How to Use Short Films as a Resource for Teaching World Languages

I looked to the bottom right-hand corner of my computer screen for the umpteenth time and could almost hear the digital clock ticking. My planning period was almost over and I was still searching for the right resource for my level-four language class. I find myself thinking, "Why is it so hard to find a resource that fits? How will using this video help to further my students’ proficiency in the target language? Will my students enjoy it? Is it worth taking the risk? Wouldn’t it be easier for me to use that same fill-in-the-blank activity that I did last year and let my students work individually?"

We’ve all been there. And yes, it probably would be easier. We know that the current trend of world language education is to create an environment mostly in the target language, while simultaneously fostering student confidence as they grow in their abilities to interpret dialogue and express themselves in the target language. “Use resources,” they say. So, what are resources and how can I use them in my classroom?

What are world language education resources?

A resource, generally speaking, is a model of the target language used to enhance a lesson. In the days of explicit grammar instruction, the majority of these models stemmed from guided activities in a textbook as well as the spoken language provided by a teacher. In order to amplify student proficiency while simultaneously providing opportunities for students to experience language in a real world context, teachers supplement textbook curriculum with authentic resources—a resource that is created by native speakers for native speakers. These resources come in all different shapes, sizes, and proficiency levels: a commercial, a song, an interview, an article, a podcast, and more. And sometimes a great resource doesn’t even have words! Short films fit this bill. A short film is an ideal tool to use in any level language class.

Why use short films for world languages? 

A short film, also known as a short, is defined by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as a "film designed as an original motion picture that has a running time of 40 minutes or less, including all credits." And there are thousands of shorts that have a viewing time of ten minutes or less. These movies are easy to absorb, process, and apply within an entire class period. Many shorts have little to no spoken language produced throughout, which makes the films transferable not only across language levels, but also across languages. Students have the opportunity to digest the short film without getting caught up in the target language. This means that the time it takes to establish meaning for all students is just as long as the time it takes to watch the short. And students are able to react to a film before any language output is required. Short films are known for making a quick, yet profound, emotional connection with the audience. Laughter, tears, discontent, identification, surprise or even just satisfaction are common ways for students to find a personal attachment through a short. Their emotional connection, whatever it may be, is the key to get them using the target language in context.

How do I implement a short film into my language classroom?

Curating a library of resources takes time and dedication, but the Internet is chock full of short films. Head to your favorite search engine and type in a few key phrases that reflect the topic being studied in class, i.e. “short film about food” or "short film in [target language]." If you don’t connect with the short within the first 90 seconds of viewing, skip it and move on (but be sure to view the full short before showing it to your class). The more you enjoy something, the more your students will enjoy it. After you’ve found your short, have fun!

Here’s a list of several ways you can incorporate the short to get students reading, writing, speaking, and listening in the target language: 

  • Write a list of all current and/or past vocabulary words relevant to the short
  • Ask students to tie this to one of the six AP® Themes for World Languages. How can they support their reasoning?
  • Provide (or have students write) true/false statements that narrate the plot 
  • Offer short answer questions to students to demonstrate their comprehension
  • React to various moments throughout the short
  • Watch multiple shorts, comparing one to another
  • Pair students to dialogue as if they were two characters from the short 
  • After viewing, supply screenshot images of the short, prompting students to retell the action
  • Connect a moment in the clip personally to students’ lives through their past or their interests
  • Write the hypothetical next scene or sequel to the short
  • Give recommendations to the characters using the subjunctive
  • Write reviews of the shorts, including the students’ reasoning for their rating 
  • Use the future tense by pausing throughout the short in order to predict what is about to happen
  • Have students place themselves in the shoes of the characters to express what they would do if they were in the film, applying the conditional tense
  • Respond to the cultural elements inherently expressed in each short and compare it to another culture 

Mold the short to fit your needs. Does it have to be perfect? By no means! Just as shorts connect themselves to their audience, using these tools help to build a classroom community where language is experienced together—language in a real world context. 

How else? What are other ways that you can weave a short film together with the target language in order to progress students down the path to proficiency?

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Looking for support for your language class? Learn more about HMH’s World Languages programs.

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