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If at first you don’t succeed

Posted on April 8, 2013 by kierandonaghy

3x3 large

This EFL lesson plan is designed around a beautiful short film by Nuno Rocha called 3 X 3 and the themes of intelligence and persistence. Students describe a photo, watch a short film and speak about physical appearance, intelligence and persistence.

Language level: Intermediate (A2) – Upper intermediate (B2)

Learner type: Teens and adults

Time: 90 minutes

Activity: Describing a photo, watching a short film and speaking

Topic: Physical appearance, intelligence and persistence

Language: Adjectives to describe a person’s appearance and character, and expressions related to intelligence

Materials: Short film and 2 photos

Downloadable materials: if at first you don’t succeed lesson instructions     student A photo     student B photo


Step 1

Tell your students that they are going to describe people’s physical appearance. Write the following words on the board:




Put students into pairs and give them 10 minutes to come up with as many words as they can to describe face, hair and body. Then get feedback from the whole class.


Step 2

Now give each student either photo A or photo B. Tell them that student A has to describe the person in their photo using some of the words they come up with in the previous stage. Student B has to listen and visualise the person being described. When student A has finished their description they show the photo to student B who says if the person looks like how they had visualised. Now student B describes their photo and follows the same process.

3x3 thin man large


3x3 security guard


Step 3

Ask students the following question:

What do you think the man in your photo is like as a person?

Get students to compare the characters of the 2 men.


Step 4

Tell students that they are going to watch a short film in which the 2 men appear. Put them into small groups and ask them the following questions:

What do you think the relationship between the 2 men is?

What story do you think the film will tell?

What do you think you will see in the film?


Step 5

Tell students they are going to watch the start of the film and that they should answer the following question:

What is the character of each man like?

What is the relationship between the 2 men?

Show the film and pause at 02:20. Get feedback from the students.


3×3 from Nuno Rocha on Vimeo.


Step 6

Ask students the following questions:


What is going to happen in the rest of the film?

What’s the thin man going to do?


Step 7

Now show the rest of the film and ask students to compare their answers in the previous stage with what they see in the film.


Step 8

Ask students the following questions:

How do the 2 men feel at the end of the film?

Does the film have a message?

How did the film make you feel?


Step 9

Write the following expressions on the board:

“brains over brawn”

“all brawn and no brains”

Tell them to use a dictionary to find the meaning of the expressions and then ask them to say how these expressions might apply to the story they have seen in the film.


Step 10

Write the following proverb on the board:

Tis a lesson you should heed:

Try, try, try again.

If at first you don’t succeed,

Try, try, try again.

Ask students what the meaning of the proverb is. Then put students into pairs and ask how the message of the proverb can be applied in their everyday life.



Ask students to write a short composition in which they have to describe how the proverb in the last stage can be applied in learning English.


I hope you enjoy this English language lesson.

Film English is a labour of love, it takes hundreds of hours and thousands of euros a year to sustain and provide free English language lesson plans. Keeping it a free, clean, ad-free experience — which is important to me and, I hope, to you — means it’s subsidised by the generous support of readers like you through donations. So if you find any inspiration, joy and stimulation in these English language lessons or if they help you teaching English, please consider a modest donation — however much you can afford.


19 thoughts on “If at first you don’t succeed

  1. Hello Kieran, despite the fact I´m not a teacher, I´m a frequent visitor here, on your website. I enjoy your lessons plans as a student trying to complete some tasks and dreaming about being an English teacher. I would definitely use your lessons in my classes.
    Thank you for picking up such beautiful films, creating and sharing lesson plans around them. They aren´t great only for English but also for life itself. Thanks again!
    Hana from The Czech Rep.

    • Hi Hana,
      Thanks a lot for taking the time to comment and for your kind words about the site. I’m really happy you find the site useful. I hope your dream of becoming an English teahcer comes true :-)
      All the best,

  2. Very good. Am using it for my students. Good for stimulating vocabulary and conversation. And for ridding us of pre-conceived ideas and biases ( one young student said the thin man looks thick and that cleaners are uneducated or stupid ).
    Why is title 3×3? I guess something to do with measuring…..

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  5. Thanks a lot for sharing! I think this not only a good lesson plan, but the video is also a great example of different learning styles to show the students at the beginning of the year. This one’s coming to an end, but I’ll use the film in October for sure ;-) Thanks again

  6. Dear Kieran,
    I have been struggling to find absorbing ESOL material for young teens – which this certainly is.
    I love short films – 3 x 3 was so clever. So thank you so much for this.

    Beannachtaí ort from Ireland,

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