General Film Activities
Modern Language teachers have a long-standing reputation for being at the forefront of technical innovation in teaching methods. This fact notwithstanding, we recognise that many may feel daunted by film education.
Though there are a wide variety of easily accessible film education materials within the 'Moving Image Education' and 'Activities' areas of this site, teachers should also be aware that there are many activities that require no specialist knowledge of film language or filmmaking.
Film appreciation exercises are about watching again, understanding and talking about how screen narratives are put together and what they mean. The good thing about this process of learning to read and discuss a film is that there is no right and wrong answer, but rather a discussion of what is seen and heard and what seems to work and why.
Talking about all these areas will help your class analyse and understand what they have watched (without it seeming like hard work). It will also help them learn how to design narratives of their own.
The typical activities we recommend to Modern Language teachers, who are new to film education, are as follows:
Hold a class discussion around a topic relevant to the film.
Prepare them for viewing by providing key vocabulary from or about the film.
Sound On/Vision Off involves playing the film, or part of the film, without showing the picture, so that only the sound can be heard. Ask the class to write down everything they hear, in the order they hear it.
Having listened to the film then ask them to suggest answers in the language of your choice, make a list on the whiteboard that records each sound in turn. Ask them to be specific about the sound. For instance, if someone were to say, “There’s the sound of a car,” ask how he or she knows it is a car, and let them explain their deduction.
Having noted down all the sounds, ask them to suggest: 1) what might be happening, 2) whom the film is about, 3) what genre of film they are going to see, 4) whether it is a drama or comedy, and 5) whether it is live action or animation. Once again, ask what makes them think so.
Ask the class to make predictions about the film based first on the title of the film, then having seen the credit sequence, and thirdly having viewed the opening sequence. Once again, you will want them to predict: 1) what is happening, 2) who the film is about, 3) what genre of film they are going to see, 4) whether it is a drama or comedy, 5) whether it is live action or animation. And, once again, ask what makes them think so.
Viewing and analysing activities
When watching short films you will often find that there is a big twist at some point in the film. Stop the film just before the consequences of the twist are revealed and ask the class what they think will happen next. Their curiosity and engagement will be such that there are sure to engage in lively debate. **(N.B. In the suggested activities beneath each film record, the teachers who produced these resources have often suggested where the best points to stop the film are.)*
'Tell Me' Grid Analysis
Having watched the film once or twice, do not ask the class what they thought immediately, but instead carry out a group grid analysis of the text. No specialist knowledge of film is required to complete this, but you will find that the process will make the class think much more deeply about the content of the film and help engage them in subsequent activities.
Discussing the film
The grid analysis is likely to lead to a lively discussion about the true meaning of the short film and the intentions of the filmmaker. It will also reveal to all what is uncertain or ambiguous about any aspect of the narrative in terms of back-stories, character motivation, how people outside the action might view the same event, and what is likely to happen next. This in turn will suggest a wide variety of follow-up and cross-curricular activities.
Post-viewing and Cross-curricular Activities
As you would expect, follow-up activities are often dependent on the film and what the particular class decided was most interesting. It therefore helps to be flexible about what you ask them to do at this stage. Typical follow-up activities that do not require any specialist knowledge of the language of film or the use of editing software might include:
- Writing about characters and back-stories, or writing sequels or similar stories featuring different characters
- Writing or filming a newspaper or TV report of the incident
- Debating issues raised in the film or connected to the subject matter of the film
- Adapting or summarising the film narrative as a story, comic or graphic novella
- Developing games or role-play similar to incidents or situations featured in the film, e.g. job interviews, making a phone call, or a chance meeting
- Acting out scenes from the film in the language you are studying
- Researching cultural similarities and differences that are highlighted in the film.
- Extended activities developed from topics featured in the film or subsequent class discussion, e.g. organising an Argentinean dance competition, a Mexican festival or a German birthday party.
These activities should be carried out in a modern language wherever appropriate.