Using Golden Age of Hollywood to Supplement Course Content

Kevin senseiBy Kevin Miller (Tsurumi University)

A commercial textbook is typically chosen by a teacher to form the core of the course, and the units of the text often set the syllabus. This was not, however, the approach I took when designing my 28-week movie appreciation class (called ‘Screen English’) at Tsurumi University. My plan was to have a movie genre focus in the first semester and a movie director focus in the second semester, and each week I planned to show DVD or YouTube clips that tied in with the syllabus topics and to devise original activities to expand them.

However, I noticed, while leafing through a copy of Golden Age of Hollywood (by Mayumi Hamada and Hiromi Akimoto) at a JALT Conference display, that each of the 12 units of the textbook could be linked to either a genre or director that I had already planned to introduce. Seeing how well the text and its accompanying film clips fit in with my syllabus, I decided to have students buy it as supplemental material. I was able to use all 12 units of the book, while maintaining variety in the course and not using the textbook every class. Access to the text reduced the amount of original material I had to create by about a third, and it allowed me some flexibility in course planning, as I always had the text to fall back on in the event of extra time, a technical issue, or unavailability of a desired clip.

Here’s how my Screen English syllabus aligns with the Macmillan text, Golden Age of Hollywood:

Week Genre Golden Age of Hollywood unit &   clip
1 Action Adventure
2 Romance Unit 1 Roman Holiday
3 Science Fiction
4 Historical Unit 2 Gone With the   Wind
5 Fantasy
6 Animation Unit 4 Snow White and   the Seven Dwarfs
7 Documentary
8 Musical Unit 8 Singin’ in the   Rain
9 Sports
10 Comedy Unit 7 How to Marry a   Millionaire
11 Horror
12 Western Unit 11 Stagecoach
13 Drama
14 War Unit 12 A Farewell to   Arms
Week Director Golden Age of   Hollywood unit & clip
15 Christopher Nolan
16 Alfred Hitchcock Unit 3 Rebecca
17 Stanley Kubrick
18 Steven Spielberg (Unit 5 King Kong –   to compare with Jurassic Park)
19 Quentin Tarantino
20 Martin Scorsese
21 Woody Allen (Unit 9 It Happened   One Night – to compare with Annie Hall)
22 Kathryn Bigelow
23 The Coen Brothers
24 Clint Eastwood
25 Francis Ford Coppola   / Orson Welles (Unit 10 Citizen Kane   – to compare with The Godfather)
26 Hayao Miyazaki /   Peter Jackson
27 Tim Burton (Unit 6 Holiday Inn –   to tie in with the Christmas season)
28 Ridley Scott / James   Cameron

The text units in the second semester do not match up exactly with the directors I want to introduce, but there is always a connection that can be made, and other teachers may choose to make different pairings. Unit 5 King Kong, for example, can easily be placed with Peter Jackson instead, as he directed a remake of the King Kong movie in 2005. This could set up a comparison activity of the original and remade versions.

My Screen English course is held in a PC/media classroom. When I want to show film clips to the class as a whole, I project the clips on a screen at the front of the class. When the students use the Golden Age of Hollywood textbook, on the other hand, they each have their own DVD that comes with the text, which they use in a PC (with headphones) at their desk to listen to the clips and answer in the textbook at their own pace. I usually devote 30-40 minutes (of a 90-minute class) to the textbook, at a pace of about one unit every two or three weeks, as shown in the table above. The textbook activities that I use consist mainly of the film clip ordering activities and the cloze listening exercises. Short English reading passages with true-false exercises in the text are sometimes used as part of homework assignments. There are also some Japanese-English translation activities in the text which I do not use, as I have an all-English focus in the class.

After completing the first year of Screen English, and despite having plenty of original materials, I have decided to continue including the Golden Age of Hollywood text and related activities as an integral part of the course. The textbook cloze activities are quite well made, and with no errors that I can find. While the clips from the text are older ones, the language introduced is still in common use and not terribly outdated. I like how having these self-paced materials adds a different dimension to the class, and students seemed generally happy to work with the text and DVDs. In general, I am not a fan of many published materials, but I find Macmillan’s Golden Age of Hollywood to be a text that I can stand behind.

Pro Tip:
At the end of the school year, offer to buy some copies of the book with DVD at 100 yen each from students who have completed the course, as many students dispose of their materials after the school year ends. Buy only copies that have the answers written in pencil so you can erase the answers later. The following year, when students fail to bring their textbook to class, or if course enrollment exceeds the supply of books, you have some extra copies to lend on a temporary basis.