Pigeon: Impossible

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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


12 Responses

  1. Oh, how lovely, Christina, those comments really do speak volumes! How old are your students, then? Their English is quite good, I must say.
    I like your choice of words: “pigeon, briefcase, launch, chase, bun, burn, cause, bench, explode, disappear, push buttons, steal, destroy, rocket” And I also like the way you use colored fonts. Was your quiz related to the words in any way?
    Anyway, that settles it: This film can really be used for all age groups, in class and as part of an online quiz.
    I’m looking forward to seeing whether anyone else has used it yet.

  2. Just wanted to say that this made my day! I’m the director of Pigeon: Impossible and someone sent me your link via twitter. Both of my parents are teachers so I love that you’re using it as an educational tool!

    BTW, you totally nailed the beats of the 3-act structure. (In screenwriting we often break Act 2 into halves, and Walter finding the bagel @2:32 is the midpoint)

  3. YOW! Now who’s made whose day ?!?? 🙂 Your film is simply ridiculously good, and then you find time to come here? – You’ve got to follow the link in Christina’s comment to read the darling comments from the many, many children who love it, too (so cute)!

    I’d recommend your “Impossible Podcast” videos to any of the nerds reading this. http://www.youtube.com/user/LucasMartell My heart goes out to you regarding the video that came out when you were 6 months into the project, when you had to start over from scratch (podcast 2). Kudos! and thank you.

  4. Hello again, Anne!

    I am glad you liked my blog activity on this video. It’s a quiz I made myself using ‘My Studio’ (I intend to explain how I did it in a guest post on Barbara Sakamoto’s blog, so stay tuned!). Yes, the words I chose are the ones we used to narrate the story of the video again and subsequently occurred in the questions of my quiz, everything being suited to these students’ level (A1+).

    The students who have commented on the video are about 9-10 years old; therefore, I was impressed myself with their enthusiastic (and quite well-written) comments! I assure you and Mr Martell that they kept laughing all the way through- even the most ‘difficult’ students were actually thrilled with the story of the video. Besides, according to all our new EFL coursebooks from the ‘Top Secret’ series, students of this age are supposed to be secret agents, so they had one more reason to love the character in the video!

  5. Absolutely cool movie, great lesson plan. Thanks a lot for sharing! Will use it this week – and I’m sure the kids will love it.


  6. Notes after using this in 4 different classes (3 one-to-one, one group): Great fun – recommended!
    Vocabulary: pigeon; lure/entice (locken); trap/ be trapped inside; briefcase.
    Some predictions were funny, e.g. He’s having an awful day, so he’ll just go and have a coffee and pretend this is not happening. Or: He’ll feed the pigeon the bagel and enlist its help to shoot down the rocket. (That’s based on a rather risky assumption, I’d say.)
    To follow up on the grammar issue: Martin Hewings Advanced Grammar In Use 2nd edition p. 30/1 (can, could, be able to, be allowed to), 15.1

  7. Thanks to you and Karenne Joy Sylvester for enabling me to find this great little film. I must admit I didn’t do it your way. This is what I did:
    I arranged the students in pairs, one with their back to the screen and the other facing them looking over their shoulder to see the film. The students take it in turns to describe what is happening on screen as it happens. After about 2 minutes 45 the students change roles. Meanwhile the teacher having turned off the sound uses the pause button to help the students have time to describe everything they see on screen. At the end I asked students what vocabulary they wished they had known and they asked for these:
    pigeon, rocket, doughnut, to land, to fly up, machine gun, bazooka and explode.
    Of course we then watched the whole work of art with sound and it looked fabulous on our big IWB.
    Thanks again for introducing me to Pigeon: Impossible

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