5 super cool films your ELA students will love

I love using short films in my classroom. I bet you already have a collection that you use again and again. Well, me too. I use short films for a bunch of different reasons: to introduce a new idea, or explain something we all found complicated. Sometimes to inspire discussion and debate, or to get stuck into some creative writing.  Short films are fabulous for both literature and writing.

So, here are my top 5 favorite films for high school ELA.  I've split them so you have: 2 for teaching literature, 2 for teaching writing, and 1 for debate. Enjoy!

The Tiger Who Came to Tea - introducing critical theory (literature)

I love using this short reading of the children's classic for my older literature classes. The first question I ask is "what does this text tell us about society?". 

At this point, I introduce critical theory. Gender and feminist theory and also Marxist theory.  *Warning* - this discussion does result in some criticism of Kerr's text. It's great to consider the narratives that shape our understanding of the world as children, but it's not always a comfortable discussion.
  • What does this text show about men, about women, about children?
  • What does this text show about work and social class?
  • What is the relevance of the tiger arriving and eating all the food?
  • Why a tiger?
  • What groups in society might the tiger represent?
At this point, I might draw a comparison between this text and invading forces: the Nazis in Poland, Kerr has spoken of this, and others in history.  The discussion is often lively.

An interesting counterpoint to this story is the another children's story - Where the Wild Things Are. Here we develop our discussion to include colonization.

Copy Shop - introducing concepts in literature (literature)

Copy Shop is an unusual silent film by Virgil Widrich, 2001. It received an Oscar nomination for a short action film.

The film is 12 minutes long and 'tells' the story of a man who accidentally photocopies himself until 'he' takes over his town.

I often begin this lesson by asking students to mind-map all of their thoughts on the topics of: identity, gender, relationships, reality, and society. After watching the film, sometimes twice, I ask students to add ideas to their mind-maps based on the film.  For identity and society - we discuss how we are shaped as people, how society shapes us into a particular mould. For gender and relationships - students often notice that the single female is replaced by the male, that the relationships show companionship, then threat. For reality - we discuss to what extent we can trust our senses, what we see.

The final step is to debate some of the big ideas in literature:
  • Our individual understanding of reality cannot be trusted
  • Masculinity and femininity are entirely constructed by society
  • Society is at its roots chaotic and disordered
  • Technology controls humanity
  • Capitalism and consumerism has made humanity self-destructive
I could go on!

Picture Perfect - the Jubilee Project (writing)

I use this short and sad story for a variety of different reasons with my classes: writing flashbacks, relationships, realistic dialogue, incidents, and memory writing.

It's a poignant tale and dedicated to survivors of Leukaemia, a sensitive one to use with classes but often generates excellent sympathetic debate and great emotionally intelligent writing.

Lock Up - by BloodyCuts (Writing)

*Warning* - this short film is the epitome of suspense and then a moment of terror. Your class will scream. Please, please, please watch through till the very end before you decide to use it!

Ok, you survived!  Here's how I use this film: to build tension, to create a character who has no idea what is about to happen next.  This short film is fantastic for writing a realistic moment of suspense - rather than one that is filled of creaky stairs and slamming doors. Write a character who has literally no idea what is about to happen to them!

You need to be speedy with the pause button here.  I watch with kids the bit up until the man collects his keys and write this as a narrative.  Then we pause / write until the very end.  As the students haven't seen the whole thing - when you first see the figure - they are shocked, their character can be shocked.
It's great for writing genuine expressions of a character's experience of cluelessness to horror.

Fireflies - the Jubilee Project (debate)

Another one from the guys at the Jubilee Project, I do love them, and to be honest you could use any of their films effectively in the classroom.

But Fireflies is something special.

I pose a bunch of questions when using this film, sometimes before, sometimes after, sometimes both!
  • What is friendship?
  • What is normal?
  • How can we truly know one another?
  • Can we know ourselves?
  • Does everyone have to be the same?
  • Why are children more accepting?
  • Can society change?
  • Do we need to let children teach adults how to behave?
That's it! My top-5 favorite short films to use in the classroom.  I really hope you have found something new or interesting to try out with your classes.
If you're curious to see how I teach writing, please have a quick look here!


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