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Show Movie Clips to Teach Writing

posted: 12.18.09 by Traci Gardner

The MovieClips site, shared by Teresa Ilgunas on the English Companion Ning Group at Diigo.com, has the potential to change the way you use movies in the writing classroom.

MovieClips is what I’d call mini-lesson ready, whether you’re teaching literature, creative writing, or expository writing. The site hosts a collection of over 12,000 movie clips, which are “completely searchable by actor, title, genre, occasion, action, mood, character, theme, setting, prop, and even dialogue.”

The Technical Details

You can browse the site easily and combine the different search types to find an appropriate clip for your class. For instance, you might look for movies that combine a specific theme and mood, clips that focus on a particular actor and action, or films that have the right combination of setting and prop. Let me share an example.

  • Since it’s December, I’ve decided to start with clips from the film It’s a Wonderful Life. MovieClips has eight tagged clips from the movie.
  • I can click on any of the categories in the “browse by” section to narrow down the clips by actor, action, mood, character, theme, setting, and prop.
  • I choose theme and click on disillusionment. Now I have two clips from It’s a Wonderful Life to use in the classroom: “Angel Second Class” and “A Great Gift.”
  • I can show the clips to the class with an LCD projector as well as ask students to view (or review) the clips outside of class. If I’m in a computer classroom with headphones, students could view the clips at their desks as well. I can even embed the clip on my course site by copying and pasting ready-made code. Here’s the “Angel Second Class” clip as an example:

That’s all there is to it. Your computer will need to have the latest version of Flash Player, but generally speaking, if you have watched YouTube videos, you have everything you need to watch MovieClips.

The Pedagogical Details

The folks at MovieClips put together an Intro video (at the top of their homepage) that demonstrates how they imagine the site being used to track down clips on the fly, as they come up in conversation. In the classroom, we could use the site in the ways explained in the Intro, but we can do so much more.

The film clips are like any text you might use in the classroom. Anything you can do with a model essay, novel, or poem, you can try with a film clip. The clips are especially well-suited for mini-lessons on strategies like using dialogue or establishing a setting. Further, they are plenty of opportunities for analysis and comparison. Here are some specific ideas:

  • There are a handful of clips from films based on literature, such as Henry V, Dracula, Frankenstein, and Of Mice and Men. If you’re teaching literature, you can use the clips to highlight scenes for class discussion and explore the difference between the movie and the play or novel.
  • If you’re talking about setting or place description, use the “browse by: setting” option to choose clips that focus on specific places. There are 12 clips focusing on bowling alleys, for instance, and for vampire lovers, there are 7 clips featuring Transylvania. Show several clips focused on a specific place and ask students to identify the features in the clip that tell viewers where the story takes place. Sort details into categories (e.g., specific props in the scenes, landscape features) and ask students to read through other texts (their own or literary) looking for similar details that indicate the place where events occur.
  • Choose clips that focus on mood, character, or theme, and ask students to compare their presentation to other texts they are reading or exploring. Take the category of character. MovieClips has segments that focus on heroes and anti-heroes, different professions, and family members—mother, father, in-laws, sisters, etc. There are good guys, bad guys, cowards, and cowboys. Any discussion of stereotypes and characterization could benefit from exploring related clips.

A Few Comments

  • Be sure the movie clips you choose are appropriate for the classroom. There is no censorship in the clips, and you may find that some are a bit more raw than others. Always preview the entire clip and be sure that you know a bit about the movie the clip comes from before you use it. That’s the best way to ensure that the clip will fit with the students and local community where you teach.
  • Note the “buy” links. The good folks at MovieClips need to pay the bills, so you’ll find links to buy the related films that the clips come from. You don’t need to buy the movies to view the clips, however. If students are confused by the “buy” links, spend a few seconds explaining why they are there and letting students know that they do not need to click on them.

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Literature
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