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Posted on January 2, 2012 by kierandonaghy

This EFL lesson practises listening, speaking and reading. This optimistic lesson is designed around  a short film School Portrait by director Nick Scott  which tells the story of a jaded, cynical school photographer who tries to give each child a harsh vision of what their future will really look like, but a little girl with an infectious smile teaches him an important life lesson. The lesson also includes images from  a beautiful book Everything Is Going To Be OK which uses positive artwork from a variety of artists, graphic designers and illustrators.



I would ask all teachers who use Film English to consider buying my book Film in Action as the royalties which I receive from sales help to keep the website completely free.



Language level: Intermediate (B1) – Upper-intermediate (B2.1)

Learner type:Matureteens;Adults

Time: 90 minutes

Activity: Listening; speaking; reading

Topic: Smiling; optimism

Language: Optimistic vocabulary and expressions

Materials: 2 short films and TED video,video transcripts; PowerPoint presentation

Downloable materials: Smile instructions     School portrait dialogue     Smile everything is going to be OK slides    Ron Gutman video transcript


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Step 1

Write School Portrait on the board and ask your students if they know what it means. If they don’t know explain that it is a photograph taken at school by a professional photographer. Ask your students if they have had an individual school portrait taken at their school. Ask about their experience. If you have your own school portrait show it to your students.

Ask your students if they can remember what the photographer said to them and how he encouraged them to smile.


Step 2

Tell your students that they are going to watch a short film called School Portrait. Ask them the following question:

How is the photographer different from a normal school photographer?



Step 3

Cut up the sentences which the photographer says in the School Portrait Dialogue Word document. Put students into small groups and give each group one set of sentences. Tell them they are going to watch the film again and that they have to put the photographer’s sentences into the correct order.

Check answers and get feedback.


Step 3

Put your students  in small groups and ask them to discuss what the message of the film is.


Step 4

The message of the film is that smiling and being optimistic is extremely important in life. Show students the images below taken from a beautiful book Everything Is Going To Be OK  . Ask them to discuss each image and its message.

You can also show the images using this PowerPoint presentation.




Follow up

Ask students if they know what an infectious smile is. Ask them if they know anyone with an infectious smile. Show them the photo below.

Ask your students the following questions:

Do you like this woman’s smile?

Does she smile a lot?

What kind of person do you think she is?

What kind of philosophy does she have about life?

What does she do?

Tell your students they are going to watch a short film about this woman. Ask them to watch the film and check their answers. Here’s a link.


For homework give students the link to this TED video in which Ron Gutman talks about empirical research which shows how important smiling is in life.



Ask students to watch the video and make notes about research which shows that smiling has a positive effect on our lives.

Give students the transcript of the talk. Check answers in the following class.


I hope you enjoy this English language lesson.

Support Film English

Film English remains ad-free and takes many hours a month to research and write, and hundreds of dollars to sustain. If you find any joy or value in it, please consider supporting Film English with a monthly subscription, or by contributing a one-off payment.

Monthly subscription

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44 thoughts on “Smile

  1. Once again, a wonderful film and lesson! A great reminder to keep smiling, even when I think I shouldn’t!

    I’m using the film and lesson Symmetry for my Winter English Camp (I’ve expanded it) – thanks Keiran!

  2. Love It! I live by this rule…Keep Smiling… this film and the lesson enforced that. My students enjoyed it very much and now understand me much more!

    Keep up the great work!

    Jacqueline Gunn
    Teaching English In Italian Schools – A week never goes by without showing my students something from Film-English….My students and I thank you!

    • Hi Jacqueline,
      I’m really happy to know that you and your students enjoy the lessons. Thanks a lot for your lovely feedback. Have a great 2012 and keep on smiling!
      All the best,

  3. hi,

    its the first time that i’m checking your materials out. congrats for your great job!!! i’ll use the smile lesson here in Brazil during the holiday course.
    thanks a lot!!

  4. Kieran I fell in love with the whole sequence (film, activities everything)
    Once again I’ll try to use this wonderful material for my lessons and make my students reflect on life. thanks so much for your amazing work.

  5. Thanks once more for your wonderful ideas!

    I adjusted it for my upper-advanced adult business students, after step 3 students taled about how many times a day they smiled, and tried to predict wjhat the average might be for an adult and a child.

    we then watched the Ron Gutman film for the answers.
    Then in groups they tried to complete the text of his talk with certain key vocabulary and important linkers blanked out. changed pairs, discussed their ideas with each other and adjusted language. then watched again to check and compare the vocab they’d selected with the original.

    very successful and fun class, and hit the right note of optimism for a first class.

    • Hi Natasha,
      I’m so happy that you like the lesson so much. it’s great to know other teachers find the lessons useful. it makes it all worhwhilw. thanks a lot for your lovely comments.
      All the best,

  6. THaNK YOU!! Loved your lesson and the smile it put on my face ! Really inspiring and moving. I’ll use it with my students next week.I’m sure they’ll love it.

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  8. HI Kieran,
    Thanks very much for putting together this lesson. I’d like to use it with my students this week. Unfortunately the second vimeo video is no longer working (I think this has happened in a couple of other places on your site too). Do you have a link for it?

  9. I’ve just read this post (some months later) and I love it. It’s the kind of activities I enjoy most. Bringing positivity to class is always a great success. Thank you very much.

  10. I’m planning to use your interesting and optimistic lesson with some business students this week. Being located in Cyprus during the present situation which we are all facing at the moment – I’m hoping that your lesson will give them a reason to smile…fingers crossed!


  11. I absolutely LOVED the first video and used it separately on my last class of the semester with my teens 🙂 It has helped me end the course on a high and super positive note to my teens: keep smiling 🙂

    Thank you very much for it.

  12. Lovely lesson!
    Thanks so much, they are always so useful.
    Your work is a great inspiration for me and my students.

    Looking forward to listening to you at TESOL Spain 2014 in Madrid!

    Thanks again.

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