In the age of so many possible subscription services, we are unlikely to find someone who hasn’t watched at least one hyped-up TV series. What’s more, we bet there are those among our students who know the schedule of all the releases and indulge in binge-watching from time to time. And that’s totally fine on condition they do it in English ?. But we can go further and use their love of TV shows in our lessons to make the studying process more compelling and the topic more memorable. Here are our suggestions for creating fun and low-prep ESL activities with TV series.
Using TV series for vocabulary practice
Adjectives for personal qualities: who in The Office do you like the most?
When it comes to vocabulary, TV series are an ultimate source of collocations, slang, common speaking expressions and less common lingo. But let’s look at some practical applications that can be linked to various TV shows. One such thing is exploiting characters and their differences. And the first vocabulary topic that fits perfectly is adjectives describing personal qualities. Since it’s a universal thing for TV shows to have a range of characters with their little quirks, it gives us plenty of opportunities to practise vocabulary from elementary words like ‘shy’ and ‘honest’ to something more advanced like ‘adamant’ or ‘grumpy’. Take the well-known series The Office (either British or American). The show has a range of characters, the descriptions of whom would require more than one personality adjective. What we can do to make it more interesting is to ask students to choose their favourite character in the show and explain why they like them and their personality. The other option is to talk about the boss (David/Michael) – have students describe his personality and talk about what a good manager should be like.
Professions: what do they do in Friends?
Another idea that is easy to implement is talking about professions. We could simply try asking our students what profession, for example, each character from Friends has, especially Chandler (spoiler: it’s not a transponster). We can also combine it with the adjectives for personality traits and ask students to explain how each quality might be helpful in a character’s profession. But we can go further and discuss how professions on TV are different from real life. We can discuss whether corporate lawyers have the same fancy lifestyle as presented in Suits, if being an executive equals having as much drama as the characters in Succession do, if being a police officer is as exciting and fun as they show it in Brooklyn 99, or if being a doctor is all about solving puzzles like they do in House M.D.
Describing appearances and clothes: stylish Rachel Green
While we’re on the topic of character description, it’s worth mentioning that they usually have different appearances too, and we can create a lot of fun and low-prep activities in this regard. For instance, it might be a simple guessing game where students describe one of the characters and the others have to guess who it is. For this activity, we’ll have to choose TV series with a lot of characters that have distinctive appearances, like Modern Family.
But vocabulary in TV series is not only about characters. Each particular TV show might be famous for its costumes, scenery, architecture, etc. So depending on the topic we are covering, we can find a TV show that will have a lot of visual aids. For example, if we’re on the topic of clothes and our students also happen to be interested in fashion, let’s google Sex and the City outfits (or if we’re working with a younger demographic, Emily in Paris or Sex Education outfits), pull up a couple of pictures and make students describe them. Another idea is to google Rachel Green outfits. As the results vary from fancy and elegant clothes to some casual and sporty looks, we’ll have a lot of items of clothing to discuss.
Practising grammar with TV series
For many people, working with grammar is rarely about fun and low-prep ESL activities. It has to be arduous and time-consuming. And in some cases, that is what proves to be effective. However, we shouldn’t neglect the power of joy in the learning process and how much it can boost it.
Comparatives: The Witcher vs Game of Thrones
We have already seen how TV series are sometimes built around the idea of different people coming together. For us teachers it presents an opportunity to work with comparative and superlative forms of adjectives. For instance, we can use these adjectives to describe character traits and compare characters with one another. We can ask students questions like ‘Who is the most intelligent in the group?’ or ‘Who is the funniest?’ For it to work, we have to choose TV series with many contrasting characters like How I Met Your Mother or Friends.
When it comes to comparison, it’s not only about characters. Why don’t we try and compare different TV series like How I Met Your Mother and Friends, or The Witcher and Game of Thrones if our students are into fantasy. To facilitate this, we might need to come up with categories like ‘humour’ or ‘romance’ for the first pair, and ‘dark tone’/‘violence’ and ‘plot twists’ for the second one.
Conditional sentences: which superhero are you?
Another grammar topic that we can work with based on our favourite TV shows is conditional sentences. We can get really creative here but let’s take, for example, The Umbrella Academy characters with their powers. The activity could be focused on students answering questions such as ‘Which power would you choose? If you had this power, how would you use it?’ We could also use iconic scenes like this one from Workin’ Moms and ask students to imagine what they would do if they were in the character’s shoes.
Finally, if our students are into detective TV series, there’s a great chance for us to practise modals of deduction. Take, for example, the acclaimed TV series Only Murders in the Building. It’s so full of secrets and plot twists that we can make hundreds of speculations. And luckily for us, each season ends with a mystery that we can hypothesize about. Or if we know that our students have just finished watching a season of Stranger Things and are looking forward to a new one, we can make them speculate about the future and ask what is likely to happen to Eleven and the gang in the next season.
Creating fun and low-prep speaking activities
All the activities above are applicable only if we know what TV series our students are into. And if it’s relatively easy to do when we have individual classes, quizzing all students in a group on their TV preferences might seem a little redundant. So here are a couple of suggestions on how to do it in a more engaging way.
- First, we could do a full lesson related to films and TV series. We have a few lesson plans that might be helpful for this (Let’s binge watch it together, Why do we like horror films?, Let’s go to the movies!, Question Time!), because students are bound to share some details about their interests during such lessons.
- Instead of devoting a whole lesson to this topic, we can have a short warm up that might help us get the necessary information. For example, we can split students into pairs, ask each of them to choose their favourite TV show and convince their partner to watch it.
- The other easy-to-implement thing is to ask whether they’d like to be a character in any TV series and make them explain why. Remember that such things work best when students have a good sample answer to follow, so we have to be ready to share something as well.
Summing it all up, we agree that students have different interests and needs. But if there’s something that they all share, it’s the craving for entertainment, the possibility to switch off sometimes and distract themselves from daily problems. And if we can give it to them without taking away the teaching component, TV series might be just the means for that. Do you agree? Do you like using TV series in your lessons? We’d be happy to hear your thoughts!
By the way, you can find out more about all the TV series mentioned in the article here: