The first 10 minutes

I recently used The Night of the Living Dead in a Halloween class and it got me thinking about what other films have engaging openings that I could use with students.

Showing long film clips probably isn’t the best use of class time, but just 10 minutes can contain so much language that it can fuel the entire rest of the class. Here are some pre / while-watching ideas:

  • Have students create a list of things they think they might see based on the film poster, then tick them off as they watch.
  • Write some true / false questions for students to think about while they watch.
  • Print out the dialogue and change some of the words. Students have to listen out for the errors.
  • Show students pictures from the clip and have them order while watching.
  • Show different groups different pictures from the clip and have them explain the pictures to each other and predict what might happen as an info-gap task.
  • Explain what’;s going to happen to the students, eliciting and boarding a lot of the key language that the students will come up.


  • Just watch the clip. You don’t always need a task!


And here are some post-watching tasks…

  • Recount the clip in pairs / groups and write it up.
  • Role-play the scene.
  • One group (or the teacher) acts out the clip while the others narrate.
  • Storyboard the clip.
  • What happens next? How will the problem be overcome? Have students use their imaginations, or give each student an image or description of what comes later in the film. Have them mingle and come to a group consensus on what happens and in what order.


So, here are 10 films that I think do a great job of establishing character, setting the scene, and more importantly posing a problem that the protagonist has to overcome.  See what you think and comment with your own suggestions…

Quick disclaimer:

Some of these clips have strong language and adult themes.

Watch them before you show them!!!



Rear Window

The opening shot of this film shows you just about everything you need to know about the main character and his situation. Photo journalist, broken leg, crazy neighbours.

Problem: He thinks he might have witnessed a murder!



Jennifer Connelly is annoyed with her baby brother and wishes him to be taken away by  goblins.

Problem: David Bowie does just that! How is she going to get him back?






A bit grim, but when Gwyneth Paltrow dies in the first 10 minutes you know that not many people are going to be left standing!

Problem: How do you stay alive?





Iconic, timeless and not for the faint-hearted!

Problem: What do you do about the massive man-eating shark?




Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark

We learn so much about Indi in this dramatic opening sequence.

Problem: What’s he going to do about the people pointing arrows at him?


Groundhog Day

This goes over 10 minutes but, when you get to the event, it’s a great one.

Problem: What do you do if you’ve got to live the same day over and over again?




A childhood classic for me! Tom Hanks wants to be big. He makes a wish. He wakes up as an adult.

Problem: A child’s mind adapting to life in an adult’s body.




The Martian

Matt Damon is alone on Mars. Everyone thinks he’s dead, but he’s not.

Problem: How is he going to survive?



Stranger Thstranger-thingsings

All my childhood favourites rolled into one.. The Goonies, E.T, Twin Peaks, The X-Files. A kid suddenly goes missing, and it seems that something paranormal is to blame.

Problem: How are they going to get him back?



The Wicker Man (1973)

A policeman arrives on a remote Scottish island to investigate a disappearance.

Problem: How does he find a girl that doesn’t seem to exist?



Make those 10 minutes count!

Happy watching!


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