Using short films in the English classroom

As I have stated in earlier posts, I enjoy using short films in my class.  There are many wonderful ones available online and they are less than 30 minutes long, often much shorter.  I use them for multiple purposes, sometimes as a writing exercise in the form of response writing; sometimes as a discussion starter and sometimes for deconstruction to illustrate technique or key concepts.

New Boy is an engaging film based on a short story by Roddy Doyle.  It won an award at the Tribeca Festival and it was nominated for an Academy Award in 2009.

1.  The way a film establishes narrative can be illustrated through the opening minutes of this film.  We are quickly introduced to the main characters, the setting and the conflict.  Examining how the filmmaker achieves this is a way to examine techniques like shots etc.

2.  We are required to make a lot of inferences in the film.  Getting the students to explain their inferences is a way to expose their thinking for their peers.  This also leads to a discussion about film codes and conventions which are connected to the inferences.

3.  The film has stereotypes and stock or archetypal characters.  Hazel, the know-it-all; Christian, the class bad boy; Seth, the underachiever; and Joseph, the outsider.  Even the plot could be considered archetypal: an outsider is bullied but is accepted when he joins forces with the bully.

4.  I recently had my grade 10 students watch the film and write a response with little direction.  We had had no discussion about the film so they were applying their own thinking.  Most of them concentrated their discussion on the racism which is present but not really the focus of the film.  One student felt that the ending was foolish because racism isn’t overcome that easily. I think the film is actually about acceptance and power struggles.  The children become friends when they join forces to mock the teacher and Hazel.  This reaction suggests that I needed to examine the film a bit with them if I wanted them to arrive at my interpretation but perhaps that shouldn’t be my goal anyway.

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3 Responses to Using short films in the English classroom

  1. Hello – using the short movie New Boy in my English class as well – any lesson plan for the steps you provided online? I am reading the short story as well.
    Yours – Filip

    • I guess it’s a matter of what you want to achieve. I used the film as an example of visual storytelling and how films establish narrative. It would be interesting to do a comparison between how a writer develops the narrative and how a film does. I haven’t read the short story so I can’t comment on the specific differences but I wouldn’t want a straight comparison chart unless you were teaching visual clues etc. My inclination would be to watch the film first and not the other way around. You could have them storyboard the film after they have watched it more than once then read the story. What I wrote in the blog was the closest I got to a lesson plan since my goal was media study. Thanks for the question.

  2. Dany Mundt says:

    I just stubled over your Blog and this teaching suggestion really help me prepare my lesson for my 10th graders (EFL). Right now I’m trying to find the short story online but couldn’t get my hands on it. Did you find it online? This would really help me!

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