Movie Talk Update

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35 thoughts on “Movie Talk Update”

  1. I really think MovieTalk is powerful. So many things that make sense. Love it that the language of the movie doesn’t matter since students aren’t listening to it. Really opens up the number of choices. What matters is how interesting the movie is and whether it has enough sequential action for the students to follow the plot easily. Dialogue is not a big player.

    1. The original language of a movie (English, Spanish, German, Mandarin, etc.) is superflous in MovieTalk because the sound track is turned OFF (this seems to be a point many who discuss MovieTalk don’t seem to get).

    The teacher provides the language to the students; the film does not. The teacher narrates the action and talk about characters at the language level of her/his students. The teacher can also paraphrase dialogue for the students when it is pertinent to plot development or when it is particularly interesting. Dr. Hastings view is that watching movies does not provide good comprehensible input. Only students at the very highest levels are able to access movie language for acquisition; it’s just too fast and too dense.

    2. Cho’s graded reader idea is brilliant! However, it seems unlikely that there are many of these available for the films we can show school-age kids. BUT, the idea of providing a synopsis in print of the whole film or parts of the film (at a level the students understand), BEFORE they see the film snippets and hear teacher narration of those snippets, seems very wise to me indeed.

    Since the teacher has to do a pretty thorough analysis of a film before starting MovieTalk with students, to write a short summary at their level seems like an easy thing to do for CI/TPRS teachers.

    I can, also, envision a scaffolded reading approach THROUGHOUT the film AFTER several sections of narrated and circled content–providing “a summary up to this point” at strategic points in the film. Each of these summaries would reflect the rising level of acquisition of the students. Imagine what an “ending summary” might look like–quite different than the summary intro–a riff on embedded reading once again!

    1. Hi Jody,

      I’d like your advice – I’m planning to prepare some readings to go with a movie I will use with my 8th grade class next year. I’ve shown the film and done MovieTalk-style narration before, but not used readings. I want to do that this time. So… here was my current plan:
      Day 1 introduction to the film: characters, who they are, basic plot (no spoilers), cultural significance of some things in the story. I could do readings with some of this content. I will also have them use Google Earth to locate the places mentioned and how far travel should take – it’s a big point in the film.
      Day 2 & 3: MovieTalk (gets us through about 1/3 of the film)
      Day 4: Read & discuss, question a student as if a character, what else? I’d like something highly interactive and out of their seats, if possible. I’ve done
      Day 5 & 6: MovieTalk (through 2/3 of the film)
      Day 7: Read & process days 5 & 6
      Day 8 & 9: MovieTalk (finishing the film)
      Day 10: summary of whole film. Plans included some discussion, maybe a quiz, certainly a free writing about the film.

      What else? Suggestions? (I’m somewhat arbitrarily saying 10 days… because I have to write a 10-lesson unit plan for a course I’m taking. I’ve usually spent 8-9 days on the film before.)

  2. I was thinking a film would last a month. Maybe I am way off base. I’ve never done something like this. I was planning on showing 10 min chunks, front load vocab and structures and PQA that.

    1. I think you are right about it taking longer, Drew. I doubt that I’d ever do a full-length 90+ minute film unless I were working with adults or mature teenagers. My kids would lose interest if I spent the whole period doing this, so I’ve been archiving shorts, cartoons, etc. on YouTube for future reference.

  3. I agree. From what I know of the actual “Movie Talk” technique (website and also watching MIchele’s colleague in that video) it seems most appropriate to use a very short film. I dabbled a bit with it with “Alma,” “Simon’s Cat” and with a couple of ads Sabrina sent and I felt the power of it for sure.

    Full-length films would really take a long time, and you’d need a super-focused group.

  4. Ok. I’ve done this film 3 times with kids, each time improving methodology with it. They love this movie and they are really focused. Perhaps it depends on the film? A quote from “MovieTalk is at its best when applied to full-length feature movies, but we can use shorter videos to illustrate some aspects of the technique.”

    I agree that shorts are great. I use those, too. But this is one special unit and I really enjoy it – so do the kids, and they tell me (and all their friends). I’m not really looking for them to gain a lot of new specific vocabulary through the film, but to “put together” their listening comprehension skills in a highly interesting way. Acquiring a number of new words & structures certainly could take much more time. I’m not really aiming for new word acquisition though, just comprehension.

    So… if you were to set aside the idea that a full-length movie isn’t your preference… I would still love to hear others’ ideas on activities for “processing” what they’ve seen. Things like interviewing a student who pretends to be a main character, and re-enacting favorite scenes with student actors, and anything to increase the times they hear and interact with Chinese. This is where I am just experimenting and I need help.

    1. How are you getting listening comprehension, Diane? Can you explain your process a bit and give some examples? I am very curious.

      Since MovieTalk is part of the Focal Skills program for college students, it makes sense to me that one could successfully use feature-length films. A twelve year old’s attention span is another story.

    2. I use full length films as a major part of my work in helping students who have been left by the wayside. The goal is to get them interested and a film, if it’s well chosen, can do that. One that I use over and over again is The Mighty. What I do is not Movie Talk, because I use the sound track and subtitles in English, my target language. We watch the movie a scene at a time. I don’t think in chunks of time, but in scenes or episodes. We read the subtitles as we would read a book. I let the kids figure it out when they can, I give them the words they don’t know. With some scenes I give them an embedded reading. We talk about the characters, analyze their problems, guess at what will happen next. Sometimes we act out a scene. I don’t use textbooks, but in many ways the movie becomes my textbook, my primary source. I can take off the subtitles and give them a fill in the blank excercise to do for listening comprehension. It can take more than a month but the kids’ progress is visible and they come to class eager to see more. I occasionally run into students I had years and years ago. They always remember the film we did.

      1. Just requested the film from the library. Looks like a great one!

        I think that no matter what technique one uses, whether MovieTalk or MovieDubois, using scenes/episodes makes much more sense than doing time chunks. Since films are constructed of many stories within a bigger story, doing it in terms of scenes can help students hold “the whole” in memory and keep the sequence of events in order–no easy feat in a foreign language.

        1. I do this with my oldest class, 8th graders, who have had about 3 1/2 years of Chinese by the time we get to this. I do this unit the weeks before winter break, too, which I find well-timed. In other classes they have big projects and tests, and they get to watch a movie in my class instead. At least that’s how it seems to them. I had zero discipline issues. I use times on the film for my convenience in keeping track of time and the points at which I will go back and narrate. Of course, each chunk of time is in fact a scene. Some scenes are longer than others. I aim for 1 to 3 minutes of time. I have worked out the times I want to use and follow that while I show the film.

          Here’s an example of a scene and what I mean by narrating it within my students’ possible vocabulary. Let’s take an early scene in my film (“Lost on Journey”) in which the crabby, wealthy businessman character is at the airport check-in, and the dairy worker character who has never been on a plane is in front of him in line. The clerk is explaining what to do. We watch the scene once with the sound on. I say nothing. I pause, go back to the beginning of that scene and press mute. While the scene runs a second time, I narrate. In this scene, my simplified narration fits in the time the scene runs. If I have more to say, or want to ask some comprehension check questions, I will pause the film and use the visuals on screen and often point to something. I say in Chinese (usually not narrating the “he says” part, just pointing to the character on screen while I speak as if that character):

          He’s Li Chenggong. He’s Niu Geng. Niu Geng doesn’t understand airports. He says, “Where is the plane?” The clerk says, “There.” He says, “Where?” Li Chenggong says, “Look at the ticket. Go to B13!” Niu Geng says “Thanks!” The clerk says, “Will you give me those?” (I point to the luggage held by Niu Geng). Niu Geng says “No need, thanks! I’ll carry them!” Niu Geng is happy. Li Chenggong thinks Niu Geng is stupid and a pain.

          If I wanted to ask them some questions, I could ask things like, “Where are they? (airport)” “Does Niu Geng understand airports? (no)” “Does Li Chenggong understand airports? (yes)” “Does Li Chenggong like Niu Geng? (no)” “Does Niu Geng like Li Chenggong? (yes)”. I would only do a very few questions and aim them at the most important aspect of the scene to make sure it’s clear.

          Does this help explain what I’m doing? I avoid any new words in my narration and if I feel I must use one, I have a vocab list that I point to and pause for them to read and understand it (not for acquiring that word, just to get them over the unknown but critically important term for which I didn’t find a work-around in their Chinese). This may be frowned upon, I am sure. These are the words that I would, if I wanted to make a much longer unit, develop into three structures, do PQA, do readings, etc. But for my purpose thus far with this film, I just want the kids to know what I mean. That is what I mean by focusing on broad listening comprehension and not acquiring new words. They also get a ton of cultural familiarity from this movie. It’s got a lot about modern China in it.

          I read the MovieTalk website and attempted to follow that. My first year (pre-CI) showing the movie, I did nothing other than show it in 15-minute segments (and sometimes paused to show subtitles and let them read, or to explain in English what happened!). Last year was the best by far because of the MovieTalk approach. I have been told by students that it is the best thing we’ve done ever in class. They asked to see favorite scenes when we had a little extra time the final viewing day. We had a discussion of the film on a parents’ visiting day and the kids looked awesome, having clear opinions and understanding that they could express in Chinese. Yes, they want to see a movie, this one has high production values, and is pretty funny. I’m not tired of it myself! However, I can see on their faces when they are about to hear narration that they are super-focused and listening for comprehension. The movie has a lot of obvious action and obvious dialogue, but they want to understand it better than just visuals and the words here or there that they catch.

          It has really been fun to do. Doing short clips is a great way to prepare oneself for doing this with a longer film.

          1. Diane, Did you do this film every day? Once a week? I always struggle with trying to have a schedule, but then with a movie I wonder if it stretches too long to do 1x week? Advice???

          2. Hi jen,
            I have spent 8-9 days in the past, all in a row, as a special unit before Christmas break. The students always came in excited and they pleaded to do another movie this way later in the year. I really think finding a good movie must be half the battle. They were the most focused days for all students that I’ve ever had. (Based on responses here, I think that’s going to surprise people, so I mention it.)

            I was thinking 10 days but I think I will expand to 14 days this next school year. My plan is to go like this:
            Day 1 – Intro to the film characters, places, distances, culturally significant aspects of the film (it takes place just before Chinese New Year and the kids must know why everyone is travelling and tickets are so hard to get, and there are some cartoon characters it helps to recognize). This is done using a Powerpoint with screenshots from the movie and information in simple Chinese about it. I’ll bring students up to portray the characters to give a more visceral feel to the relationships in the movie. Kids will also use Google maps (or something like that) to find distance & normal travel times between the 2 key places in the film.

            Day 2 – Show film’s first ~15 min. a la MovieTalk.
            Day 3 – Show film’s second ~15 min. a la MovieTalk.
            On those days, I will always stop at the point I chose ahead of time even if there’s class time left. I chose suspenseful places to stop on purpose. The remainder of class can be a quiz or some of the “processing” ideas I mention next.

            Day 4 – Processing the film’s first third (mostly orally and especially, to personalize content). We’ll do step 1 with 3 words/phrases they’ve heard in the film so far & that will still be important in later sections. (Establish meaning, make gestures, PQA, photos & discuss; also perhaps some character role plays where we ‘interview’ the character played by a student – like One Word Images but with the movie character.) This is also another chance to clear up any confusion about what’s happened so far.
            Day 5 – Reading stuff: I’ll have some paragraphs (3-5 sentences) of reading – nothing too long, and again focused closely around the new structures. After Read & Discuss, I’ve got a list with a variety of reading activities (maybe, mime & voice partner reading, relay writing, readers’ theater). I’ll still looking for more ideas here.

            Day 6 & 7 – MovieTalk with the next two ~15 min. segments.
            Day 8 & 9 – Processing days with 3 more key structures as the focus.
            Day 10 & 11 – MovieTalk to finish the film.
            Day 12 & 13 – Processing the film days with 3 more key structures.
            Day 14 – Assessments to include a free write (“tell me the story of the film and your opinions of the characters and what happens”). After that, a T/F and multiple choice quiz. I’d like to include “which character said this?” as one type of question. I’ll include photos and the character names so there’s no confusion about their names. Another type will be showing a movie screenshot and having kids pick a matching description of it in Chinese. More advanced would be to show photos and have them write a description.

            So far, I like this plan a lot. I think that making it clear to kids that we’re using a movie, not just watching a movie, is important. The first day of the unit I will explain how the days will be spent. I will also assure them at that time that this is not an “educational” film (which I have been asked every year!) but a blockbuster hit in China in 2010. Too bad the sequel wasn’t as good, and apparently too racy for middle schoolers.

  5. I tried movie talk with the short “Paperman,” but wasn’t sure I did it correctly. Do you pause the movie or do a running narration? I paused every few seconds to talk about what happened. Overall, it went OK, but a couple kids got irritated with the frequent pausing and just wanted me to run the video through (which I did after we had finished talking through it). I reminded them the goal was to gain Spanish input, not simply to watch the movie.

    1. I suggest showing the scene first with no commentary. This way they get familiar with what is going to happen first, then they can go back and hear what that is in the target language. Otherwise they have the challenge both of seeing for the first time and trying to follow your Spanish.

      I also suggest not to pause after a scene and discuss it — instead, replay the scene on mute and narrate. It works. I had very few complaints about doing that. Yes, it’s choppy, but they get a kind of teaser of the content with the first watching, and then the narration fills in the meaning in a deeper way.

      1. ^great suggestion^. Research supports this: people can only consciously focus on basically one thing at a time. Mental, physical, whatever. (E.g when I practice mando, I work on EITHER technique (e.g. triplets or hammers) OR the tune I am learning. If I don’t get a phrase, I work on that phrase without playing the rest of the tune). Watch to get the “shape” of the scene; rewatch listening to simple narration. (This exactly lines with with CI: we do not leave ambiguity in what we do– we establish meaning thoroughly before we “use” our structures– no guessing).

  6. There was a pixar or maybe disney movie came outnin 2007 about these rats who live in a french restaurant and one of the rats was a brilliant chef. Ratatouille? Name escapes me.

    It would be BRILLIANT for movietalk:

    A) dvd comes with spanish and french subs (in canada)
    B) it has a fascinating subtext about immigrants (the rats are like mexicans in the US or africans in France) so pump up the social justice ideas
    C) the “exaggeratedness” of the cartoon format makes it easier for kids to pick up on characteristics action etc

    I am gonna do movietalk next year as my Friday PM activity for say 25 mins: all they have to do is watch and listen. I will use spanish subs.

    1. Hi Chris,

      Ratatouille would be a great movie to use and all the more because the kids are usually familiar with it. There’s also a short on the DVD that I think could work… a silly but fun history of the interaction of rats and people, told from the rat’s point of view, but including a lot of actual history along the way. It lasts maybe 15 minutes? If you wanted a shorter film but more than a Youtube video, that might work, and somehow you can say you’re being cross-divisional and nonfiction-based, right, for those who need those kinds of things because their schools expect it?

    2. Ratatouille is fantastic!! We’ve used it for several years now and the storyline is made up of high-frequency vocab and structures that many students (depending on the level ) already know. Shoot me an email at school tomorrow ( and I’ll send you what we have. It’s in Spanish, but you can get the idea…

      with love,
      (The Tale of Despereaux….also fantastic)

    3. If the movie comes with subtitles that don’t turn off, it’s probably good to find a way to block them. Dr. Hastings commented that otherwise we aren’t focusing on the listening, and even if they’re just on screen, they will distract students from what the teacher is saying. As I found when using such a film, the subtitles distracted me, too! Some of my colleagues here have used subtitled films for more advanced groups, but we agreed that we still have to figure out what the purpose is: listening or reading.

      I love the idea of Ratatouille! What a terrific choice, with so many levels of thematic discussion possible.

      On the topic of length of video, one reason to show a full movie (using typically about 18 minutes of film per hour) is that the teacher will be repeating the same vocabulary more often. I like using shorter pieces, but realized after about five of them in a row that my vocabulary was shifting dramatically. A solution to that was to start showing short videos from the same cartoon. That way I didn’t have to introduce new characters and could discuss their personalities in the same way as in the last film. I could also ask whether the characters were at home or not, and so on. Funny, though, that I didn’t figure out until right now why that was working!

      1. After someone suggested “Simon’s Cat” in a comment somewhere in here, I used several clips with all levels of class, adjusting what I said (or in upper levels, asked them to say). It was really great. I hadn’t caught the advantage of seeing the same characters and knowing the “format” as a big help to keeping it comprehensible, but Michele is right. “Let’s do another one!” was the main response afterwards (except from my recalcitrant 7th graders).

  7. omg…this is totally random but reading Diane’s post about a short movie reminds me of a FABULOUS short that is on the original “El Mariachi” dvd. It is called
    “Bedhead” it is really fun/ wacky, has dorky special effects and is a great sibling rivalry film. I think it is 10 min long +/-

  8. Robert Harrell

    I have used a German cartoon series, “Die Sendung mit der Maus” (The TV Program with the Mouse), in my classes but not for MovieTalk. While there are sound effects, there is no talking in the cartoons, so meaning is conveyed through action and sound effects. The cartoon could be used for other languages as well since language is not an issue. The (large yellow) mouse and his friend the (small blue) elephant are in nearly every episode. The episodes last 1-2 minutes and are available on YouTube. I think I will start practicing MovieTalk with these cartoons.

    1. I love that cartoon, Robert!

      Although it’s fun to use the same wordless videos as everyone else, and I have used Alma and the VW dog commercial and a German fairy tale and a French short, I find that by using Russian (TL!) cartoons and videos, kids have connection to Russian culture. When characters take off their shoes indoors (as Alaskans do), I can ask about that practice. When they say goodbye to everyone in the household, I may choose to point it out. There is a lot of Culture and culture in every bit of video from Russia, and whether or not I actually comment on it, the kids are getting something that I can’t share if I show them videos made outside Russia. I feel as though I’m painlessly meeting the cultural standard.

      PS Chris, I’ll be in Kitsap County on October 19, presenting on Embedded Reading! Laurie told me that you were feeling left out on the west coast. And…you could always sign up for AFLA 2013, in Whittier, Alaska…it’s going to be great fun. It’s the last weekend in September. We would collect you at the airport…

  9. jeffery Brickler

    Could we get a list of wordless videos? Unfortunately there aren’t any Latin language videos that I know of, but wordless ones would work perfectly.

    1. In addition to “Die Sendung hit der Maus” there’s the old film “The Red Balloon”. Anyone besides me remember it? The original is 34 minutes long, but there are various permutations of it on YouTube. It’s set in Paris.

      What about a segment from “Fantasia”? Some of the sequences tell stories.

      Some of the old Looney Tunes cartoons had extended wordless sequences – but then you would have to go hunting those.

  10. Thank you – This is wonderful! I’ve been using a telenovela (soap opera) that goes with our former textbook series for the past few years each Friday. I didn’t realize that I was basically doing MovieTalk, although my version is a la Diane. I’ve also begun doing MovieTalk more with full-length movies, but not to such a full extent as explained here. I plan to change that, ASAP.

    As an idea for another silent short – I went to the theater to see Monster’s University yesterday. There was a short shown beforehand called, ‘The Blue Umbrella.’ It was sweet, with enough action, emotion (and colors!) to use. I don’t know when it would be available, but worth looking for. For the Frenchies, there is a final scene at the end at a cafe called ‘Cafe Parapluie.’ 🙂

    1. Shannon, thanks for sharing this. I looked on YouTube and there’s apparently a minicamera in-theater hack of the video (!) here: The quality is so poor that I think Pixar hasn’t bothered to get that video taken down.

      There are some 30+ second clips of it up. The short clip makes it looks like it’d be wonderful for MovieTalk or Look and Discuss. “He looks at her” “she sees him look at her” plus umbrella, blue, red, and weather-related stuff… lots of potential there. Nice.

      I agree with Ben – clips like these could form structure to a whole school year. Another nice thing is that the same video can easily transfer to different levels of instruction (and I have 5) but the prep is greatly simplified. I’m aiming to use video clips more in my classes this coming year. Students enjoy it so much, and as Ben says, it is pretty simple. It’s nice to have a break from feeling that I am the one driving the CI (even though using video I’m still the one guiding discussion). Somehow there’s greater ease when there are pictures or video from outside the class. When you get stuck, just go on to the next bit. Photos do this for me, too. They help tremendously with reluctant classes.

      1. Take note of this – it’s gold:

        …the same video can easily transfer to different levels of instruction (and I have 5) but the prep is greatly simplified….

        And this:

        …it’s nice to have a break from feeling that I am the one driving the CI….

        And this:

        …somehow there’s greater ease when there are pictures or video from outside the class. When you get stuck, just go on to the next bit. Photos do this for me, too. They help tremendously with reluctant classes….

  11. Thank you Shannon. We need to find a place to put these links to short films. Currently we have two categories on Movie Talk, one appropriately called “Movie Talk” and the other labeled “Movies – Best Clips”. I will add Blue Umbrella to the latter category. We can add new shorts to that category as we discover them. Such a list could end up being an entire CI curriculum for an entire year.

    Some of us may have noticed last spring that Movie Talk worked itself into a lot of the discussion here and should be on the 2013-2014 thread list. In fact, Movie Talk may be one of the baddest boys on the block this year and it may up many of our games. And guess what? I don’t think it’s all that complicated.

    So, two probably new threads for this year are:

    1. New People – total support
    2. Movie Talk

    I do want to add one thing that I view as very important. We cannot let the PLC get too busy and crowded this year. John Piazza supports me on that. We have to keep our thread of Simplicity (see category by that name) at the forefront of all we do this year together, no matter how complicated our teaching lives become, and they will become complicated this year, not because CI is complicated, but because making CI fit into what schools think good teaching is these days IS complicated. And my main point is I want all the new people to feel that they are reading stuff that makes sense to them all the time. I want them in the loop all year. That is going to be a tall order, as we tend to get pretty obtuse with this stuff at times, but I think we can do it. Thank you for letting me say that.

    And skip Crosby and I have a kind of deal where we push each other to not post on the PLC on the weekends. It is so true that a typical week of reading here can be overwhelming, and so we need time to process and integrate what we learned that week, and skip and I are serious about learning how to rest. Skip told me in a recent email that he was proud about how much time I have taken away from posting here over the past weeks and I am proud of myself as well. Resting well will make us MUCH better teachers. So there is another thread for this year.

    1. Hi Ben – looking for The Blue Umbrella got me onto a trail of animated video shorts. Rather than fully waste my time doing that, I’ll share what I found! Here are a few with some topics brought up. Each of these are under 10 minutes.

      “Alarm” (slightly edgy) – alarm clock, loud, morning routine activities, dream, sleep, wake up, doesn’t want to

      “BULLY” (also slightly edgy) – emotions, drawing, motivations, fighting

      “A Cloudy Lesson” (cute) – emotions, wants to, makes, grandpa/grandson

      “Robot Gets Revenge” (cute) – emotions, makes him, push/click a button (only 1 min. 30 sec or so long) has a search feature by style. It seems that most or perhaps all of the animations there are without words. Might be a place to check out if looking for short video clips to use. I feel like someone said this somewhere before.

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