16. Soap opera

Thank you to guest contributor, Thomas Rickman, for this post.

characters from Eastenders (BBC)

For some years now from fairly low levels upwards I have been using clips from soap operas both to practice listening skills and also because they can provide highly effective and engaging vehicles for meaning-focused communication.  Soap operas exist in many cultures so many learners can relate to them. Tasks where students create their own soap, producing a scene from it, can provide a good basis for a creative task.  

Pre-Task (optional)

Show the group a brief arresting scene, from a typical soap opera, in this case Neighbours. With a fairly high level group you could show the scene without sound, get students to predict what is being said, then watch to check. (This can be more easily done with subtitled shows on Netflix.)

Establish that Neighbours is a soap opera and brainstorm some of the characteristics of soap operas – multiple story lines, diversity of characters, colloquial use of language, cliffhangers to end episodes, etc. 

Pre-task (2) Jigsaw Viewing

Tell the students that they are going to watch scenes from two more soaps.

Group A. scene from Eastenders

Group B. scene from Neighbours

  • Divide the class into two groups and give each group a link to a scene from their respective soap opera and a task to help their comprehension and support them when they report what they have seen. They then go off to different breakout rooms to watch the excerpts and work on the tasks (see worksheets above).
  • Now pair up the “Eastenders” and the “Neighbours”; they should tell each other a summary of what they have seen. The idea of the jigsaw viewing is both for receptive skills practice and to generate ideas for the soap opera scene they are going to produce in the main task.

Main task: create a scene from a soap

  • Tell the students that in their groups/pairs they are going to devise a soap opera scenario and produce an abstract/outline for it. They can base these scenes on the characters above (Chantelle; Chloe and her husband) and continue one of the stories. Alternatively, they can choose characters from a soap opera that is current and popular in their country.
  • Their first task is to create an “abstract” for a scene i.e. an outline of what happens between the characters. Give them some time in breakout rooms to do this. If they finish, they can begin writing the dialogue.
  • They are told that in the next lesson they are going to write / perform the dialogue for a scene from their soap opera on Zoom. (Fairly small scale intimate scenes work best on Zoom). In this subsequent lesson they write and rehearse their scenes in breakout rooms with an agreed time limit.
  • In the final part of the lesson the groups present their abstracts and perform their scenes. Tell the other students to imagine that they are executives on the board of a TV production company and they have to choose the most promising soap to give funding to and give reasons for their choice.   

Language focus: fixed expressions

Soap operas are ideal to situate formulaic chunks of lexis that we use in common archetypal situations. e.g. It’s up to you; Come off it/you’re joking! I couldn’t care less, Don’t get me started! etc.

As examples, some useful expressions from the links above are:

from EastEnders:

I decided against it; Fancy ___ing? I’ve got to go and + V; I was the same; I’d best be off then; I can’t tell you how much I …; Anytime – no rush; in his element; miss him like crazy; not his/her sort of thing; I’d love to; We’d better head off.

from Neighbours:

Have you noticed anything going on with _____? no _____ than usual; That’s it. Wanna have a coffee with me? We need a break; X didn’t go so well; you threw it back in his face; Why can’t you just + V? I’m sick of X; in the doghouse; X does whatever she wants.

Variations:

  1. If you want to make larger groups, those learners who are not actually performing can be involved as writers, directors or possibly even costume consultants. 
  2. If there is a film or non-soap series (more recent equivalents of Twilight and The Hunger Games) popular with your classes currently, you could use this instead.

 

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