Teaching Methodology for the Disney Lessons

In academic terms these pages can be seen as content-based lesson plans, but I prefer to think of it as fun ways for students to access American language and culture, without a lot of the negative baggage associated with learning English.

Through experience, having tested these materials with a variety of student ages and levels in that informal style often grouped under Classroom Action Research, I have discovered few people have an aversion to Disney. In fact, people are usually crazy about these films.

At first I had feared these animation might be considered too childish or sweet for hard-boiled university students, cynical teens, or tired executives. Yet, to my pleasant surprise, people love watching Disney. Most have their favorites, while grumpy detractors love to watch, and then tear apart, each film. There appears to be enough in Disney to please even the most uninspired.

But now that you have the students' attention, the next trick is applying pedagogical objectives to justify all those smiling faces. Everyone knows education must also face the heavier objective of appropriate use of classroom time. To justify the time it takes to screen a 90 minute video, teachers need a well developed course of action.

What are the goals of the individuals and the administrators overseeing this process? If the goal is communicative English, you are in luck. Disney targets a mid-range polite English usage appropriate both in business or play. You will never hear inappropriate language or have to explain obscene behavior to minors, unlike with most Hollywood productions.

Students are naturally drawn into conversation, when the issues being discussed relate in some way to their personal lives. We have all heard of a Cinderella Complex, have dreamt of flying like Peter Pan, or feared the Beast within, and they are all part of Disney subliminal vocabulary. . . And this is no coincidence.

The genius of Walt Disney, and his cinematic corporate machine, is in his ability to target fundamental human sentiments. With the central target squarely aligned with the romantic and personal issues of young people, few of us can resist considering these simple characters and plot lines on personal terms.

If the goal in your classes are specific grammatical functions or common usage issues, all Disney films are highly documented and so accessible. A computer, in conjunction with video input devices, can be equipped to down load the entire transcript, via the encoding for the 'hearing impaired.'

There are also several web pages, linked within these lessons, which provide transcripts and song lyrics for these animated classics. A quick review of these transcripts will unearth a treasure house of linguistic patterns useful in teaching.

For teachers focusing on English Literature, both British and American, all of the original novels are available. Disney films do not recreate these novels but adapt each to Disney's own cinematic formula. This permits detail analysis and comparison, with many students appreciating the literary originals, to the sweetened Disney version. This also applies to the political issues of historical personage, such as the controversial 'Pocahontas' or 'Genghis Khan' as portrayed in Mulan.

Victor Hugo's classic, interpreted by Disney in the 'Hunchback of Notre Dame', would be hard to bring into the average classroom without the aid of Disney's popularized and thus more accessible version.

The challenge is in diversifying methodology enough, to keep the classes fresh and as entertaining as the videos. Fortunately, the copious and easily available Disney commercial and fan-made resources, including music, games, and toys, can enhance the most tedious of grammar points.

This is not a text, because the goal of my classes most likely differ from yours, but a first step in material creation. I have tried to provide enough additional content, in each movie page, to stimulate both student and teacher.

Some resources are useful across the board, as many Disney sites cover several movies in depth. Also the historical and literary sites, I make reference to, have material that relate to a wide variety of themes. In other words, there is something for everyone.

Fan sites are included, to share the enthusiasm and love these volunteer web home pages often bring to the subject. Whether the fan pages will still exist by the time you read this is hard to say. The web is still a very transient and evolving reference source and some of the best pages are created by students and hobbyists. I suggest teachers and students take the lessons I have prepared for searching the web, in order to supplement each lesson with their own internet gems.

As time permits, I will enhance and adapt these materials, so check back from time to time. "Have fun!"

Robert L. Seltman