Short Films in Language Teaching

Engelbert Thaler

Narr Francke Attempto Verlag Tübingen



1 Didactic Reasons and Directions of Working with (Short) Films

See filmography at the end of the article.

The same question would apply to poetry and short fiction, which in our classrooms enjoy a presence completely out of proportion with their presence in literary culture.

Innertextual Aspects

To distinguish between the visual, the auditive, and the narrative is quite common in film analysis. See for example Hickethier (2007: 37160) or Frederking/Krommer/Maiwald (2012: 177186).

Useful online resources for film analysis in English are, for example, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (Ed.), Liebelt (2003), and Universität Wien (Ed.).


Blanche DuBois (played by Vivian Leigh) seeks refuge at her younger sister’s in New Orleans. She still acts the refined and delicate Southern belle when in fact her life is a shambles: The family plantation is lost; her marriage has failed; she had to quit her teaching job because of an affair with a student; she has a serious alcohol problem; she is broke and has nowhere to go. In the course of events she gets raped by her brutal brother-in-law Stanley Kowalski, and a last potential suitor turns away when he learns about her past. (26.10.2016)


Apart from Glenn Close in FATAL ATTRACTION, see for example Marilyn Monroe in THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH (1955) or, on the darker side, Elizabeth Taylor in A PLACE IN THE SUN (1951) and Jessica Lange in THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1981).

3 Conclusion: Film Analysis and (Language) Tasks

Does the title merely refer to the woman’s literal goose bumps? Or to the man’s invisible/metaphorical ones? Or do we get goose bumps from watching this film?

The endings should of course not flow from unbound »creativity« but be consistent with the characters and the story.

Afrofuturist Interventions into the Postcolonial: Wanuri Kahiu’s Pumzi

In Kikuyu ›Maitũ‹ means ›mother‹ in reference to one’s own mother.

2 From Science Fiction to Afrofuturism and Back

Transcriptions AM.

The TEDx event, themed »Stories by the Campfire,« was organized by Joshua Wanyama and took place in Nairobi on 14 July 2012. See


2 Viral Videos: Shorts Go Viral …

The well-known Tupperware parties are said to be among the oldest original viral models as well (see Penenberg 2010: 23).

’Astroturfing’ means to use »multiple accounts to create what looks like grassroots ›buzz‹ about a video in the hope of bringing it to the attention of others on the Web« (Leopold 2009). ›Hooking‹ means to possibly predict (and imply) a key signifier since it is said that the video’s longevity is connected with a hook that provokes the viewer to watch it (see Burgess 2008: 101109).

The Wikipedia entry (Download 2016-09-22) gives a first summary on »Categories by subject«, which is helpful here since academic sources are rare.

3 Obama’s ›Yes, We Can‹ (2008) Went Viral …

Although the slogan was originally coined by the United Farm Workers unionists César Chávez and Dolores Huerta in 1972 (United Farm Workers;

Obama himself has always been convinced that real change comes from the bottom up. »And there’s no more powerful tool for grassroots organizing than the Internet« (Penenberg 2010: 14).

4 Viral Videos: Methodological Aspects

In his book Der Fremdsprachenunterricht als Spiel der Texte und Kulturen (2002), Hallet discusses the phenomena of intertextuality and intermediality and their value for teaching and learning.

’Literacy’ is used synonymously with ›competence‹ in this paper.

Sub-task Three: Concept / Storyboard Stage / Filming and Editing / Presentation

Smart, Eric J. (2016) ›Come to Garbsen‹ (YouTube)

Dumb Ways to Die – a Morbid But Fun Way to Learn with a Shorty

If you are in need of further information, the Wikipedia entry is highly revealing and illuminating alike: (as retrieved on Oct 2nd 2016)

1 Where to Find the Shorty and the Legal Implications of its Use

The little characters appear rather human despite their amorphous features. Henceforth they will be treated as persons.

2 The Content of the Clip Explained

own tapescript

3 Why This Particular Short Clip? Didactic Reflections Beforehand

see Thaler, Engelbert (2012): Englisch unterrichten. Berlin: Cornelsen. 68. Several criteria for picking a suitable audio-visual format are explained in a very concise manner here. Another more comprehensive list of criteria, especially for short movie formats, is available in the following publication: Thaler, Engelbert (2014): Teaching English with Films. Parderborn: Schöningh, 78 ff.

For further information, see for example the Fachprofil Englisch of Bavarian grammar schools as to be seen on (October 6th 2016); or check the respective syllabi for each age tier on the same webpage, where audio-visual »texts« are mentioned repeatedly as an authentic source to be used to instigate learning processes and to foster the development of communicative competence.

If-clauses in Practice

All teacher-pupil dialogues, of course, are just idealised versions of possible classroom discourse meant to illustrate possible forms of prompting, elicitation and progression.

5 Dying – Not a Laughing Matter: Reflections Beyond Language

see, for example, Surkamp, Carola (2004): Teaching Films: Von der Filmanalyse zu handlungs- und prozessorientierten Formen der filmischen Textarbeit. In: Der fremdsprachliche Unterricht Englisch 68, 7.



Why is a short film a perfect medium for teaching English as a foreign language? The simple though tautological answer is … because it is short, and it is a film. »If it moves, they will watch it« (Andy Warhol).

Looking back at the history of film, one realizes that the very first films shown to the public in 1894 were very short films presenting celebrities, current affairs and everyday life scenes. With the advent of feature-length films, due to recording and editing advances, commercial cinema gradually discarded short films. Yet technological progress in the fields of digital video, mobile devices, editing tools, and video sharing websites, has led to a renaissance of the short film (Donaghy 2015: 24). The internet turns out to match producers and consumers of short films in a marvellous way: The first can post their films online with no expenditure and reach millions of viewers; the latter can indulge in short bursts of entertainment anywhere and anytime.

This omnipresence should not exclude the classroom. Donaghy (2015: 24f.) propounds several convincing arguments for exploiting the ascent of the short film in TEFL. Short films …

For all these reasons, this book is dedicated to the use of short films in TEFL. As all edited volumes in the SELT (Studies in English Language Teaching) series, it follows a triple aim:

  1. Linking TEFL with related academic disciplines

  2. Balancing TEFL research and classroom practice

  3. Combining theory, methodology and exemplary lessons

This triple aim is reflected in the three-part structure of this volume. In Part A (Theory), the topic of short films is investigated from the perspectives of three academic disciplines, i.e. from the viewpoints of TEFL, film studies and cultural studies. Part B (Methodology) assembles five contributions on selected films, media and techniques. Eight concrete lesson plans can be found in Part C (Classroom). These lessons were designed by lecturer (editor) and students in university courses, then conducted and assessed by teachers at German schools, and finally revised by the editor. Each of these eight chapters is divided into genre (brief background information on the film type), procedure (source, synopsis, competences, topics, level, time, phases of the lesson), materials (texts, worksheets, board sketches), solutions (expected answers), and bibliography.

Part A is introduced by the TEFL perspective. Engelbert Thaler attempts to answer what is meant by short films, why they should be used in the TEFL classroom, where teachers can find suitable material, what subgenres can be distinguished, what criteria of selection may be applied, what objectives can be determined, and how short films can actually be exploited in language classes. The theoretical argumentation is supported by the description and analysis of several film examples.

The perspective of film studies is adopted by Klaus Maiwald. First he outlines didactic reasons and directions of working with (short) films. Then he takes a closer look at the innertextual and intertextual qualities of a particular short film (Goose Bumps / Gänsehaut), showing how the language of film, its formal means and aesthetic techniques, is integral to language learning with film. He concludes by claiming that while film analysis is no end in itself, it is required in defining and fulfilling language oriented tasks.

Annika McPherson adopts the perspective of cultural studies. She analyzes the award-winning 2009 short film Pumzi (›Breath‹ in Swahili). Building upon different readings of the film, her contribution highlights the film’s Afrofuturist dimension. It draws on cultural studies and postcolonial studies frameworks in order to show how broader questions of agency surrounding cultural power and cultural politics can be addressed through the analysis and discussion of Pumzi in educational contexts.

Part B is introduced by Gabriele Blell. She treats the teaching potential of viral videos in school on a theoretical, a methodological and a practical level. The outstanding Yes, We Can by Will.I.Am (2008) is used as an illustration, and a possible teaching scenario initiated by a complex task is offered.

Christiane Lütge recommends short animation films. She explores the potential of this genre, suggests a list of »must-see / teach« films, and encourages teachers to have learners produce their own animated videos.

Matthias Hutz exposes his learners to real-life language and interaction through shorties. After examining the difficulties of authentic language, he proposes several ideas how students can cope with authenticity.

Christoph Werth uses the children’s Schadenfreude to instigate learning processes concerning vocabulary and grammar as well as to make them reflect their attitudes towards a topic as serious as death and dying. However, he adopts a humorous approach to this topic by working with the short movie Dumb Ways to Die.

Genia Markova and Jana Pessozki recommend the short silent animation film Father and Daughter, which tells a very special story of a loss. Artful and elaborate, using only music and pictures to convey the message, this wonderful film can promote visual comprehension, writing and film analysis.

Part C comprises eight contributions, which demonstrate how certain subgenres of short films can be employed in the English language classroom:

In short, short films can be wonderful media for TEFL classrooms. Due to »their accessibility, brevity, innovation and creativity, short films are the perfect vehicle for using moving images in the language learning classroom – and for promoting both oral and written communication« (Donaghy 2015: 25). And the importance of short films is likely to rise as newer, simpler and cheaper forms of creating, distributing and viewing short films are about to develop.

A. Theory