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***It seems the Beeb aren’t too happy about people posting Doctor Who on YouTube anymore (which is understandable, considering they probably make quite a bit of money from the DVDs). I can’t actually find another clip of the Doctor and Donna’s window scene, so this lesson plan will have to remain dormant for a bit. You may like to buy Partners in Crime from Amazon. The subtitled clip, you will see, is still down there, so you could still use that one.

Learning a language is a little like gymnastics. Bear with me.

Both involve learning how to position certain parts of your body in often strange or seemingly unnatural ways (at least, first of all) in order to produce something graceful. Just as a gymnast trains his or her body in order to move in a graceful manner, a language learner trains his or her lips, tongue, larynx, vocal cords, etc. to produce sounds which we hope are graceful. Alright, I’m not saying everyone who learns a language, or is even a native speaker, sounds or indeed has to sound graceful; the point about retraining your body I really feel is valid.

As a teacher I’m not sure that lip-reading is something that is really focused upon in what I do. Yet it’s so easy to do. Simply play a video clip with the sound down and ask your students to read the actors’ lips. You don’t even really need a video – just mouth words yourself and you have a quick activity for the classroom; your students guess the word you’re mouthing.

I really feel that so much meaning can be seen if we just look at the person we are listening to, but it’s not something I see students doing. In order for a dialogue to truly work between two people, don’t we need to look at each other? Doing so we can see whether the person is smiling or frowning, happy or sad, to get the sense of what they are saying. We can also use these visual clues, along with the shapes formed by their lips, to pick up anything that we don’t ‘hear’.

As said above, it’s easy to do. However, I think just mouthing words or playing a video with no sound doesn’t completely do the trick. Which is why I was really happy to find this clip:

It comes from the first episode of the fourth season of the revamped BBC programme Doctor Who. Among the episode’s themes are corporate espionage and repatriation of an alien species, but the part I’m interested in comes 2:58 in this clip. The Doctor comes face-to-face with former companion Donna Noble, through a window and a glass pane in a door. As such, they cannot hear what each other is saying. The moment when the lip reading comes to the fore is diegetic to the story, and as such I like it a lot more than just turning the volume down. Hence the origin of this lesson plan: Doctor-Who-Lip-Reading.pdf. I also created a pdf of pictures to use with this plan: Doctor-Who-pics.pdf


The original subtitled version was removed from YouTube by the user, so the link in the PDF file is actually a dead end. Luckily, I’ve found this one to replace it:

Level: Intermediate and above
Age: Teens/young adults and upwards
Topics: lip reading, writing
Grammar focus: direct speech
Time: 1 to 1 and a half hrs

As ever, I’d be very interested to hear what you think.

For explanation if you’re not au fait with Doctor Who, take a look at the links below:

Also, you might like to look at the BBC’s Doctor Who website:

You can also sometimes watch Doctor Who on the BBC iPlayer website:

NB – If you’re interested in how sound and visual image combine to create meaning, you might like to look at these two plans from TEFLclips:

Lesson plan 38: An auditory illusion and Lesson plan 57: Noisy collocations

For a great explanation of a running dictation go here.

Doctor Who copyright is owned by the BBC. Copyright of individual characters is owned by the writers that created them. No copyright infringement is intended here.