How to stay out of the rut when working on a lonnnnnng film.

When I use a film with students, I usually go through it scene by scene, taking as long as it takes if my students are really engaged. So I’m always looking for ways to vary the treatment of the scenes, so that watching the film does not become too predictable. A scene with a lot of dialog can become a Very Narrow Listening as I have described in another post. When there is a lot of action in the scene it can become a Movie Talk. In the Lord of the Rings there is a scene called the Council of Elrond which includes a lot of close-ups of characters who are not speaking. After we have read and understood the subtitles, I like to go through the scene again, pausing on each close-up of a silent character and ask, “What is he thinking?” This leads to a lot of good discussion and a better understanding of some of the unspoken motives of the characters.

Another way of exploiting scenes is something like Popcorn Reading. I assign a student to each character. When the target language subtitle appears, the student reads what is written and the next student translates it. Then he reads what his own character says. Thus they are engaged in what is happening and engaged in understanding the dialog. I found the students enjoyed this much more than simply translating the subtitles. They seemed to identify with their character and have a better feeling for the humor and emotions involved.

A scene from a film can also be adapted as Reader’s Theater. We can hand out copies of the dialog, then ask students to add stage directions and emotions. It’s especially interesting to ask them to explain gestures and looks that a good actor uses to give depth to his performance. If your students are shy, it isn’t really necessary to act out the scene. Just preparing appropriate stage directions can be an interesting task in itself.

These are just a few of the ways we can make working with a film a compelling source of comprehensible input for our students. I’m sure many of my readers have other techniques, which I would love to hear about.

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