Using Short Films to Teach Comprehension Skills

I love using short films to teach reading comprehension skills, and my students love watching them!

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 skill looks like visually, and practicing with a media kids are already familiar with, is an effective first step in students applying the skill 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.

Other favorites...

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

Lifted: Plot

Dustin: Inferring, Conflict, Conflict Resolution (Compare with "Joy and Heron")

Joy and Heron: Problem/Solution, Story Elements, Lesson/Message (Compare with "Dustin")

Take Me Home:  Inferring

Jinxy Jenkins and Lucky Lou: Compare and Contrast 

Soar: Predictions, Plot, Story Elements

Sweet Cocoon: Story Elements, Drawing Conclusions

Changing Batteries: Drawing Conclusions, Inferring (This one is sad too.)

A Fox and a Mouse: Plot, Character Development, Setting, Conflict

Snack Attack:  Flashback

Dia De Los Muertos: Character Development, Symbolism (blue flower)

One Small Step: Plot, Theme, Character Development

The Box: Making Inferences, Making Prediction, Character Development, Story Elements

Spring: Making Inferences, Plot, Mood

The First of Spring: Compare/Contrast, Character and Plot Development

Dust Buddies: Character Analysis, Plot, Conflict

Monsterbox: Plot, Asking Questions, Drawing Conclusions

La Luna: Theme, Character Development, Plot, Symbolism (hat)

After the Rain: Plot, Cause and Effect (warning: death scene)

Pip: Character Development, Story Elements

Scrambled: Author's Message, Symbolism

Wings: Theme, Making Inferences, Draw Conclusions

Lava: Theme

The comprehension skills listed above are simply suggestions; there are many more skills that could be taught with each of the films listed. 

I have found that using short films in my reading mini-lessons has 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. 

UPDATE: Typically, I grab a good graphic organizer, pull up the short film and GO! But during this time of distance learning, I've needed to adjust my instruction, as we all have, so I've made some short film resources with both print and digital materials. As more are created, they'll be added here. 


Happy teaching!


  1. I love this idea of using a short film, especially for identifying theme. I an definitely going to try this - thanks for the great idea!

  2. Thanks Diane! I found the short, Lava, to be perfect for teaching theme!

  3. Love love love it

  4. Hi Kristen, I am a Chinese immersion program teacher and I am so glad I run into your blog! I totally agree with you and what I have been using these non-language short firms for both reading and writing (screenshots-print-write-picture book!) Million thanks to your list!

    1. Thank you so much! This is a growing list; as I find new films that I like, I'll add them to this page:) And I love the idea of printing a screen shot for a writing activity! That's a great idea:)

  5. Love this idea! Starting theme next week with my 4th graders. Any worksheets or other activities to go with these and theme or do you just chart their answers? Thank yoU!

    1. Hi Jennifer! I typically chart their responses on an anchor chart or the board. I may have students jot down their thinking on sticky notes then add those to the anchor chart. During guided reading, or if students are identifying theme in their independent reading, I'll usually provide them with a graphic organizer.

  6. i love this site!!!!!!!!!!!!! i love the vids!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. Thank you for this resource. It is perfect for some e-learning right now!!!

  8. Simply amazing idea to use short films . Loved it . Thanks a lot.

  9. I love this! Can you share how your lesson actually develops, a sample lesson plan?

    1. I'll try to get a post up with that shows the progression of a lesson plan. :)

  10. Thank you! I love using the shorts to reinforce comprehension skills and hate having to find them. This helps so much. :)

    1. I'm glad you can use it:) There are so many great ones out there!