ESL Film Noir Lesson Plan

Instructor: Suzanne Rose

Suzanne has taught all levels PK-graduate school and has a PhD in Instructional Systems Design. She currently teachers literacy courses to preservice and inservice teachers.

Move over Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe! Through activities in this lesson plan, your English Language Learners will explore the film noir genre while participating in discussions and role-playing scenarios using film noir slang.

Learning Objectives

As a result of this lesson, students will:

  • Define film noir and give some examples of films in the genre.
  • Identify and comprehend slang terms used in many film noir movies.
  • Discuss a film.
  • Use new vocabulary in a given scenario.


120-240 minutes (exact length depends on the movie clips and movie chosen for the lesson)

Curriculum Standards

ELP 9-12.1

ELLs will construct meaning from oral presentations and literary and informational text through grade-appropriate listening, reading, and viewing.

ELP 9-12.2

ELLs will participate in grade-appropriate oral and written exchanges of information, ideas, and analyses, responding to peer, audience, or reader comments and questions.

ELP 9-12.8

ELLS will determine the meanings of words and phrases in oral presentations and literary and informational text.

ELP 9-12.9

ELLs will create clear and coherent grade-appropriate speech and text.

Materials Needed

  • Projector or SMART Board
  • Film noir video clips
  • Film noir movie
  • Film noir slang handout
  • Film noir slang vocabulary cards
  • Film noir scenario cards


  • Film noir
  • Film noir slang
    • Bean-shooter (gun)
    • Big House (jail)
    • Big sleep (death)
    • Blow (leave)
    • Boiler (car)
    • Bracelets (handcuffs)
    • Broad (woman)
    • Bucket (car)
    • Bump off (kill someone)
    • Cs (100 dollar bills)
    • Cabbage (money)
    • Cheaters (sunglasses)
    • Cheese it (hide)
    • Chisel (to cheat)
    • Derrick (shoplifter)
    • Dish (pretty lady)
    • Dogs (feet)
    • Drop a dime (make a phone call)
    • Dough (money)
    • Duck soup (something that is easy)
    • Dust (to leave)
    • Fin ($5 bill)
    • Finger (to identify someone for the police)
    • Flimflam (swindle)
    • Flophouse (cheap hotel)
    • Gams (legs)
    • Glad rags (dressy clothes)
    • Goon (hired thug)
    • Grifter (con artist)
    • Grilled (questioned by the police)
    • Gum-shoe (detective)
    • Heater (gun)
    • Hinky (suspicious)
    • Horn (telephone)
    • Hot (stolen)
    • Ice (diamonds)
    • Joe (coffee)
    • Mark (victim)
    • Palooka (big, stupid man)
    • Patsy (someone who is set up)
    • Pen (jail)
    • Private Dick (private detective)
    • Rube (a person who is easy to fool)
    • Sawbuck ($10 bill)
    • Shamus (private detective)
    • Shyster (lawyer)
    • Sing (confess)
    • Snitch (informer)
    • Spill (tell)
    • Take a powder (leave)
    • Take the fall (take the blame)
    • Tomato (pretty lady)


  • To introduce the lesson, show the students several short clips of just a few minutes each from movies in the film noir genre, such as Key Largo, Gaslight, or Rebecca. Read the students a short summary of the film, then show a few minutes of it.
  • Ask the students what they noticed about the films, and how the look of the film made them feel.
  • Write the phrase, 'film noir' on the board, and define it as 'a style of movie in which there is a feeling of danger and despair, and which are usually about a crime' Explain that the term was first used by the French to describe American detective movies in the middle of the 20th century.
  • Use a projector or SMART Board to display this dialogue from the film, The Maltese Falcon:
    • Wilmer Cook: 'Keep on riding me and they're going to be picking iron out of your liver.'
    • Sam Spade: 'The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter.'
  • Ask if any of the students can figure out what the two characters are talking about.
  • Explain that in most film noir movies, there is a 'slang' used by the tough guys in the film.
  • Give each student a handout that includes all the listed film noir slang terms and their meanings. Read through the vocabulary with the students. Ask if they have ever heard any of these terms before.
  • Show a film clip from a film noir movie in which the characters are talking in slang, using some of the terms listed. A good choice would be the bookstore scene from The Big Sleep.
  • Ask the students what was happening in the film clip and whether they could figure out what the characters meant by what they said.

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