4 Using television series in the English classroom

These days a great number of people have televisions in their homes, so television programmes are a resource that many of your students will have access to. Although you may not be able to use one in your classroom, you could use dramas or news stories that your students have watched as the basis for speaking and writing activities in your classroom. There are several English-language movies, television shows, cartoon channels and news channels available in India that your students may be able to watch. Choosing television programmes that your students are interested in and are likely to have watched will increase their motivation to speak and write in their English classes.

Case Study 2: Mr Kiran uses a local TV series as a prompt for a writing activity in an English class

Mr Kiran’s Class X students, who are generally familiar with the series Malgudi Days, use it as a basis for a writing activity. They are very interested in writing about something they are familiar with and enjoy.

The TV series Malgudi Days (based on the stories written by R.K. Narayan) was being broadcast again, and I knew that most of my students watched it. Since everyone was talking about it, I thought that this would be a good basis for discussion in my English classes. It wasn’t possible to show the programme in the classroom, but I realised that most of my students were watching the programme at home anyway – and we could discuss the programme afterwards in the class.

At the end of one lesson I told my students to watch the next episode of Malgudi Days, and made a note on the board of the time and the channel. I suggested that those who didn’t have a television might try to watch it at a neighbour’s house or somewhere in the local area. By the next lesson most of them had watched the episode, and they were talking about it with excitement. I organised the students into groups of four and asked them to quickly discuss what had happened in the episode, as some of them hadn’t been able to watch it.

I asked my students to name some of the characters who live in the fictional village of Malgudi. I wrote the list on the board and asked each group to choose a different character from the village. Once each group had chosen a character, I told them that they were scriptwriters for a television company and that they had to write an episode of the story starring this character. The episode could be based on a previous episode that they had seen, or they could think of their own future episode. I told them that they did not need to write the script of the episode, just the storyline. I read out an example I had written.

Thanappa is the village mailman who knows everyone and knows everyone's business from reading out to the recipients the mail he delivers. He is good friends with Ramanujam and watches his daughter Kamashi grow up. When Kamakshi is old enough, Thanappa helps the family find a suitable husband for her. The man and Kamakshi like each other, and their wedding is arranged for the last day before the man leaves for army. If the wedding isn't held by that date, it won't take place at all. Two days before the wedding, Thanappa is given an urgent letter to deliver to Ramanujam informing him of his brother's serious illness. Thanappa goes to the house, but decides not to deliver the letter because everyone is so happy about the wedding. The wedding goes ahead. Two days later Thanappa delivers the bad news to Ramanujam, with his sincere apologies.

I asked my students if they noticed how I had used the present tense throughout. I first described the main character. Then I explained the story. I told them that I tried to write in simple sentences. They should try to follow that structure.

I then gave my students 12 minutes to write a paragraph or two in English explaining what happened in their character’s episode. Once they had written their storylines, I asked each group to read out their story to the whole class. They enjoyed listening to each other’s stories.

The students were so excited to be talking about one of their favourite television shows. While I usually find that they don’t like writing activities, this time they were very motivated to try to express their ideas. I don’t think that they even noticed that they were learning and practising English, because they were so interested in each other’s stories!

Activity 4: Using a popular TV series as a basis for a writing activity in English

Try the next activity in your classroom:

  1. Find out what TV series your students like watching, and ask them to watch an episode at home if they can. If there are students without a television, see if there is a way that they can watch the episode elsewhere.
  2. In class, put your students into groups of four or five and ask them to briefly discuss what happened in the last episode that they watched. This helps them to remember the programme, and it makes sure that anyone who didn’t watch the programme understands what is going on.
  3. Tell your students that they are going to decide what happens in the next episode. Each group must write a description of the plot for this episode in English. Give them a time limit.
  4. Give them an example of a storyline.
  5. Point out that they should first describe their character. Then they should describe the plot. Tell them to use the present tense and to keep their sentences short and simple.
  6. When time is up, ask each group to read out their storylines to the rest of the class.
  7. In order to give them a purpose for listening, ask students to vote on which storyline they liked best.

Pause for thought

After trying this activity with your students, think about the following questions:

  • What kinds of plot storylines did your students write? Were you surprised by their imagination and creativity?
  • Did all your students participate? If not, how could you modify the activity to make it more accessible to everyone?
  • Could you do this activity with other kinds of TV or radio programmes?

If your students enjoyed this activity, and they seem very interested in drama, you could involve them in a project to produce a TV script (see Resource 7).

You could do speaking and writing activities based on films that your students may have seen, or about news stories from television, etc. To find more ideas for using television as a resource for English teaching, see Resource 8. You could also do this activity with any radio programme that is popular and available in your local area (see Resource 9 for ideas).

3 Using news stories in the English classroom