Film in Action: Teaching Language Using Moving Images: A Book Review

This review was initially published in ELTA Newsletter: September-October 2016

Published on Sep 25, 2016

ELTA Newsletter: September-October 2016

Film in Action: Teaching Language Using Moving Images: A Book Review

Reviewed by Vicky Papageorgiou, Metropolitan College, Thessaloniki, Greece

Keywords : Kieran Donaghy, spectacle, film literacy, mobile devices, producing short films, critical thinking, creativity, cultural awareness, film integration in scholastic syllabus


Images dominate our lives. We see them around us every day, they have a powerful hold on us and they define us. In our image-saturated society and way of life, the spectacle is now the visible world itself, increasingly defining our perception of life itself, as Debord (1967) put it.

Film has long been a fertile field of the spectacle and one of our society’s most popular ones. Educators have not overlooked this fact but instead they tried to exploit it in multiple ways. A book that illustrates exactly this, in a practical as well as a sophisticated way, is Kieran Donaghy’s ‘Film in Action’, published for   the DELTA Teacher Development Series.

The book is divided in 3 sections.

Section A serves in a way as an introduction to the whole book-project. It sets the framework of what the author is trying to do, his beliefs, his aspirations, starting with the theoretical background of the role film has within society, education and language learning. He moves on to analyze  film literacy in the twenty-first century and the educational benefits that can derive from creating films. He closes this chapter with suggestions about using film in the classroom which is followed by a short but important section where Kieran recommends several resources that educators can use should they require further reading. A quite comprehensive list of bibliographical references is also included in the very end of the chapter.

Section B is dedicated to more practical activities that teachers can use in the classroom. Chapter One presents a lot of communicative activities that encourage learners to watch films with a critical eye. Hence the title ‘Watching actively’! There are nearly 70 suggested activities which cover topics from making predictions, ordering scenes, identifying stereotypes to debating the conventions and aesthetics of TV ads, describing a visual poem and to looking at the importance of paralinguistic facts.

Chapter two, called ‘Actively Producing’ is a special one and one that distinguishes this book from others. The author, acknowledging the importance that mobile devices have nowadays in our everyday life, dedicates a whole section to a range of activities that can lead learners to produce their own short film texts outside or inside the classroom. Donaghy  underlines  also how inexpensive this is since all that the students need is a mobile device, which most of them already own.

Some of the best suggested activities are : ‘From sky to screen’, ‘A natural voice-over’, ‘Revoice’, ‘I am what I am….or am I’, ‘Linking up’, ‘60’’ descriptions’, and several others which encourage learners to be creative and resourceful.

The last section of the book, section C, looks into the possibility of establishing film as an integral part of the scholastic syllabus rather than treating it as an add-on subject. In doing so, the author recommends four significant projects that schools can adopt : a Film club, a Film circle, a Film course and a Film chronicle, all of which promote critical thinking, creativity and cultural awareness. In this section, Kieran Donaghy also gives organizational ideas on how to implement any of these projects in our schools.

What makes then this book special in English language teaching?

  1. The theoretical framework that the book provides
      • Kieran tries to frame a theoretical background in the most well rounded way this is possible because his aspiration is that film is fully integrated in the scholastic syllabus.
      • The book is also quite well documented so that educators can use it easily as a reference book.
  1. There is a very practical side of it.
      • What is offered is a wide range of activities which, besides being quite easy to use, they also leave a lot of room to the teacher’s creativity and experimentation as they are not meant for a specific film/documentary each time. These are only suggestions and they can cater for different tastes/choices in films
      • Finally, useful links are provided to facilitate the teachers’ search for suitable film clips or short films (e.g. pages 39, 48, 49, 50 and many  more) or opening titles (p.36) and websites with ads (p. 38).


«What is essential is invisible to the eye», as de Saint Exupéry says (2000). Film, in fact, is one of those multifaceted media that because they are primarily the result of artistic expression, they can be open to multiple interpretations, making it a rather fascinating and challenging medium for educators and learners, among others of course. Kieran has obviously risen to this challenge!






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