Why Teachers Are Teaching Theme Using Short Films
Teaching theme using short films is an engaging, entertaining way to grab and hold students’ attention. Once you have students’ attention it makes it much easier to teach a lesson. I use film to teach students about theme. I have a list of 6 short film favorites, and six common themes that go with the films that you can easily pick up and replicate in your own classroom for just about any novel.
Theme and Short Film
Teaching Theme Using Short Films: Watch, “Snack Attack” and View Perception
“Snack Attack“, which is featured in the image above is about a short film that I link to perception, or point-of-view. In other words, “Walking in Another Man’s Shoes”-Atticus Finch. This is a crucial theme and can be used in almost all novel reads. In this particular video, this elderly woman attempts to grab a snack from a vending machine. The snack gets stuck (as has happened to us all) and because she is so hungry she runs at it, knocking the snack down and successfully places it in her purse. She goes to the bus stop where she sits next to a “deviant” young teenager (as featured in the image above), and she begins to eat her snack. He grabs the cookies from the bench and before she can say anything he pops one into his mouth. Naturally she is angered and the two go-back-and-forth pulling the cookies. In the end he hands her the last cookie which she crumbles in her fist to express her disdain for him. She boards the bus and looks out the window at the deviant teen. It is at this point that the woman notices her cookies are still in her purse and it was his cookies she was fighting over all along. She is suddenly humbled, especially as he waves to her, puts the dirty wrapper in the trash can and rides off on his skateboard. There is a shift in her perception about this young teen. We have all been there! It’s important to talk to students about pre-judging, or judging in general until we have “walked in another man’s shoes“, as learned from Atticus Finch from “To Kill a Mockingbird”, by Harper Lee To Kill a Mockingbird Lesson. Teaching theme using short films can help students learn about empathy.
Adversity and “The Present“
Teaching theme using short films can teach students about adversity. Adversity isn’t always easy to teach in the classroom because many students haven’t built up a strong sense for what it means to be compassionate yet. They tend to be a bit self-involved in the teenage years so you need to relate to them at their level using their interests. If I teach a book like Harper Lee’s, “To Kill a Mockingbird” they may say, “hey, yea that sucks” when Tom Robinson is unjustifiably found guilty but they quickly forget about it, or they can’t actually relate to how that might feel.
The video that I show to teach students about adversity is called, “The Present“. In the short film “The Present“, it opens with a young boy playing video games. He is crabby and when his mom comes in the room to offer him a present, he grumbles. He opens the box, and in it he finds a puppy missing a leg. He gets angry, throws the puppy, and goes back to playing video games. The puppy, despite having just been tossed, remains happy and begins struggling to run around the room, playfully entertaining himself, and staying positive despite the fact that he is missing a leg. The boy who is distracted by video games eventually becomes curious about the dog’s behavior. With the boy’s mood enlightened, he grabs a ball and heads for the door with the puppy. It is at this point that we see that the boy himself is missing a leg. He heads out the door and the two of them together play fetch. It is an adorable, heart-warming film that students find easy to relate to. They understand animals, video games, and can imagine what it may be like to lose the use of one of their limbs. Teaching theme using short films is a great way to teach students compassion.
“Romper Paradigm” and Social Outcasts
“Romper Paradigm” is a short film that complements multiple movies, novels, science fiction we view in today’s world. One that comes to mind that matches the theme for this short film is “The Giver“. It is a film about an alien planet where everyone is exactly the same. Adults and children look the same. All aliens participate in the same activities and have the same day at school and similar experiences at home. In this film the young alien boy “colors outside the lines”. He is not satisfied with the menial playground business. He wants to zip around and needs more to be stimulated than being mildly pushed up-and-down on a swing. Others begin to notice and are alarmed by his differences. He is then given drugs at the direction of the “elders” as is the case in so many books, movies, and for a bit this works. The medication wears off or for some reason stops working for him and he comes back as a child in a tornado running to and fro across the playground.
It is at this point that the parents and everyone say goodbye to him. He is placed in a capsule-like, deportation device and sent to the planet earth. Students relate to this video because they always have to conform to the norms of society beginning at home, and in the classroom. They also understand that if they do not “fit in” or “belong”, they will become a social outcast. Social outcasts is the second theme I teach in the classroom. If we are to use the example from, “To Kill a Mockingbird” again, it would be the Ewells who are social outcasts. We see how they are treated by the townspeople, and we see the lengths the Ewells go to-in order to “fit in” or deny that Mayella Ewell made a pass at a African American man. Even the Ewells think there is a line to be drawn during this contentious time-period of vicious racism in the South. Teaching theme using short films can teach students the importance of not bullying or social out-casting.
Teaching Theme Using Short Films: “Scarlett” and Belonging
Belonging is a big part of a students’ lives. Most spend all of their time simply trying to “fit in” or find their place in the world (which tends to be confined within the walls of the school). Many students will even sacrifice their values, or personal interests for the opportunity to fit in with the “cool crowd”. For this reason we talk about belonging, or not belonging (as listed in the prior example) multiple times in a year. Not belonging can also tie into other critical topics such as bullying etc.
In the short film “Scarlett”, we learn about a young girl who has also lost a leg. She wants nothing more than to take and perform ballet. She is teased at school, starred at outside of class, and treated different than others. She gets a prosthetic limb and begins to practice ballet. Eventually she is able to perform ballet, and is accepted into society. It may seem a bit backwards in that she isn’t accepted until she is more exceptional but the real message is at the end when she sees a boy crying on a park bench, who we can only assume does not fit in either. Because of Scarlett’s adversities, she goes up to the boy, puts her arm around him, and they are now friends. The message is that people’s adversities can lead them to become more compassionate people. There are many sufferers in all walks of life. Teaching theme using short films can help further teach students how to empathize with others.
Teaching Theme Using Short Films: “Alike” and Family Heritage
“Alike” is a short film that includes a father-son relationship. Similar in theme to “Romper Paradigm” this short film is about a young boy who is much different in personality from his father. He is experiencing the pressures from his father to be something that he is not. The father has a desk job that he goes to everyday to file papers, and the son and father walk home and carry out the same routine every night. The young boy doesn’t want to grow up to file papers, which is his father’s expectation. He wants to become a violinist. The father thinking he is doing the right thing continues to break down the spirit of the young boy, who finally conforms and turns depressed. Upon the realization of what the father has done, he reverses his idea of what the son should do and buys his son a violin. The boy becomes alive, and passionate again about life and the future. The theme I pair with this film is how family heritage shapes who we are as people and the harmful consequences of such ideals. Teaching theme using short films can help support students who may not be getting support from home.
Teaching Theme Using Short Films: “The Right Way” and Adults as Hypocrites
This is a film that would make any adult chuckle. It is the reason many adults do not share all of their mistakes and history of their past with their children. Here is a mom who cooks her daughter broccoli, forces her daughter to play the violin, teaches her to put her clothes away, brush her teeth, not watch television etc. The child is unhappy and gets up one night to find her mom, in a “woman cave” or in an attic where she is eating junk food, watching T.V., rocking out to music, and the best part is the Justin Bieber poster hanging behind her on the back wall. The room is a mess, and the child is shocked when she sees this different side of her mom. If you are a parent, you can probably relate to this. I know I can. We all want the best for our kids but sometimes our high expectations cloud our judgment. If you haven’t figured it out yet, this theme is a “do as I say, not as I do” or simply stated being a hypocrite. For Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”, I use it as a lesson on the theme “adults as hypocrites“.
“How Do Short Films Help Students?” Because film is engaging, fun, and it works! Use the following films to pair with the following themes: “Snack Attack” to cover perception, “The Present” to cover adversity, “Alike” to cover family heritage, “Romper Paradigm” to cover social outcasts, “Scarlett” to cover belonging, and “The Right Way” to cover adults as hypocrites.
I would love to hear how you use short films in the classroom. Please leave in the comments below!
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