance for learners’ ability and motivation to speak.”
DVDs, especially, offer a wide range of possibilities that can be used in the EFL classroom. They are relatively easy to control: certain scenes can be found fast and watched again and again, if necessary, without wasting a lot of time for winding. Enabling subtitles, on the other hand, is a chance for weaker students or students of lower grades to understand the general plot. Additionally, certain sections can be discussed more in detail also with regard to grammar or the respective variety of English, which is used in the film.
Another advantage of videos over books is the huge mass of possible activities that can be done in the EFL classroom and which are to be process-oriented and action-oriented. Thus, a video can be watched without the soundtrack with the students having to speculate over what is said. The other way around, the children just listen to the soundtrack without seeing the video. Afterwards, they can ask themselves what the characters may look like or how the setting may be presented in the respective scene. Furthermore, a scene can be paused with the students describing the image or speculate on what happens before that or afterwards in the film. Finally, a film that is an adaptation of a novel offers the opportunity to compare both versions.
In contrast, it has also to be pointed out that videos can take away room for imagination and free interpretation. Many videos that are made especially for the purpose of teaching languages are usually quite expensive and, according to Weißling, their qualities with respect to didactics and methods differ extremely. If compared to commercial Hollywood films that the children are faced with every day, didactic videos often lack professionalism, originality and modernity. However, teachers should not be afraid of using authentic films in classrooms, even if there are complex sentence structures, slang or certain accents and dialects that are hard to understand. It is necessary and desirable, as Weißling explains, to confront students with authentic language as early as possible. Yet, fun is also very important and should not be forgotten.
The teacher, however, should always emphasise a film’s value for learning a language (cf. Weißling 2001: 6f). This can be achieved through certain activities for students before watching the film, while watching and afterwards: pre-, while- and post-viewing activities. These tasks may help to get the children involved into the plot. Thus, mere film consumers, as Weißling ironically states, become active language learners (cf. Weißling 2001: 7).
To sum up, by many students films are considered to be more vivid and interesting than reading a book and, as a consequence, they are a very useful means for teaching a language: the outside world can be brought into the classroom and, hence, this provides, as Stempleski points out, “[...] a stimulating framework for classroom communication and discussion.” (Stempleski 2001: 1).
 Cf. H. Weißling, B. Yareham, Video-Ideen für den Englischunterricht (Berlin: Cornelsen, 2001) 6.
 S. Stempleski, B. Tomalin, Film (Oxford et al.: Oxford University Press, 2001) 1.
 M. Sievers , 'Blade Runner' and Film Education: Didactic Possibilities of Teaching Film Literacy in the TEFL Classroom (München: Grin, 2008) 4.
 Cf. C. Surkamp, “Teaching Films: Von der Filmanalyse zu handlungs- und prozessorientierten Formen der filmischen Textarbeit.” Der fremdsprachliche Unterricht. 68 (2004): 6.