Using Short Films to Analyze Author’s Choices and Intent

Susan Turley is exploring “non-verbal narrative” with her Honors Thematic Studies 12 class as an extension to her narrative unit, and in preparation for this, I presented a lesson with her to students using short, non-verbal films to analyze the author/artist’s choices and their contribution to building the theme, tone and plot development of the video.

For the lesson, our learning targets were as follows:

  • I can identify and analyze non-verbal cues that can contribute to tone, theme and plot development in a narrative.
  • I can plan a narrative that uses non-verbal elements to develop a tone, theme and plot.

Although we used short films instead of text sources, students still practiced the following skills referenced in CCS: using evidence to draw inferences, examining central themes and analyzing author’s choices in structure.  In addition, the students built these skills through a collaborative discussion that addressed speaking and listening standards.  Ultimately, practicing these skills with a variety of mediums will help students to make connections when working with texts.

For the lesson, I gave students a graphic organizer to record their observations as they watched the short films.  They had to examine multiple elements including use of color, sound, and plot structure among other things (see bottom of the post for a resource to use with students).  As we watched the narratives, I paused every few minutes to allow them to record observations before moving forward.

At the end of each film, students recorded what they noted about narrative structure, topic, tone and theme.  Then, we discussed the author’s choices and how they contributed to the theme and tone intended.  This built to a graphic organizer (also attached at the end of the post) that asked students to plan how they would use color, sound and plot structure in their own non-verbal narrative to develop the tone and theme they wanted to portray in their own work.

Students engaged in a rich conversation about the use of non-verbal cues to build author’s intent.  This was especially impressive considering the films used.  While the first one, Post-It Note Love Story, was fairly traditional in theme and content, the second film by Miwa Matreyek was very abstract and challenged the conventions of narrative format.

Here is the first video we showed called “Post-It Love”:

Here is the second video we showed by Miwa Matreyek:

Here are the resources that we used during the lesson:

Also, this website (previously mentioned in my Feedly post) is an awesome resource called Film English for using short films in an English classroom.  Kieran Donovan provides lessons and curated videos.

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