Why do I love using them?
Show a short film and students are engaged! Visual learners and students who typically struggle with reading comprehension, including English language learners (ELLs), have greater success practicing comprehension skills with shorts. Most shorts do not have dialogue, they're all action. My students, regardless of their level of language proficiency, "get" the lesson more easily because the shorts are visual.
Where can you find short films?
My go to place to find great shorts is YouTube. Be careful to always view films before showing them in class. You don't want any unexpected surprises! Also, sometimes there is an advertisement to get through at the beginning, so I always set it up beforehand, that way it's all ready to go for the lesson.
Which reading skills can be taught using shorts?
Just about ANY reading skill can be taught with shorts: making connections, asking questions, sequencing, predictions, drawing conclusions, plot, character development, theme, and this list goes on and on!
Learning what the skills looks like visually, and practicing with a media kids are already familiar with, is an effective first step in students applying the skills to their reading.
One of my absolute favorite lessons to teach is "theme." Last year, my fifth graders were having trouble grasping the concept, so I searched for a good short film to visually "show" them theme, and I found the perfect one!
I describe theme as the heart of the story. I then share common themes found in stories, such as, perseverance, family, friendship, hope, honesty, self determination, courage, etc. For this lesson, my students watched the film twice. The first time was simply to enjoy the story. After their first viewing, I asked them to share what they noticed about the film. Then I asked, "What do you think the message or big idea was in this film?" They shared lots of thoughts, and I noted the common ideas the group came up, which were love and hope. Then I showed the film again. This time I set the purpose to look for symbols of love, and evidence of hope. After the second viewing they shared many of the symbols of love, and they noticed that the song lyrics sang about having hope. Discussions got pretty deep, which made my teacher heart happy;) To support my beginning ELLs, I printed pictures of the different scenes that symbolized love (couples- turtles, birds, whales, clouds).
By the end of the lesson my students had a good understanding of the skill, and they were ready to practice looking for a theme in their own reading. We continued to practice during guided reading, and spiraled back to theme as we read throughout the year.
Piper: Character Development
For the Birds: Infer, Predictions or Cause and Effect
Home Sweet Home: Asking Questions This short is a bit long (10 minutes).
Kiwi!: Drawing Conclusions Warning- this one is sad.
Boundin: Lesson, Theme, Plot
Dustin: Inferring, Conflict, Conflict Resolution
Take Me Home: Inferring
Jinxy Jenkins and Lucky Lou: Compare and Contrast
Soar: Predictions, Plot, Story Elements
Sweet Cocoon: Story Elements, Drawing Conclusions
and Lava: Theme
I have found that using short films in my reading mini-lessons have given my students a deeper understanding of the skills being taught, which allows them to then transfer the skills to text. And the fact that the kids are so engaged makes it a win-win for all!
These are just some of the short films out there that are great for teaching reading comprehension skills, there are a lot more! In an era where kids are visually stimulated more than ever before, using film to teach reading comprehension is effective, fun and engaging for ALL students. Add this tool to the 'ole teacher toolbox!