Top 10 ESL movies and TV shows for English language learners

woman smiling and sitting on a white couch holding a remote facing the TV for ESL movies and TV shows for English language learners article

Are you in a teaching jam and need a new way to engage your students? 

Even if everything is running smoothly, it’s important to think about what you can do to make your online classroom more of a collaborative and exciting environment. This applies to teaching adults and young learners.  

Have you thought about incorporating more videos in your lesson plans? 

Showing a variety of movies and TV shows for English language learners can be an incredibly fun and educational way for students to learn the language. 

The sounds, visuals, and variety that films provide can help learners with their vocabulary and grammar. 

They provide a great opportunity for you to facilitate discussions, debates, or even role-playing activities related to the scenes that were just watched. 

Plus, it’s a great way to create a break in the traditional lesson plans that you would otherwise present. 

Remember to put on the subtitles for extra support, especially if your class is not yet at the advanced level. 

If your students are interested enough in the films that you show, they may even continue watching them on their own time. This will lead to hours upon hours of language learning outside the classroom.

The trick is to find the right clips to share with your class. 

You may not have time to share the entire two-hour movie or binge-watch the entire show with your students, but you can show a 10, 15, or even 20-minute portion of the film.

Alternatively, depending on the age group that you are teaching, involve them in the planning process by taking a poll to determine the type of films and series that your students are interested in seeing. 

Regardless, we guarantee your class will enjoy this online activity

Here are the top 10 ESL movies and TV shows:

  1. Shrek
  2. The Sound of Music
  3. Seinfeld 
  4. Stranger Things
  5. Friends 
  6. Charlie Chaplin Silent Films
  7. Toy Story 
  8. How the Grinch Stole Christmas
  9. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory 
  10. The Office

1. Shrek

The animated film, Shrek, follows the story of a misunderstood green ogre, Shrek. Fearsome on the outside, the villagers are terrified of him. What they are not aware of is Shrek’s kind heart, much to Shrek’s own astonishment. 

Follow the story of Shrek and Donkey as he leaves his remote swamp to rescue Princess Fiona from the fearsome fire-breathing dragon. 

This fairy tale is beloved by people of all ages all over the world. 

Have some fun with your ESL classroom by sharing clips from Shrek! 

Your kids can learn some fairytale vocabulary, while simultaneously learning about other jokes, expressions, and verbs used in the film. 

Shrek is also a 4 part movie series, so you have lots of varying storylines to choose from with this tale! 

2. The Sound of Music

Close your eyes and imagine the beauty of vibrant green hills, bright blue skies, and a woman’s voice, singing into the mountains. 

Look no further than The Sound of Music, a true classic! 

Released in 1965, the story follows Maria, a nun who becomes a governess to Captain von Trapp’s seven children. Set in Salzburg, Austria, the visuals, coupled with the music and storyline makes this a wonderful addition to your ESL classroom. 

Plus, music always offers sentimental insight into the English-speaking language and culture. 

We recommend sharing a song out of the movie with your class. 

It’s guaranteed to touch everyone’s heart. 

3. Seinfeld

The American television series, Seinfeld, is another classic. 

Follow the life of Jerry Seinfeld and his quirky friends, George, Elaine, and Kramer, as the four go on a number of interesting adventures around New York City. 

Seinfeld is notoriously funny, and yet another great show for your students because what is shown in the series is akin to real-life conversations, used in everyday settings.  

4. Stranger Things

If you want to show your ESL students something that’s a little different, a little more supernatural, and a little more spooky, then Stranger Things is the way to go. 

Set in the 1980s in Indiana, a few young friends are very interested in the mystical and supernatural, discovering all sorts of forces and mysteries happening in their little town. A young boy vanishes, and a strange girl, Eleven, appears out of nowhere. 

Supernatural elements aside, this storyline offers a lot of insight into the inner child of adult Americans who grew up during this time period. 

5. Friends

Friends is an ideal television series to choose clips from because the expressions used are very similar to those from everyday life. 

It’s easy to understand and the perfect show that most people would watch during a relaxed evening spent inside.

Friends follows the story of six New Yorkers in their 30s - Rachel, Monica, Ross, Joey, Phoebe, and Chandler. Their life is full of ups and downs, as they go through new jobs and job losses, love and heartbreak, fights and moments of coming together, and so much more. 

It’s very easy to get attached to these characters, and your students may even wish to continue watching this show on their own time.  

6. Charlie Chaplin Silent Films

You can’t speak about the era of silent film without mentioning Charlie Chaplin.

His black and white movies are iconic, and a wonderful addition to any lesson plan

Showing your class a silent film can actually be a great way to facilitate discussions around what is happening in the film. 

Offer suggestions to recreate the dialogue, perhaps even adding a component of role play.

7. Toy Story

Toy Story will propel you right into childhood and play. 

They say that your toys come to life when you aren’t there! Well, such is the tale of Andy’s toys.

Check out the adventures of Woody and Buzz, along with all the other toys, as they try to stick by Andy’s side no matter what gets thrown their way. 

When learning the English language, even a small video clip can offer so much new information. 

Toy Story is a vibrant movie, such that any clip you choose to show will no doubt engage your students. 

8. How the Grinch Stole Christmas

A Dr. Seuss classic and yet another fantastic movie to show, especially towards the end of the year with the Holiday season approaching. 

The Grinch is a bit of a recluse who hates Christmas, unlike all the townsfolk living in Whoville. 

But one little girl, Cindy Lou, who really believes in the love and kind spirit of this time, wants the Grinch to join the festivities. 
 
Select a clip from this movie and watch how engrossed your students will be in the storyline.

9. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory 

Willy Wonka and the Oompa-Loompas will transport you into a state of magic and wonder. 

However, you may just want to grab a piece of chocolate while watching this movie, because Willy Wonka is, after all, a chocolatier. 

When Charlie wins Willy Wonka’s golden ticket and gets to enter the factory, along with the other kids, they soon learn that not everything is as it appears. 

Another wonderful addition for sharing in the ESL classroom! 

10. The Office

The Office is an American sitcom based on life working in an office. 

While the real-life office may not be quite like this one, The Office will still expand your student’s vocabulary and allow them to see a snapshot of American humor as it relates to one’s everyday work life. 

Becoming fluent in the English language

There is no doubt that movies and television series are a great way to enhance one’s understanding of the English language. 

Books are great for learning the language, but seeing something visually in front of your eyes, as it’s acted out on screen, can make for a memorable lesson and learning opportunity. 

At the end of the day, you want to offer your learners a lot of variety, especially when a new language is involved. 

And what better way to start a discussion or debate than to put on a clip from a beloved movie to a television series?

The list provided here is a great way to keep your student’s brains stimulated in the online classroom, breaking up the routine and sparking a number of interesting conversations. 

Looking for online teaching jobs? Check out our job board and start planning your next Netflix party!