Learning English through Popular Culture Previews and Reviews: Movie Trailers Teacher’s Notes


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Learning English through Popular Culture

Previews and Reviews: Movie Trailers

Teacher’s Notes


By the end of the lessons, students will be better able to:

  • discuss the use of image, language and soundtrack when making a movie trailer

  • use pacing, pausing, volume and intonation to create impact in their own voice-over trailer

Time Needed

  • 4-5 forty-minute periods

Learning / Teaching / Assessment Tasks / Activities

  • Students complete a speaking activity about favourite films

  • Students consider brief descriptions of different types of films

  • Students analyse the use of image and language in a movie poster

  • Students work with key vocabulary to describe promotional texts and language that arise in taglines

  • Students analyse the language and staging of a movie trailer voice-over

  • Students devise and record their own movie trailer voice-over

Materials Required

  • Student’s handouts S73-S86

  • CD Tracks 17, 18 and 19

Previews and Reviews: Movie Trailers

Teacher’s Notes


These activities introduce students to the structure and staging of a one- to two-minute movie trailer, focussing particularly on the use of voice-over. The main procedures structure the analysis of an invented movie trailer, ‘Sandbox Sailors’, and then support students’ own writing and production of a voice-over. The main language skills focus is on speaking for meaning and impact through the use of pacing, pausing, volume and intonation; the vocabulary worked on is connected with film genres, and language to describe how the trailer is written.

Learning Activity 1 Vocabulary and Speaking

Movies and preferences (15 minutes)

This activity provides a vocabulary review opportunity, and speaking for fluency Glossary practice while talking about students’ own preferences in movies.
A Vocabulary – Types of movies
(5 minutes)

Bring in a piece of movie memorabilia, such as a Star Wars T-shirt or mug, and introduce the topic of movies by asking the students to guess your favourite type(s) of movies and say why.

Film’ vs ‘Movie’

Film (n) (origin: British English) as a noun, this word covers fiction and non-fiction works such as documentaries and short films (which are typically under 90 minutes).

Movie (n) (origin: American English) this word, short for ‘moving pictures’, tends to describe fictional films created for entertainment. It is a word strongly associated with Hollywood.

The word ‘movie’ has been used throughout the module for its connotations of fiction, dramatic escapism and entertainment, all of which affect the literary patterns used within the focus text of this module: movie trailer voice-overs.

As an accuracy-focussed continuation of this, have students identify the 8 types of movies in the box. Some letters are missing, therefore the activity provides (a) spelling practice and (b) an opportunity to identify 8 film / dramatic genres. There are opportunities for students to (1) define, (2) give examples of and (3) work on accuracy in pronunciation for these forms at this stage. Other main genres you might like to elicit are science fiction and horror.


Top row

action adventure romance comedy

Bottom row

drama historical martial arts animated

Follow-up teaching point:

Teachers might like to draw students’ attention to the fact that many films these days are of blend genres, such as the romantic comedy (e.g. Never Been Kissed, 1999), or the horror / science fiction (e.g. I am Legend, 2007), instead of one particular genre.

Catering for Learner Diversity
For students who need more challenge

  • Have students work out the genres and write brief definitions for them on slips of paper. They can test their partner by using the definition slips and asking them for the film genre.

B Speaking – Talk
ing about your favourite movie (10 minutes)

Through a personalised speaking for fluency activity
Glossary, students are exposed to and given an opportunity to learn the following vocabulary and phrases:
(a) time / place setting (b) kind of movie (c) starring actors

(d) the characters (e) the soundtrack (f) the scenery

(g) the ending

Ask the student to take a moment to think about their favourite movies and why they like them. If they want, they can have a minute or so to make some notes.

Explain to students that they are going to discuss their favourite films and decide which features of the movie appeal to them most and why. They will do this by taking part in a board game activity. As this is a fluency-based task, there is no need to pre-teach vocabulary phrases at this point. Note down errors in accuracy for use later in the lesson.

Demonstrate the spinner speaking activity. Students sit in groups of four so that everyone gets a chance to speak and to hear others and the conversation is with few enough people to feel personal and not too public. Avoid trying to play this game with more than four students if possible, as they tend to switch off while waiting for their turn: four is the ideal number to keep the students engaged in the structure and procedure.
All students first answer question 1: ‘Whats your favourite movie?’. Then, take a paperclip and stand the tip of a pencil in one end exactly on the centre point of the shape in the middle of the questions. One student flicks the paperclip so it spins round on the pencil end and eventually stops at a discussion point, for example, it may stop at point 4. Who stars in it? Each student then has a minute to share their views on the point and the pencil passes onto the next person.
If you want to follow up the activity with a fluency activity Glossary, ask one or two students to share their preferences. If you want to extend the activity with an accuracy activity Glossary, before clarifying the following phrases with students, write up three or four accuracy-based errors that students produced during their speaking activity and ask students to correct the phrases, and consider underlying patterns.
After going through the language in the box below, pair students up with someone they haven’t worked with, and have them spend a minute talking about their favourite movie, this time focussing on accuracy in grammar / pronunciation: plural ‘s’, subject-verb agreement, and pronunciation of word endings.

  • My favourite film’s… / My favourite movie’s called… (title)
  • The film is set… (place: in Taiwan) (time: in 2042)

  • It’s an action-adventure movie with a romantic element in it…

  • It stars… (Jet Li, for example)

  • The characters are realistic and human. They have to release a friend who is trapped inside a bank.

  • There are two soundtracks: one is connected with the action and uses techno music; the second is connected with the romance and has violins and a piano.

  • The scenery is a mix of indoor and outdoor city scenes showing modern stylish buildings. The lighting is bold and bright.

  • The ending is pretty dramatic and romantic.

Learning Activity 2 Reading Describing movies

A Reading Descriptions of movies (10 minutes)

This activity exposes students to descriptions of movies and brief plot summaries.
Refer back to one or two of the movie titles that students mentioned in the previous stage. Ask a student if s/he can describe what happens in the movie in less than ten words (it will be a challenge). At this point, pre-teach the word ‘plot’. (Definition for teachers: the plan / details of the introduction, main action, complication, climax and resolution of a fictional story)
Tell students they are going to consider more movie titles and try and match them to brief descriptions of the plot. You may feel you would like to pre-teach the following noun phrases / collocations, or encourage students to check dictionaries. You may like to replace the movie titles below with more recent ones or ones that you feel your students will be familiar with.

An undercover journalist Mythical martial arts

Futuristic fantasy A coming-of-age film*

To realise an ambition A rags-to-riches comedy drama

An epic poem

*Note: Item 7 ‘Sandbox Sailors’ is the invented movie which will be used in this module. Therefore ensure that time is given to discuss the idea of coming of age.

(1) Chicken Run


a. A romantic comedy about an undercover journalist who returns to her high school.

(2) Never Been Kissed


b. A mythical martial arts film set in China: an example of ‘wu xia’.

(3) Billy Elliot


c. An animated comedy about chickens trying to improve their lives on a farm.

(4) Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon


d. A futuristic fantasy drama about what happens to the last person on earth.

(5) Beowulf


e. A coming-of-age film about three teenagers realising their ambitions.

(6) I Am Legend


f. A rags-to-riches comedy drama about a boy who wants to dance.

(7) Sandbox Sailors


g. An action comedy buddy cop film starring a famous Hong Kong actor.

(8) Rush Hour 2


h. A digitally animated action drama based on an epic poem about a warrior fighting a monster.

B Vocabulary – Useful phrases (10 minutes)
Students choose three words or phrases from the table (in bold), and write them in circles 1-3. Students then think of other films they have seen, or they know which are examples of these types of films. The purpose of this activity is to personalise the vocabulary students have just been exposed to so that they can link it to what they are familiar with. This short task also serves the purpose of rounding up the vocabulary focus appearing on S74.
Learning Activity 3 Reading and Speaking

Working with images and text (20 minutes)

This activity provides an opportunity to consider the combined use of image and language in a movie poster by means of a jigsaw reading and speaking activity.
(1) Elicit from students any examples of coming-of-age films / realising one’s dreams films that they have seen. Do they like this kind of film? Why do they think they continue to be popular at the cinema? (Possible discussion points may be that they are aspirational / inspirational, and focus on youth.)

(2) Bring this stage to an end by explaining to students that whether they like or loathe these types of films, they continue to appear and have a great impact on young people who watch them in terms of providing hope and role models.

(3) Movie poster: Tell students they are going to work with an invented movie and movie trailer, which uses the same techniques that many film companies use these days. They will start with considering the use of (a) image and (b) words.
Put students into two equal groups: A and B. Group A will consider the images using guiding questions. Group B will consider the words used. Explain that students need clear notes on their ideas as after analysing, they will feed back to a person in the other group. Note: You may like to pre-teach ‘tagline’ to Group B as this word appears in question 3.
(4) Jigsaw: Once the students have worked through and provided answers to the five-question sets, re-group them into pairs so that one person A is working with one person B. The students should use their notes to explain what they have discovered using the guiding questions. Have students summarise their findings.
Suggested Answers:

Note: Some of these points are a matter of subjective interpretation, but the following answers may provide a discursive point of view.

(1) (Background) Tropical island – palm trees (It’s set in Cuba in the Caribbean.)

(2) Three characters, therefore, there are probably three personal stories.

(3) There are many possible answers here. The question is set to help students to think about location.

(4) It’s a modern, current-day story as can be seen from the actors.

(5) One is singing (the singer), one is dancing (the dancer) and one is writing (the poet).


(1) There are two words: Sandbox Sailors. Sandbox (a noun) works as a describing word in this phrase; the entire phrase is a compound noun.

Note for the teacher: The contemporary phrase ‘Sandbox Sailors’ refers to sailors who never sail – they stay ashore. The connotation refers to people who may not realise their dreams.

(2) The phrase uses ‘S’ and ‘S’. This uses the poetic devices of (a) repetition of sounds, (b) a type of alliteration, and (c) a sound device called sibilance. The students should be able to recognise the repetition of the same sound as a means of drawing attention to the title.

(3) This suggests that everyone needs a dream to motivate them in life.

(4) The use of such a phrase, which is quite wide-spread in film publicity, is to demonstrate that the film-makers are already successful and this new film is as good as their previous ones. Film production companies often build their reputation by associating new creations with previous successes.

Catering for Learner Diversity
For students who need more support

  • Provide the students with sentence stems to help them to give feedback on their findings, e.g. (for Group A Images): (1) It looks like (a beach) (2) There are (three characters / stories). (3) They look (e.g. Chinese, Spanish) (4) It looks like it’s set in (time period) (5) They are (e.g. singing, dancing, writing).

For students who need more challenge

  • For students who work through the material quickly, you could provide the following more abstract questions about aspirational films:

    1. What message does the movie poster give about young people’s hopes and dreams? How important is the beach location?

    2. Does this romanticise the types of struggles that young people face?

Learning Activity 4 Writing and Vocabulary Three-minute paper

A Writing – Writing about a movie poster

(10 minutes for set-up & feedback)

This activity provides (a) an opportunity to consolidate ideas about movie posters through writing and (b) an opportunity to recycle vocabulary and phrases used in an oral activity through writing.

The concept underlying the three-minute paper comes from a fluency-based approach to writing. The procedure used is as follows:

(1) students brainstorm content with each other; (2) students write their ideas in three minutes only; (3) students swap their papers with a partner and then work on accuracy together through structuring and refining vocabulary.

The three-minute writing task can be used as a way to set up and prepare students for longer essay-writing homework. The words in the box can be used as topic sentences for the essay.
Extension activity: A possible additional essay title for homework appears on T103. Be careful to agree on the task (e.g. content requirements, word limit) and a framework for feedback and marks before you set the work. This is an expository writing task.
Notes: An expository essay is one where a view is expressed, exemplified and supported by justifications. Because of this, the generic stages are generally: (hedged) claim + (real-world) example + justification + justification for including this point, for example (the following would be written as one paragraph):
(i) Effective action movie trailers tend to be fast-paced. (hedged claim)

(ii) A good example of this is ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ which has an image change every 2 to 3 seconds. (real example)

(iii) Changing the visual image at such a speed serves to engage the viewer and heighten her / his level of attention and sense of excitement. (justification for the claim you’ve made)

(iv) Pacing, therefore, is a key element to be decided and adjusted when creating effective movie trailers. (justification within the context of the essay)

Popular Culture Essay Homework – Effective Movie Posters

250-300 words

One popular culture text we see around us every day is the promotional movie poster. How do movie posters tell us about the film they are promoting? What images and words do they use to create an impact? How do they tell us about the place, time, characters and story we are going to see?
Write an essay describing an effective movie poster. Consider a number of the following areas: place setting, characters, balance of male / female, dress (time setting), objects / tools / weapons, colour, posture, gaze and title. Use a movie poster you have seen and enjoyed to give examples of your points.

Get good marks by organising your essay with section headings. The following writing ideas can help you to write more clearly:

  1. make a point

  2. give one or two examples to explain what you mean

  3. justify why your point is relevant and then connect it to the next idea

  4. use sequencing words and phrases to introduce and summarise each paragraph

B Vocabulary – Film publicity (5 minutes)

This activity pre-teaches a key term: ‘voice-over’ in preparation for Learning Activity 6 on S81 and to distinguish this term from other promotional items: a tagline, a review and a preview.

All the items being distinguished are connected with the promotional literature that is involved in selling a film to mass audiences. If you feel that students are able to work with this concept, you may like to hold a short discussion on the business of selling movies and the way students feel about the effect promotion has on them as a lead-in. Marketing is a key concept connected with popular culture texts. By the end of the matching definitions activity, students should have a clear notion of the differences between each item.


(italics and bolding show word stress)

A tagline (b)

A voice-over (d)

A review (c)

A preview (a)

Key concepts to draw out:

(1) a tagline, also known as ‘strapline’, encapsulates the main action, mood or feeling of the film and is usually under ten words.

(2) a preview and review both tend to be promotional. However, a preview tends to be created by the production company in order to promote the film, whereas a review is written by a critic who evaluates the impact, meaning and style of the film.

C Discussion – Choosing your favourite tagline (10 minutes)

This activity exposes students to a range of techniques that have been used from the 1940’s to the 2000’s in movie tagline promotional materials.

Note for the teacher:

The following taglines are all taken from American movies as these are the most widely available. To provide a balanced task which recognises the Hong Kong movie industry, include some Hong Kong / Chinese movie taglines or taglines from movies made in the region into the task.

Set students in pairs or groups of three for this as it is a discussion activity so the fewer students you have, the more likely it is that speaking time will increase. Start by introducing ‘Be afraid. Be very afraid’ on the board. Either elicit or tell students the film (genre) this comes from (horror).

Ask students what is distinctive about taglines in terms of (a) length and (b) use of language, e.g. what structure does ‘Be afraid. Be very afraid’ use? (Imperative) Have students choose their favourite tagline(s). What do they like about them and is it connected with the technique, or the fact they’ve seen the movie? Ask students to identify the techniques that are used.


(1) For anyone who has ever wished upon a star.

(e) A phrase about an intended audience, i.e. ‘this is for you’.

(2) They had a date with fate in Casablanca.

(d) Internal rhyme

(3) Come to laugh, Come to cry, Come to care, Come to terms.

(c) and (a) Imperatives, repetition and parallelism in structure. The last item refers to the phrase ‘to come to terms with something’ – to accept it.

(4) They’re not just getting rich… they’re getting even.

(a) Repetition of structure / parallelism. The use of a negative also appears here.

(5) Be afraid. Be very afraid.

(a) and (c) Imperative and the adverb, ‘very’ to add intensity as well as repetition.

(6) Same make. Same model. New mission.

(a) and (b) Repetition and use of opposite ideas (same, same, new)

(7) There are 3.7 trillion fish in the ocean. They're looking for one.

(f) Use of exaggeration for effect and emphasis.

D Vocabulary Review – Film vocabulary (10 minutes)

This activity provides an opportunity to personalise the film-related vocabulary students have been exposed to through a short sentence-completion activity.
This activity allows students (a) to review and (b) personalise the vocabulary they have seen so far. Two new items (plot and climax) are included. The items are as follows:

setting soundtrack character scenery

plot climax tagline reviews

preview voice-overs

Items (i) movie trailer preview and (j) voice-overs are included at the end as a way to bridge the students into the following activities.

This session could be started with a brief vote on the best and worst movies students have seen, where you can follow up by asking questions with the words that they will work with in the activity.
There are no suggested answers for this activity as it encourages personal responses but teachers may like to check for accuracy.

Learning Activity 5 Listening How do movie trailers work?

(20 minutes)

This activity provides students with an opportunity to analyse content and techniques used in an invented movie trailer.
For homework, direct students to three online movie trailers that they should watch (a) without and then (b) with the sound. Possible movie trailers to watch are (1) Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2002) – wu xia / Chinese martial arts action genre, (2) Billy Eliot (2000) – rags-to-riches genre, (3) Bend it Like Beckham (2002) – coming-of-age genre.
Note: Agree with students which trailers they are going to watch so that when feedback is run, there is a balance of genres and students have a reason to listen to one another.

The students watch the trailer twice; the first time focussing on the images by not having the sound on; the second time watching the images and listening to the

(a) voice-over and (b) soundtracks used. Elicit from students the value of and reasons why you would want to watch a trailer without sound. What will it make more prominent to them (e.g. action, pacing, colour, characters, background)?

Optional reflection task:

This may be a good point at which to have students reflect on how well the movie trailer action / meaning is reflected in the images and words used in a movie poster. Are they consistent? If students had to decide on five nouns / adjectives to describe the meaning and action in the film based on the poster, what would they be? How would these be reflected in the movie trailer?

Summarise by reminding students that the viewing public decide within seconds whether they want to see a movie or not, so the key genre / type, main action and tone need to be created and set with the maximum clarity for (business) impact.

Learning Activity 6 Listening and Speaking

How do movie trailers work? (30 minutes)

Note for the teacher:

For the following section, students will work on an invented movie trailer voice-over script which draws on techniques used widely in promotional movie trailers. The trailer accompanies the poster for ‘Sandbox Sailors’ which students analysed in Learning Activity 3.

A Listening – Movie trailer voice-overs

CD Tracks 17 (audition 1), 18 (audition 2) and 19 (complete trailer)

This activity exposes students to the effective use of volume, pausing, pitch and intonation appropriate for a dramatic trailer by providing students with a listening discrimination activity where one trailer is badly done and the second is well done.

Map Teachers might like to display a map of the Caribbean to students so they can locate the island of Cuba in relation to the rest of the world.

n this section, students listen to a trailer for an invented movie set in Cuba for which they have already analysed the film poster.
To contextualise this, you may like to

ask students where Cuba is (in the Caribbean

in the North Atlantic Ocean) and see if they know

anything about the culture of music and dance

there (salsa).
Students listen to two recordings of people doing

auditions for the voice-over part for a movie trailer.

The first person (a woman – CD Track 17) does a bad job, and the second person (a man – CD Track 18) is much better because of his ability to use intonation, stress, pitch, volume, pausing and energy in a more appropriate way.
The (full) tapescript appears below. The man and woman auditioning only read the narrator’s lines. Once students have listened to CD Tracks 17 and 18 and completed the task (answers provided below), then play CD Track 19, which is the complete trailer with additional dialogue, music / sound effects and incidental dialogue. The dialogue soundbites are in Spanish and are, of course, not included in the task – they, like the incidental soundtrack, are used to provide atmosphere in the trailer.

Tapescript – CD Track 19

Learning Activity 6A Listening – Movie trailer voice-overs

CD Track 19 (1:33 minutes)
Narrator On a Caribbean island

In the heat of the city

Three teenagers find their futures
Dialogue (3 characters)

  1. But my dad doesn’t believe girls should write.
  2. Then don’t tell him. Do it in secret!

  3. When I dance I feel alive.

  1. Street boys don’t dance, Amigo.

(2) The sky opens when I sing.

(3) Hey, I will always listen to you.
Narrator A poet picks up her pen

A boy begins to dance

And a singer finds his voice

Words will be written

Salsa will be danced

And Cuban rap will begin
The new and rising Cuban director, Maria Marino

Creates a myth to save us all: art against struggle.

And creativity will find a way.

Ruby Gonzalez

Fernando Herero

And Minnie Del Monte
Dialogue Unless you have a dream, you can’t live it…
Narrator Sandbox Sailors (title of film)

Suggested Answers:


Actor 1 (woman)

Actor 2 (man)

Intonation and stress

does this help with emphasis?

Puts the sentence and word stress in the wrong place constantly

Stresses placed on content words (nouns, verbs)

Pitch and volume

is it too high, too low, too fast, too slow, or just right?

Pitch – a little too high

Volume – too loud in places, too quiet in others

Speed – slow and fast in the wrong places

Pitch is low enough to hear

Volume isn’t too loud

Speed is just right to follow and for a sense of excitement

Pausing – are there enough pauses in the right places for the audience to follow?

All seems rushed and squeezed together

Dramatic pauses included for listener to digest information

Drive and energy –

does the voice-over make you want to see the film?

Seems to be a little hysterical and panicked. She’s trying to be dramatic but gets it all wrong!

Enthusiastic and vibrant

B Writing – Summarising your ideas

This activity provides an opportunity for students to summarise what they have learnt about voice-overs (volume, pitch, pacing, etc.) and highlight the use of the bare infinitive after ‘should’ when referring to good practice.
There are three sentence stems for students to complete here that allow them to summarise good practice, demonstrated by the second actor. Support students’ awareness of the pattern ‘should’ + bare infinitive when recommending good practice ideas.
Suggested Answers:

It should be clearly spoken / loud enough to excite the listener.

It should have enough pauses to let the listener take in the information / pauses to create drama / just the right speed to understand.

There should be a sense of excitement and drama about the voice-over by the use of pausing, volume, pitch and good, clear intonation.

C Speaking – Practising a good delivery

This activity provides controlled practice for line delivery in a dramatic movie trailer voice-over.
Set the students up in groups of four (more than this and the activity may get unfocussed). Tell students you’re going to give them an opportunity to work on dramatising their voices for the purposes of movie trailer voice-over practice.

Give the students the materials on T109 from the voice-over tapescript they have just listened to, and have them read to each other and give feedback based on (a) intonation and stress, (b) pitch and volume and (c) pausing. They will need (1) the narrator and (2) three characters.

Notes for the teacher:

(a) intonation is the change in tone in the voice to separate chunks of speech, or indicate a question or negative. To exemplify this for the students, practise sentence stress using a more deliberate tone on the words in bold.

A man who had no choice.

This time it’s war.

There are 3.7 trillion fish in the ocean. They're looking for one.

Are you ready? (rising intonation)

(b) word stress is where the volume and length of a syllable is longer, e.g. non-stop comedy, a laugh-a-minute movie.

(c) pitch is connected with the tone of voice – high or low. Contrast this with intonation, which is the movement and change of pitch over stretches of speech, e.g. listen to the difference between a man and woman delivering the same line, or the differences when they are scared, excited, depressed or uninterested. The pitch (as well as volume) will change for each.

(d) volume is the loudness of the voice. Notice that the volume and intensity of the voice will change with different parts of the voice-over.

(e) pausing is when there is silence. Silence is used deliberately in voice-overs for the following reasons: (a) to set the pace of the trailer – faster can indicate action; slower can indicate drama; (b) to create tension, excitement or anticipation; (c) to allow a dramatic image or exchange of dialogue to take place.
Star rating

Students have 5 stars, some or all of which they can shade in to indicate how well their partner has done. Encourage fair judgement and encouragement with supportive feedback rather than what may be described as mean marking. This is a means of providing peer support and guidance so it needs to be checked and commented on with care.

D Reading and Speaking – Giving support and advice

This heads-and-tails activity provides support to students who may need help structuring their ideas.


(1) Next time, try lowering (b) your voice a bit when… (e.g. you say this line).

(2) Why don’t you speak more (d) loudly and quickly when… (e.g. you’re saying this line).

(3) You could take (a) a pause before you… (e.g. mention the actors’ names).

(4) Raise your (c) voice when you… (e.g. talk about the action).


ovie trailer voice-over lines to give out to students

Movie Trailer Voice-overs

Voice-over lines for ‘Sandbox Sailors’
Narrator: On a Caribbean island

In the heat of the city

Three teenagers find their futures

Dialogue: - (3 characters)

(1) But my dad doesn’t believe girls should write.

(2) Then don’t tell him. Do it in secret!
(3) When I dance I feel alive.

(1) Street boys don’t dance, Amigo.
(2) The sky opens when I sing

(3) Hey, I will always listen to you.
Narrator: A poet picks up her pen

A boy begins to dance

And a singer finds his voice
Words will be written

Salsa will be danced

And Cuban rap will begin
Narrator: The new and rising Cuban director, Maria Marino

Creates a myth to save us all: art against struggle.
And creativity will find a way.
Ruby Gonzalez

Fernando Herrero

And Mini Del Monte
Dialogue: - (1) Unless you have a dream, you can’t live it …
Narrator: Sandbox Sailors (title of film)

Learning Activity 7 Reading, Vocabulary and Speaking

Organising ideas for impact (10 minutes)
A Reading – Organising the voice-over of a movie trailer

This activity provides students with an opportunity to consider sequencing and structuring for dramatic impact.
Students have just been working with an invented movie trailer, which uses a structure very similar to those used in current trailers.

(1) Order the lines from the trailer

As a warmer, have students order the ‘Sandbox Sailors’ trailer they were working with in the previous activity.

Cut up the table on T110 horizontally with enough copies for small groups of four students working together, shuffle the strips and have the students order the strips and write in the numbers in the triangular spaces next to the letters.
Note for teachers: The downward-spelt letters make the word, ‘Cubans’, which is intended to be used as a quick check for teachers so that you do not have to read every box to check whether the students have got the text in the right order.

Movie trailer voice-over lines from Sandbox Sailors for students to order.

(To cut up)

(2) Preparation for analysis

As a follow-up, ask students if they think that the wording in movie trailers is accidental or deliberate (deliberate – every word is thought about).

Ask them how many words are used in a typical one-minute trailer (around 80 words).

Ask students if they think there are any recognisable patterns in the trailer that they can identify.

Once students have had a chance to discuss these points, direct them to the table where they match voice-over lines to sections of the movie trailer.


  1. On a Caribbean island

  2. In the heat of the city

  3. Three teenagers find their futures

(C) Time and place setting and summary of story

  1. A poet picks up her pen

  2. A boy begins to dance

  3. And a singer finds his voice

(E) The main decisions or actions that start the story (using present simple tense)

  1. Words will be written

  2. Salsa will be danced

  3. And Cuban rap will begin

(F) The main events in the story (using future forms)

  1. The new and rising Cuban director, Maria Marino

  2. Creates a myth to save us all:

  3. Art against struggle

  4. And creativity will find a way

(B) Information about the director and the film

  1. Ruby Gonzalez

  2. Fernando Herrero

  3. And Mini Del Monte

(D) Names of the famous actors starring in the film

  1. Unless you have a dream, you can’t live it

  2. Sandbox Sailors

(A) The title of the film and the tagline / strapline

B Language Study – Techniques for voice-overs with impact (10 minutes)

This activity provides students with an opportunity to highlight the literary feature of repetition for impact.

Note: Repetition appears in the form of grammatical parallelism in this text.

Have students read items (a)-(c) together and decide if the items in bold are repeated twice or three times.

Language from the trailer

Are any structures repeated?

2 times

3 times

(a) On a Caribbean island;

In the heat of the city

[prepositional phrases to express location]

Yes / No

(b) picks up; begins; finds

[present simple third person]

Yes / No

(c) will be written; will be danced;

will begin

[future passive / active structures]

Yes / No

C Language Study – Matching words and techniques (5 minutes)

This activity allows students to learn the metalanguage to describe items that are repeated (use of repetition), when they are repeated twice (a couplet) or three times (a triplet).






Note that couplets and triplets are literary terms which normally refer to lines that rhyme in poetry. We are using them here to refer to the effect and impact of rhetorical repetition.

D Vocabulary – Working with action vocabulary* (10 minutes)

This activity provides controlled practice GLOSSARY of collocations students have seen in the movie trailer.
This activity is to review collocations that students have already seen in the movie trailer ‘Sandbox Sailors’. It can be used as an additional, awareness-raising language-focussed activity if students need it. The heads and tails are mostly based on verb and noun combinations.

Note that there is more than one possible combination that students can make from the heads and tails. Accept all workable combinations.

(1) They find

(c) their future

(2) To pick up

(e) a pen

(3) To begin

(d) to dance

(4) He finds

(f) his voice

(5) A new and

(a) rising director

(6) To create

(b) a myth

E Speaking – Discussing language techniques and your strengths (5 minutes)

This activity provides students with an opportunity to (a) consider the patterns they have been exposed to and (b) reflect on areas where they feel they will work skilfully or areas where they will need more help / focus.
Put students in small groups to consider the diagram of language in a movie trailer. This is a consolidation stage, where they will have an opportunity to consider the areas they will be working with in the following productive task.

Students who need more support may require you to form yes / no questions to help them to think through the areas.

Learning Activity 8 Listening, Writing and Speaking

Making your own movie trailer voice-over (15 minutes)

This activity provides productive (speaking / writing) practice in order for students to create their own voice-overs.
The students are supported to organise themselves and their research and planning through three structured sections. If you can, organise mixed-ability groups where each member brings in skills and focuses that complement one another.
A Speaking – Organising yourselves refers to students getting into groups to decide who will work with whom and what trailers they will each watch for their research.

B Viewing, Listening and Writing – Researching movie trailers – This is a grid that students can copy to provide feedback on the movie trailers they watch and listen to. If you feel your students can organise themselves at this point, let them do it. However, you may feel you need to help by saying that each student should watch 3 trailers (in addition to the ones they watched at the beginning of the material on movie trailers). They can either watch the same type or three different types and use the grids to feed back to each other. The final section of the grid refers to ‘sections of the voice-over’. Draw students’ attention to the changes in (a) scenes, (b) narration vs dialogue, (c) use of key words flashed on screen, and (d) references to actors / directors; typically each section of an action movie trailer is 2-3 seconds long.

Note: Ensure that students are watching trailers appropriate to their age: visit http://www.commonsensemedia.org, which reviews (mostly American films) for content and language of films for children and teens.

Suggestions for possible movies (compiled from the American website http://www.commonsensemedia.org): Not all movies in the table below may have online trailer. Teachers should therefore check before setting up the task.


(1) Spykids

(2) The Incredibles

(3) X-Men

Fantasy stories

(1) Finding Nemo

(2) Willow

(3) The NeverEnding Story

Computer generated

(1) Toy Story

(2) A Bug’s Life

(3) Monsters Inc.

Human stories

(1) Mrs Doubtfire

(2) Parenthood

(3) Sleepless in Seattle


(1) A Cinderella Story

(2) The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants


(1) Bend It Like Beckham

(2) AirBud: World Pup

(3) Miracle


(1) Spellbound – about the American spelling bee

(2) March of the Penguins

(3) Lost Boys of Sudan


(1) Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior

(2) Bee Season

(3) Akeelah and the Bee


(1) Bridge to Terabithia

(2) Pride and Prejudice

(3) Enchanted

Note: Again, provide guidance and cautions about which movie trailers students watch and review. It may also be wise to send a letter home to parents advising them of the students’ project and that the trailers they will be watching should be age / content / language appropriate.

Before you send the students off to do their project, take some time to brainstorm likely problems they may encounter in their teams and to suggest some solutions. Examples may be: (1) one person in the group doesn’t do her / his homework; (2) the trailer may have been deleted from the Internet; and

(3) the trailers may be too fast to follow.

C Writing and Speaking – Producing a movie-trailer voice-over

This section is to be used after the trailers have been watched (probably for homework). Have students decide whether they want to create (a) a new trailer for an invented film (keeping to an 80-word 1- or 2-minute format), or (b) to do a new voice-over for an existing film.

In (b), the students should submit a weblink for viewing the original trailer in order to demonstrate their own is different from the original.
Note: Remember that longer is not better in the context of movie trailers: 1-to- 2-minute trailers are ideal. Good trailers are about rhetorical impact (e.g. techniques, language, image, pacing, soundtrack) and not length.
For students’ own trailers, decide and agree with students on the rhetorical devices to use, e.g. repetition, exaggeration, parallelism in grammar and structures, use of negative and positive.

Finally, agree what format the trailers will be recorded in and if / where they will be uploaded to listen to. Remember to give a time limit of 2 minutes and have students submit their tapescript. Also make it clear how marks will be awarded.

Extension Ideas

This section provides teachers with further ideas they may like to develop into projects with their students.
Project 1 Tagline competition Creativity

Have a tagline competition, where you divide the class in two and they write (a) titles (b) movie descriptions and then swap these and (c) write taglines for them using techniques seen in Learning Activity 4C (S78).

Project 2 Movie review watcher Analytical skills

Have students read the movie reviews in English-language newspapers / magazines / websites and keep a log of the types of descriptive and evaluative phrases that are used over an agreed time period. Are they mostly positive or negative? How do they account for this?

Resources for Movie Trailers
Websites for Movie Trailers:

Important note for teachers:
Make sure you agree and check on the types of movie trailers students are watching by checking the rating. It should be discussed and agreed in class that trailers with overt acts of verbal or physical violence, racism, hate messages or sexual content should be avoided, and students should look for trailers with content aimed at their age range indicated by the ratings.

Common Sense Movies 

A website containing reviews of movies with themes and content appropriate for teenagers. By clicking on a film title, the film is rated and cautions given for the type of action that appears in the film, language, taboo issues encountered, and dress. Very useful.


Kids-in-mind.com 

A website describing, but not reviewing movies. This website doesn’t review or rate movies, but assigns each film three distinct, category-specific ratings: one for SEX & NUDITY, one for VIOLENCE & GORE and one for PROFANITY.


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