MovieTalk is a technique for language learning developed by Dr. Ashley Hastings as part of the FOCAL skills program used to teach ESL at the university level. You can read the ‘official’ background on MovieTalk here.

MovieTalk was ‘discovered’ and brought to the TPRS world by Michele Whaley, a Russian teacher in Anchorage, AK, in 2012. She has led several trainings with our local TPRS group and blogged about it quite extensively. She also connected with Dr. Hastings and arranged a Skype session with our local group and helped bring him to Alaska in 2013 for our annual AFLA conference.  Read Michele’s blog archives here.

Why MovieTalk?

MovieTalk is a great way to present your students with a broad range of vocabulary in an engaging manner. It provides comprehensible input because students are seeing images (instead of written translations) of the structures as you describe them. It is an excellent way to provide differentiated instruction, because student will pick up on whatever they are able to based on their current level of language ability. Beginning students will pick up a few words, since most words will be new to them, and advanced students will pick up on the few new words to them and will notice grammatical constructions.

How to MovieTalk

MovieTalk is simple. If you have ever attended a TPRS® training, you will easily be able to transfer the skills that you learned to MovieTalk. Just imagine that instead of a reading or a story with live actors, you are circling and discussing what is visible on the screen (NOT the dialogue).

Begin by choosing a short film or a short segment of a longer film. It shouldn’t be more than five minutes long. It should be visually stimulating, with little dialogue (rather, little dialogue that is essential to the understanding of the clip). The ‘plot’ should be fairly obvious when the volume is turned off and the film is simply watched, not listened to. Typically, I choose a film that fits in with whatever structures we are currently studying, so that I can get in more repetitions of those structures. However, this is not necessary–you could choose a film just for fun that has nothing to do with what you are currently learning. The students will still acquire language as they view it!

Turn off the volume. Begin playing the clip, but pause it once the first image appears on the screen. Describe anything and everything that you see on the screen in the target language. Use the TPRS® techniques that you have learned to get in repetitions of the structures–circling, personalization, and comprehension checks. Typically, I concentrate the MovieTalk on the structures that we are working on in class (since I choose the films based on those structures). I describe everything, but I really perseverate on the target structures. Once you’ve discussed the first image sufficiently, push ‘play’, and play the film until something else happens or appears on the screen. Pause the film again, and describe what is in this new image. Circle, personalize, and check for comprehension. Continue this process–pausing and describing each new image–until you have finished the clip. (If there is a ‘twist’ at the end of the clip, you may wish to stop the clip before the film ends in order to create suspense.)

After you have finished MovieTalk for the clip, play it from the beginning with sound and without pausing. (The kids will probably mutiny if you don’t!) If you saved the ‘twist’ at the end, the kids will really be anxious to see what happens! You can discuss it after they’ve seen it.

Here is a demo of me using MovieTalk with the Jesse & Joy music video Espacio sideral. I used this music video in my El Viajero unit. In case you were wondering, yes–I was pregnant at the time.

For more MovieTalk ideas, click here to view my MovieTalk archives or here to view my MovieTalk & Música board on Pinterest. You can also view demos posted by Michele of various teachers in Anchorage using MovieTalk on Michele’s YouTube channel (including a great series of French demos by Julia Stutzer). Finally, read Chris Stolz’s MovieTalk tutorial here and Haiyun Lu’s here.


  1. Hi Martina –

    What sort of activities do you do once you have finished presenting the MovieTalk? I am excited to try this out, but I feel like some follow-up activity might be needed.


    • Honestly, I rarely do any. I know that Elena López posted some post-MovieTalk activities for ‘Wildebeest’ on her blog; the link is in the comments under my Wildebeest post. Perhaps check there for ideas?


      • Hi Martina,
        So if you don’t do a follow up activitiy after the movie talk, how much CI do the students get? Or rather, what are the overall language objectives? Or is it just a fun activity? i’m very new to Movie Talk. Do you have Elena Lopez’s contact info? I couldn’t find any materials on her site.

        I know that the kids LOVED the Wildbeest clip today…I introduced some vocab and did a bit of teaching and circling of it while showing some Google Images of Ñus and I used a still from the video, uncovering parts of the image and talking about it as well. Then I paused the video throughout circling. They nearly jumped when the croc ate the ñu… 🙂

        Just wondering how to proceed tomorrow…probably a revised version of your suggested text.




      • Hi Sue! I choose to do or not to do follow-up activities for MovieTalks based on the rest of the content in the lesson. In this case, the MovieTalk was used to provide additional repetitions of the target structures from ‘dice’ in a novel way, but only after students had already had many repetitions. I don’t do any follow-up activities with it (readings or otherwise), but you certainly can. MovieTalk itself IS Comprehensible Input, because students can see a visual depiction of the language that you use (within reason, of course). There is no NEED to do follow-up activities, but they are of course beneficial! Other times, MovieTalk is the first activity that we do with a set of vocabulary, and so we complete follow-up activities with the film. If you email me, I can send Elena’s email address to you so that you can contact her directly! Chris Stolz also has some great ideas for what to do with MovieTalks on his blog ( Hope that helps!

        Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m a new teacher in Kentucky, and your blog has basically been my homepage this year! I have poured over all of your ideas and my students love the activities! Just wanted to let you know that I tried out MovieTalk and was really excited about the results! I used the “Cuando Me Enamoro” music video by Enrique Iglesias and Juan Luis Guerra in the “Camina y Corre” unit…and also with a similar story to “El Chico del Apartamento 512.” It’s PERFECT for introducing terms like estudiante, maestro, directora, está enamorado, piensa que la muchacha es bonita, and all kinds of school vocab! Thank you so much for all of the inspiration!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, This is all great as the ideas stretch the way that I use movie talk. I was one of the person’s with whom Ashley Hastings worked when we implemented a very unique way of doing instruction through Focal Skills. I have since moved on to teach at the high school and elementary level and some in the US and also outside the US. I use full length movies always. I do a number of activities related to working with the movie (follow up). I am looking for people who work with this technique and for ways to work with assessment and presentational techniques. Thanks.


  3. Hello, This is Anna, and I teach Italian to k, 1st and 2nd grades in NY. Thank you for the explanation. I am always looking for video/songs etc. in Italian language, because there is not so much available. I am also looking for Italian teachers at elementary level to share some ideas/material. Thank you


  4. Hello!

    I saw this technique at our state conference (GA) several years ago and was blown away. The guy presenting, Dr. Bob Patrick, did it in LATIN. I encoourage you to put his blog on your list:

    Thank you very much for working so hard to provide a comprehensive resource guide on your excellent web site.

    Greg Sanchez
    Spanish teacher, Fulton County, Georgia


  5. Something that puzzles me is… how and why do you so faithfully stay in the present tense? As the girl is walking you stay in the present tense instead of saying something like “Ella está caminando”. So when the monster appears in the laboratory and you check for understanding you ask the boy for the translation and he says “oh he arrived at the laboratory” and you verified that but you used “llega” not “llegó” so it really was “the monster arrives at the laboratory” not “arrived”. Are you ever worried your students do not understand the difference between tenses? Since the point of CI is to go against traditionalist methods of drill and kill grammar, isn’t it even more important to only verify the correct tense or to teach the correct tense in the moment because they won’t be getting grammatical exercises to supplement?


    • Thanks for your thoughtful questions!! I’ll address your specific concerns first and then give some general thoughts. About the camina/está caminando…that isn’t an example of me adapting something or forcing a tense where it doesn’t fit naturally. I would use ‘camina’ there; not ‘está caminando’. These students were in their second year of Spanish and they were comfortable interpreting and producing the present progressive tense. So, my choice to use ‘camina’ wasn’t an attempt to shelter grammar, it was just me speaking naturally. As for the verification question, goodness! You have keen hearing. I listened to this several times and can’t tell for sure whether he says arrives or arrived. To be honest, I probably just wasn’t paying close enough attention to what he said to verify correctly. And even if I DID hear him correctly, well…hm, I think I would have done the same thing. I try to ask questions that students will get right when checking for comprehension, and so when a student says something that is a little off, I usually say “Yes!” and then recast their answer correctly (whether in Spanish or English). I don’t think that the research is more compelling for recasting or for explicit error correction, so I prefer the positive reinforcement that recasting allows. I am intrigued by your statement that “the point of CI is to go against traditionalist methods of drill and kill grammar”. This has never been my understanding. CI does indeed go against such traditionalist methods, but the point of CI is that students understand the messages we give them in the TL so that their brains can do the work. I absolutely agree with your last statement that grammatical accuracy is paramount in CI instruction because students typically don’t have explicit instruction outside of pop-up grammar. Yet it’s very easy to stick almost entirely to the present tense without sacrificing accuracy in the least. To return to your initial pondering, about how and why I am so faithful to the present tense…well, the why was because that was how I first learned TPRS® and later because it helped align my classes with others in the district (some of which were new and so I needed to write the course design and submit for approval from the district; mine were middle school versions that needed to line up with their high school counterparts). And how…well, I targeted structures, and when you pick target structures in the present tense, everything that you do with them is quite naturally in the present tense. My students still saw other tenses as needed to accurately tell stories or communicate messages in other forms, but I didn’t do any intentional tense-flipping (such as storyasking in the present tense and verifying with actors in the past tense, or reading in the present tense and storyasking in the past tense) until Spanish 2. My students were quite competent at interpreting tenses with accuracy by the end of Spanish 1 even given the targeting.


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