Posts Tagged ‘films’

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Free Documentary Films for the Classroom

posted: 2.10.10 by Traci Gardner

Last year, I shared a site that was full of ready-to-use movie clips that you can use with students. (found via Lifehacker) is a similar site, but it’s full of nonfiction trailers and movies. That’s right. The site has full-length documentary films. All you have to do is download them.

The Technical Details

The site highlights documentaries like Super Size Me and SiCKO on the home page, but it also includes shorter (and likely, less well-known) documentaries. Menus on the right side of the page allow visitors to browse the documentaries by topic or region as well as to look for French or Spanish documentaries, short documentaries, and documentaries with closed captions.

The length of the videos varies. Many are less than an hour long, so they could be played during a class session. Others are longer feature-length films. Since the site and the movies are free, however, you can manage any time management challenges by having students watch movies outside of class as homework.

The site is still being developed, so there are some features missing. There’s an area on the right for tags, but it hasn’t been developed (or at least isn’t working at this point). The movies launch in a new window, so you may need to turn off any pop-up blockers you are running.

The site also requires visitors to figure out some details about the films on their own. The length of the documentaries wasn’t listed anywhere obvious and to find the dates that the films were released, I had to go to the Site Map. Still, with a free collection of documentaries readily available, the disadvantages are things I can live with.

The Pedagogical Details has an explicitly educational goal, as explained on the site’s About Us page:

Our goal is to have everyone that watches a film at learn something; whether it be a new perspective on a topic, simply understanding a conflict, or being more accepting of a certain belief system.

If your goal is to increase students’ awareness on any of a range of specific topics, there are award-winning documentaries on the site to choose from, such as the Academy Award-winning films Born into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids and The Fog of War. You’ll also find documentaries that take up opposing perspectives, which you can use in the classroom to foster debate on a topic. Use the “Films by Topic” menu on the right side of the page to find collections that focus on related issues.

If you’re teaching a piece of literature or an essay, you may find a documentary that provides additional background information on the same topic. Talking about Holocaust literature? Add an episode from the Auschwitz series. Teaching The Things They Carried? Hearts and Minds, Vietnam: The Quiet Mutiny, or The Fog of War could be effective complementary texts. The collection of videos leans toward contemporary issues, so you’re not as likely to find a pairing for a Shakespearean play or the Emily Dickinson poetry. If you’re teaching a text from approximately the 1940s on, however, you may find a suitable documentary to supplement class readings.

If you’re teaching nonfiction composition, there are additional ways to use the materials on the site. The documentaries can serve as models for multimodal compositions and as examples of visual rhetoric for class analysis. Most of the documentaries are obviously persuasive (if not propagandistic), so there are opportunities to talk about persuasive techniques, argumentative fallacies, and the rhetoric of argument. As you discuss advertising techniques, for instance, you might show PBS Frontline: Merchants of Cool, which explores how corporations market products to teen consumers.

A Few Comments

  • Be sure the documentaries you choose are appropriate for the classroom, and provide any warnings or disclaimers to the class before showing the film. There is no censorship in the documentaries. Some of the films display raw images of situations that may upset students, including violent and graphic images. Many deal with tough subjects that may lead to controversial discussions. Always preview the entire documentary before you use it. That’s the best way to ensure that the film will fit with the students and local community where you teach.
  • Note the “donate” links. All the documentaries are available for free. You don’t need to donate anything to view the films. If students are confused by the “donate” links, spend a few seconds explaining why they are there and let students know that they do not need to click on them.

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Categories: Discussion, Visual Argument, Visual Rhetoric
Read All Traci Gardner

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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, 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.

Comments Off on Show Movie Clips to Teach Writing
Categories: Assignment Idea, Literature
Read All Traci Gardner