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Film Shorts: A Storied Approach to Literacy Development

By Mary Moen
 | Jul 14, 2017

Film and LiteracyTake film to the next level in your classroom by moving your students beyond comprehension through active viewing, to critical thinking through discussion. Thanks to digital technology, there is a stock of creative independent film shorts from all over the world that can be used support students’ development of multiliteracies.

The resources and examples in this article will provide teachers with turnkey lessons on how to use film shorts as short stories for students to analyze, and discuss. These resources, along with tips on how to use video effectively in the classroom from Common Sense Education, will give you the tools you need to adopt this new approach with confidence.

I learned about the world of children’s independent film through my work on the Media Smart Libraries grant, an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) funded project awarded to the Library School at the University of Rhode Island. The mission of the Providence Children’s Film Festival,  a partner on the grant, is to bring the community together to watch, learn about, and discuss independent and international cinema.  A great resource is the PCFF FilmHub, which includes a directory of films that can searched and filtered by subject area, film type, and age group. PCFF provides film discussion guides for specific films, as well as a generic guide that can be adapted to any film. The film guides give background information about the content and techniques, sample discussion questions, suggested follow-up activities, and lists of book tie-ins.

One film I have used in class is Just Breathe, a documentary about kindergarteners learning how to control their anger. The film guide helps students analyze the film through discussion about the narrative, characters, and setting. Students also learn how film techniques such as close-ups and sound are used to create a message that has an emotional and physical impact on viewers.

Another popular choice is PESfilm, a creator of stop motion animation films. Western Spaghetti is an entertaining way to get students thinking about story line sequencing and procedural writing as well as inference and symbolism. Fresh Guacamole, an Oscar-nominated short, and Human Skateboard, a 30-second commercial, will amaze and inspire your students to create their own stop motion films.

Autumn Leaves is a story about an Iranian girl who stops to play with a leaf while setting off to school. The film warrants several close viewings to give students time to identify details from the text that support their interpretation. This is a great way to introduce or reinforce argument writing skills.

Suzanne Jordan, an elementary school librarian, took film discussion a step further. She was inspired to develop the Francis School Fifth Grade Film Festival to give her students the opportunity to be film critics. She had minimal film background and will vouch that the PCFF FilmHub resources gave her the materials she needed to get started. 

Not all of the films in the PCFF Film Directory are available for free. One solution is to work with school and public librarians to build independent short film collections that support the development of literacy competencies. Another option is to find free educational films on sites such as Global Project Oneness. Help your students actively develop their literacy skills by using film shorts in the classroom. “Enjoy the show” will take on a whole new meaning!

Mary Moen

Mary Moen is an assistant professor and coordinator of the School Library Media Program at the Graduate School of Library Information Studies at the University of Rhode Island.

This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

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