Pigeon: Impossible

Pigeon Impossible, the silent animated film by Lucas Martell released on 9 November that took 4 years to make, passed the 1 million views mark on YouTube after less than 2 weeks online. The film is set in the neighborhood of the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., where two of my nieces and I spent an enjoyable afternoon in October. I grew up in Cold War D.C. – I hope other teachers haven’t had exactly the same idea yet: Here’s my contribution of a lesson plan to the upcoming EFL blog carnival.

Target group: Adult education, Business English (group and one-to-one)

Level: multilevel, ca. B2

Language goals: 1. Speaking 2. report writing 3. spy/ thriller vocabulary (a one-to-one student is reading Le Carré) 4. predictions; 5. could/ coudn’t/ was able to (describing general ability vs. single achievements)

Material/ preparation: Go online to www.pigeonimpossible.com. Watch film online. If not possible, download video “Pigeon: Impossible” (use www.savevid.com). Download Press Kit pdf to show film stills on screen. No handouts. Save those trees!


Pre 1: Present title of video “Pigeon: Impossible.” Predict genre. Revisit Mission: Impossible series 1966-1973; 1988-1990; film series with Tom Cruise. Use soundtrack or poster if necessary to help recall.

Pre 2: Hypothesize content of film. Brainstorm spy and Cold War vocabulary (e.g. for reference: to gather intelligence, secret agent, espionage, operation, operative, screen someone, be in disguise, conceal your identity, code/decode, crack codes, cypher/decypher, wiretap, detect surveillance, brief/debrief; Cold War, Berlin Wall, Iron Curtain, Star Wars, rocket, target, cruise missile, explosives)
Wordle: Spy and Cold War vocabulary

During: Watch film, and stop at likely places to ask “What will happen next?”

Watch film to about 1:50. Look at still of pigeon inside the briefcase. Collect and write up predictions (note grammar: I think, will probably, is likely to). (If teaching a group, let separate groups develop and present their scenarios.)

Watch to about 2:32 (pigeon has discovered that the suitcase can fly and is armed; man finds bagel again). Again, predict.

Watch to 4:04 (bagel has hit red button, Washington Monument turns into launching pad, rocket is underway to Russia). Again, predict.

Post 1: Reconstruct and summarize what happened: Contrast outcomes with predictions “I/we thought he would… and/but he…”

Post 2: Write “Incident on F Street” on the board. Make three columns. Headers: pigeon couldman couldn’t, man was able to

Tell students they are the man and will have to write a report to their line manager about the unforseen incident with the pigeon. (If you’re teaching a group, do this in pairs.) Tell them to concentrate on describing what the pigeon

  • could do with the additional powers at its disposal,
  • what they (as the man) couldn’t do to interfere and
  • what they (as the man) were ultimately able to do to stop pigeon and end the incident

Note grammar: contrast “could” for general ability with “was able to” for ability in a specific situation; couldn’t is more natural for negatives.

Have them use the film stills as guides. If they ask for it, watch the whole film again as they finalize their notes. Then they write reports. They pair up with another group to read each other their reports.

At least that’s what I’m planning to do. This is an action enquiry. I’ll let you know how it went later on this week in the comments. If you’re using this film in a different way, or have other ideas about how you would, I’d be delighted to read about it.

Blog Carnival archive - esl, efl, ell carnival

The switch

Hey, cool: What’s this? What does it do? What can you do with it? How does it work? What are its mechanical or physical properties?

Created by Vancouver Film School student Zack Mathew through the VFS Digital Character Animation program. For a short interview with Zack, visit The man behind the switch Recommended by ebd35 on Twitter

Brainstorming properties of the cube, the man and the film:

  • Objective: sweet tasty hard soft square cube shiny matte hollow solid magnetic static sticky suspended floating strong unmoving immobile vibrating delicate heavy light shut closed locked impenetrable inextricable identical
  • Subjective: interesting curious surprising attractive forbidden intriguing thrilling electrifying dangerous scary terrifying spooky
  • The man: curious bored day-dreaming surprised inquisitive attracted thrilled electrified intrigued playful cautious incautious hesitant adventurous fun-loving risk-taking terrified scared
  • The film: funny, amusing, well done!

The bare necessities

The students at the biotech company I teach at work veeeery hard, and I’m just translating a study on biotechnology and pharmaceuticals in Munich that is super interesting, so you’d think that’s what we’ll be discussing next lesson, right? Wrong. There was a request, you see, to compare the German and the English text of the Walt Disney classic, The Jungle Book. Some of the questions will be: Why did the writers change the text? How different is it in meaning? Can you translate the German text back into English? Rhythmic choral reading and a short dictation will be a part of the lesson, too. Looking forward to it! (Handout with lyrics: the-bare-necessities)

Probier’s mal mit Gemütlichkeit

The bare necessities (Phil Harris, Bruce Reitherman)

englischlernen mit liedern :-) learning english with songs

Pink elephants

Dumbo (Disney 1941) drinks from a water barrel filled with champagne by mistake and starts seeing pink elephants on parade. Pink elephants? The Veuve Clicquot must have been exceedingly good that year. A certain lady who really likes that particular kind of champagne is celebrating her birthday today … so happy birthday, dear Dolcevita!

Truly amazing graphic artists were having loads of fun at Disney back in ’41. The Disney exhibition at the Hypo Kunsthalle in Munich with its beautiful concept drawings (here’s Dumbo getting into the champagne) is on for just one more week. Hurry, hurry, hurry!

Anne in Wonderland

You simply must see the great Disney exhibition at Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung in Munich, which traces the European images that inspired the look of Disney’s films. I had some surprising insights. And the gauches, pastels, oils and paintings on celluloid produced in the Disney Studios are just delightful. (Exhibition through 25 January 2009.)

As I was walking through the exhibition I came across artwork for Alice in Wonderland (1951) by Mary Blair (1911-1978), the Disney background artist who gave that film its distinctive “new look”. (Illustration by Mary Blair taken from the catalog, Walt Disneys wunderbare Welt und ihre Wurzeln in der europäischen Kunst, Hirmer, 25 Euros at the exhibition.)

I’m thinking back on my first year as a blogger and writing for online readers, which is just coming to an end. And so, looking at these pictures, I find myself identifying with Alice. She knows what it’s like. On unfamiliar terrain, always trying out whatever is available as she goes through quite a few changes – just like me this year. There’s so much to see on the other side of the Looking Glass. You can make mistakes and get into trouble, sure, but for the most part it’s a great adventure. And you know, in the end, all that amazing technology, all those exciting tools are just a … “a pack of cards!” Alice will always remain Alice. Thank you, dear reader, for sticking with me on my trip down the rabbit hole.

Here is a song from Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland” which resonnates with a backend beginner like me. It’s called “Painting the roses red”.

Thank you Dolce for the initial spark and for hours and hours of work (!) and Dolcevita for your encouragement. Thank you Eamonn for taking me on based on almost nothing. Thank you Helmut for dragging me away from the computer. Thanks, everyone, for your ideas and comments.