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Posted on January 31, 2013 by kierandonaghy

This EFL lesson plan is designed around 2 short films: Paperman an Oscar-nominated short by John Kahrs and Signs an award winning film by Patrick Hughes. Students write a narrative, predict a story and use adjectives to describe characters and emotions.



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Language level: Intermediate (B1) – Upper Intermediate (B2.21)

Learner type: Teens and adults

Time: 90 minutes

Activity: Watching two short films, speaking and writing

Topic: Love and communication

Language: Narrative tenses, will and going to for predictions and adjectives to describe character and emotions

Materials: Two short films

Downloadable materials: paperman lesson instructions


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Step 1

Show students the picture below and ask them to discuss the following questions in pairs:

Where are the people?

Who are the people in the picture?

Do they know each other?

How do they feel?



Step 2

Tell your students that the picture is taken from a short film called Paperman. Put them into small groups and ask them to predict what will happen in the film. Give them 10 minutes to write their stories and then get one student from each group to read out their story.


Step 3

Show the students the film and pause at 01:30. Ask them to compare their stories with what they see in the film.



Step 4
Ask students to discuss the following questions:
How does the young man feel?
What does he feel about his job?
What do you think he’s going to do now?
How is he going to try to communicate with the young woman?


Step 5
Show students the rest of the film and ask them to compare their predictions with what they see in the film.


Step 6
Ask students the following questions:
How did the film make you feel?
What adjectives would you use to describe the film?
Does the film have a message?


Step 7
Tell students they are going to watch the film again; this time they should down information using the following categories:

Show the film and then get feedback from the whole class.


Step 8

Tell students they are going to watch another film which is quite similar to Paperman. As they watch the film they should note any similarities or differences between the two films using the same categories.




1. Ask students to write the story of the film using narrative tenses and as many adjectives as possible to describe the characters and their emotions throughout the film.

2. Give you students a link to this great interactive video quiz at iSLCollective and ask them to complete it for homework.

I hope you enjoy this English language lesson.

Support Film English

Film English remains 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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43 thoughts on “Paperman

  1. Thanks Kieran,
    “Paperman” is beautiful, even though the production is Disney, ja ja ​​… the roles represent the power of destiny? Sorry, but I don’t believe in a predetermined destiny , I believe in effort, goodness, and luck.
    An embrace, you’re my favorite English teacher.


  2. wonderful idea of using short films, and more wonderful lesson plan , i used this for my English club , and it was so much fun , and i had very productive lesson full of discussions

    thank you !!!

    kind regards


  3. Hi Kieran,

    just wanted to say thank you for the lovely “paperman” video. I’ll definitely use it in my class once the summer term starts in our uni. And I’m really hoping to get the best out of my students

    Btw, love the music 🙂

    Thanks for posting and sharing.

    All the best,

    • Hi Tatiana,
      It’s a pleasure. Great to know you enjoy the lesson, film and the music too. I hoope your students enjoy it as much as you.
      All the best,

  4. Where should I pause at when showing the film for the first time and before step 4?

  5. I really enjoy your lesson plan. It’s quite interesting and I love the part that you pause for a while when the man looked surprised and make the students guess what did he see. Since Valentine’s Day is coming, this film makes the days even more romantic and beautiful, although such scenario will not happen in real life
    Thanks for your appealing lesson plan.


  6. Paperman is so beautiful. I do not why but I love cartoon more than real man films. I also like the way that the teacher asked students to predict the rest part of the story. That is so much fun and useful. Because when students narrate the story with specific categories after their second watching. They can compare two narrations to find out differences. It is like a self-correction. Thanks a lot for sharing these great lessons.

  7. Thanks for a great post, I really enjoyed reading your post about film language teaching. The movie Paperman is such a beautiful story! I like your lesson plan that you integrate speaking and writing skills together so that students have a chance to practice both of the two significant language skills. Also, in step 2, you ask students watch the short movie and put them into small groups to predict what will happen and let them write down the story line, it’s really an interesting way to motivate students in communicating with each other and practicing writing.
    When I was in University I majored in Film& TV Serial translation, so I know how motivated the films can be in L2 learning, especially for younger students. In China, there is a very popular English private institution that has Film English course for teenagers on a regular basis. Students really enjoyed this kind of class because they can learn from fun!

    • Hi Gabriella,
      Thanks a lot for commenting; I’m really happy that you enjoyed the lesson. I agree that film is a great way to learn English.
      All the best,

  8. Thanks for the post! I have seen this short movie before but I have never thought about changing it for a language teaching class. Before today, in my mind, after watching a movie, the students could just discuss about the content of the movie, but nothing else. And I found inspiration about combining the elements of language teaching and movie watching from your post, I found the instructions could also be given during the process. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Thanx so much for this lesson plan. Although I’d seen “Paperman”, I’d not seen “Signs”. I used both films with my advanced (cynical)teenagers today who thoroughly enjoyed it. I kept stopping the films at strategic places, asking them questions (What do you think’s going to happen next? etc)…I was nearly hung!!! (“Don’t stop the film!! We’re not going to have enough time to see it before the bell rings!!”) 🙂 It was such a huge success that I plan on using it with all my teenage classes for Valentine’s day.
    Your site is GREAT! I’ve got a lot of ideas from it.

    • Hi Alex,
      Thanks for your kind words; I’m really happy you like the site so much. I hope your students enjoyed the lesson n Valentine’s day!
      All the best,

  10. Hi Kieran,
    Firstly, I loooove your site and I’ve put loads of teachers on to it in my school, who also use your lessons with gusto. There’s always some chatter whenever you publish a new post and the teachers talk about what level to use it with, bits to add, think about, expand on etc

    Unfortunately, with this particular lesson, the Paperman vid is now saying ‘Private’ …. i.e. it can’t be viewed. Aaargh! Was really looking forward to it, because the screen grab looks great.

    I’m glad to see you using the Signs vid. I made a lesson plan around it some time ago and have used it in several different countries at different levels – works every time! 🙂

    I’ve developed it a bit more since this original concept, but this lesson plan in its raw form still works very well, as some of my teacher friends who’ve recently used it can testify.

    Keep up the fantastic work! Thanks for your great lessons.


  11. Thank you very much! I’m glad I came across your amazing website. I used the Paperman lesson today in my ESL class with great success. The lesson plan and thought questions are well organized. Thanks!

  12. Thank you so much for sharing students loved it, and so did I. Your work has given us precious moments together.

    • Hi Bea,
      Thanks a lot for taking the time to comment and for your kind words;I’m really happy that you and your students enjoyed the lesson so much.
      All the best,

  13. Hi Kieran,
    thanks a lot for a wonderful lesson plan. I enjoyed using it in class.
    Whenn it was finished, I asked the students to write their favorite opening line onto a paper plane and a message to one of their classmates.
    Once they were done, I asked them to move around the classroom and to throw them to one of their classmates.
    It was a nice moment, we had fun.
    Thank you again.
    Kind regards,

    • Hi Amelie,
      Thanks a lot for letting me know how the lesson went. I love the activity with the paper planes 🙂
      All the best,

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  15. Hi, Very nice film. And the idea of teaching English through short films is great. Me and my students here in Colombia really enjoyed it.It also gives us ideas for lesson planning.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Hi Fernando,
      Thanks a lot for commenting and for your kind words. I’m really happy you and your students like the lesson so much.
      All the best,

  16. This website is so amazing! I can’t believe I found out about it just recently, ha! It’s so useful and complete especially for my English classes. Thanks and looking forward to more enjoyable films.

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