The Best Films to Improve 11+ Vocabulary

Author: Sam Wainwright

Categories: Blog, Tips

Date: October 1, 2021

Vocabulary, vocabulary, vocabulary.

This core component of the 11+ exam is often the most difficult to prepare for – after all, how can a child be expected to know every word in the dictionary? Parents are often looking for the next best way to ensure a child knows as many words as possible before they sit their exam. We have touched on this in the past, looking at the importance of reading and the 11+ and how books can help vastly improve a student’s vocabulary. However, for reluctant readers it can often seem like an impossible task to get them up to speed. So, what are your other options?

Can films help with 11+ preparation?

Films are often championed as a great way to improve English as a second language – natural pronunciation, everyday vocabulary, spoken grammar, idioms, slang and accents all play out as a part of an engaging story with helpful visuals. With all that in mind, are they a suitable way to prepare your child for the vocabulary demands of the 11+?

Yes and no. 

Anything can help with improving vocabulary, but students will benefit a lot more from something if they are actively watching or reading for new vocabulary. This means that when they come across a word they do not recognise, your child should make a note of it and later look it up in a dictionary. They can improve their chances of retaining it by thinking of synonyms and antonyms and, crucially, writing an example sentence for it, so that they remember how it is used in context.

What films should my child watch?

Not all films will be made equal in how they benefit your child’s 11+ preparation.

A great place to start, if your child is reluctant to read, is with film adaptations of books.

For classic texts especially this can be a fantastic way to introduce your child to the stories, before they tackle any dense and off-putting prose. Once a student has watched and enjoyed a film based on a classic novel they may be far more inclined to pick up the original book and thus benefit from all the wonderful vocabulary they find inside. 

Students who have watched the film of a novel beforehand will often find that they are able to better follow what is happening on the pages – difficult to parse language becomes less of an obstacle as the core of the narrative is already familiar to the child. 

Here are a couple of recommendations from ElevenPlusExams for films based on some great books that your child may beg you to pick up for them after they have finished watching.

Enola Holmes (2020)

Based on The Enola Holmes Mysteries by Nancy Springer, published 2006

The Netflix original follows the story of Enola Holmes as she uses her sleuthing skills to outsmart her brothers, Sherlock and Mycroft, and solve the mystery of her missing mother. This is an exciting adventure story set during the Victorian Era – it includes fantastic upper-level vocabulary and a look into the world of the late 1800s, through the lens of a young girl breaking down the gender restrictions placed upon her. With six books in the original series the film is based off, students who enjoy the film will be kept captivated by Enola’s adventures. This film may even pique a student’s interest in the Sherlock Holmes canon, perfect for 11+ comprehension practice.

Muppet Treasure Island (1996)

Based on Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, published 1882

Available on Disney+, this adaptation of the classic pirate tale transforms the story for younger viewers. When Jim Hawkins inherits a long-lost treasure map he takes to the high seas on the Hispaniola to seek his fortune. This is a great introduction to this classic novel, with humour and music added to make it a fun and entertaining adaptation that will aid students reading the original story in their understanding. For those more interested in a sci-fi twist, Disney’s Treasure Planet (2002) is another exciting adaptation great for younger viewers.

The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)

Based on The Borrowers by Mary Norton, published 1952

No list of children’s films is complete without an animated classic. When a tiny “borrower” named Arrietty makes friends with a young boy many times her size, she must also shield her family from his towering elders who threaten their way of life. This animated film by Studio Ghibli is full of colourful, beautiful visuals that will captivate viewers no matter their age. While this version of Mary Norton’s classic story deviates slightly from the original novel, it transports students into the magical world of the tiny borrowers and will likely spark an interest in reading more about their adventures.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

Based on The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien, published 1937.

The Hobbit follows the epic journey of Bilbo Baggins, a small hobbit from a hole in the ground, who is convinced by a wizard to follow thirteen dwarves on a quest to reclaim the Lonely Mountain from the dragon Smaug. If the grand set-up alone sounds exciting, the movies certainly do not let it down. An Unexpected Journey is followed by two sequels, The Desolation of Smaug (2013) and The Battle of the Five Armies (2014), and together, they act as a prequel to Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, which is based on the books of the same names.

Although The Hobbit  film takes some liberties and extends the original novel, it does make an exciting adventure film to hook younger audiences in. The book that it is based on is an easy, accessible read that still features fantastic new vocabulary for children. The Lord of the Rings book series is more advanced, though this may not deter students once they have already dived into the fantastical, heroic world of Middle Earth.

Mary Poppins (1964)

Based on Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers, published 1934

The original Mary Poppins series consists of eight children’s books written by P. L. Travers. The books centre on the magical English nanny Mary Poppins, who is blown by the East wind to Number 17 Cherry Tree Lane, London, and into the Banks’ household to care for their children. The first Disney musical based on these books, starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, has become an endearing classic, and is a must-see for any child. Set against the backdrop of Edwardian London, this film is full of great contextual vocabulary (supercalifragilisticexpialidocious included!)

The more modern Mary Poppins Returns continues the magic of the original.

Matilda (1996)

Based on Matilda by Roald Dahl, published 1988.

Roald Dahl’s classic book about the precocious but neglected young Matilda Wormwood has inspired several adaptations, including a West End musical (showing at the Cambridge Theatre) and Danny DeVito’s beloved 1996 film. Matilda’s determination to fight against what isn’t right through mischief and bravery, her desire to learn and to read, and the development of her magical powers are all parts of the story that make it a hit with children.

Read, read, read

Hopefully these recommendations inspire some library trips in the near future. Remember that although films can be a great way to inspire a child’s interest in stories and to introduce them to some new, advanced vocabulary, they are no replacement for the many benefits of reading when it comes to 11+ preparation. Use them alongside your other methods for inspiring your child’s interest in improving their vocabulary, and be sure that your child is revisiting all those wonderful new words they are learning.


You can read more tips for improving your child’s vocabulary here!

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