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by Erica Fischer on May 27, 2013

10 Techniques to Make the Most of Videos in World Language Classes

movie-clapper-icon_500x500 by Shmector, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  Shmector 

While some language teachers only pull out the old video player as a backup plan, #langchat participants were strong advocates for actively using movies and videos as a way to teach world language in the classroom. Many suggested that a steady schedule of short, high-interest, culturally significant movies or videos can help students to connect with the target language.

10 Techniques for Teaching World Language with Videos

1. Make Movies Matter

@Sra_Hildinger said, “Movies should not be used as fillers on ‘down days.’ An activity is needed with it.” This was a sentiment that many other #langchat teachers identified with. @alenord said, “I like to use videos as engagement pieces or as input for integrated writing or speaking tasks.” @dwphotoski said, “I try to avoid ‘just showing a movie.’ A movie needs prep, purpose and connection. @BridgetCroyle said, “Also, a movie needs to be relevant to what is going on in class, or kids will think it’s a blow-off.”

2. Build on a Theme

Most #langchat teachers build their video watching around a common theme that they are already exploring in the classroom. @SrtaTeresa shared the way she does this in her world language classroom. She said, “I pick films for themes. For example, La Misma Luna generates discussion on immigration.” @SrtaTeresa said, “I show the entire film over a series of class days but we talk about themes at the beginning of class each day.”

3. Prepare Students Ahead of Time

@SrtaTeresa said, “Showing anything without prep or frequent guidance becomes a missed opportunity.” Other participants agreed that watching a film or video clip without preparing students is a huge waste of time and can lead to frustration. @CatherineKU72 suggested avoiding period pieces with too many cultural references and language jokes. @SraSpanglish said, “Prepare them with information they need to break down and analyze, so they have context for understanding.”

4. Shorten It Up

One way of naturally breaking down movies into bite-size pieces is through utilizing short films. Many world language teachers advocated for using short films or video clips to engage students and expose them to culture, language and more comprehensible input. @sonrisadelcampo said, “I prefer short films with little talking so I can “narrate” for lower levels in language that is comprehensible to them.” @alenord suggested the use of authentic clips from media in the target language rather than full-length films. She said, “The clips are great for kids to get little glimpses into the lives of Spanish speakers. Then we discuss and compare our lives.”

5. Peak Their Interest

Some of the most effective short videos for teaching language are movie trailers. @CalicoTeach said, “Often trailers show an entire plot. Nice and short way to fit a movie into class!” Other teachers used trailers as a way to prepare students for the movies that they will be watching throughout the year. @dwphotoski said, “In Sept, I show trailers of all movies that we will watch as a preview. Then I do cloze activities with them.”

6. Make a Scene

Without breaking down a larger movie, students can get easily overwhelmed. @BridgetCroyle shared her excellent example of how to use individual scene breakdowns to aid reading, writing, listening and speaking in the target language. She said, “[This system] also lets us work on reading skills, oral reading, pronunciation, inferences and understanding main idea – all before we watch the film.” She gave a short step-by-step instruction to the #langchat world language teachers on how to break movies down into easy-to-understand scenes.

A. Break the film into scenes.
B. Write down a description of each scene in simplified language.
C. Give students a packet with all the written scenes (she gives them out of order but labeled for matching activities).
D. Spend a few moments of each class reading through the scene to ensure comprehension.
E. Give an answer sheet to do matching activities while watching the movie.
F. Identify new scenes as they happen in the movie.
G. Students use reading and listening skills to find the scene described in packet and write the matching letter down.

7. Play With Subtitles

The langchat community had differing opinions on the best way to deal with subtitled movies. While some teachers love using subtitles to encourage understanding, others believe that they can lead to poor language habits. Either way, it was clear that world language teachers should be wary of putting too much faith in subtitles. @jeanrueckert gave this warning: “Be aware of subtitles in the target language that don’t match what’s heard (different forms of the target language). Often confusing.” @SraSpanglish also sugested, “Beware of subtitles that highlight naughty words they might otherwise have missed.”

8. Interact and Innovate

An innovative concept that @CatherineKU72 suggested was the use of mobile devices to interact with world language films while students are watching them. She said, “Students use phones or other devices to comment on Twitter or Today’s Meet. Students comment through texting and see other comments.” @sonrisadelcampo shared another interested interactive method of reviewing a film. She said, “To review, take screenshots, put on collage, project it and review highlights or important parts of video/film short.” @mcd_boulanger encouraged hands-on activities that can be done in conjuction with a video: “With video screening, we can have a discussion, design a new product, conduct an experiment, prepare a publicity or review the film.”

9. Rock Your Videos

Using music videos is a great way to get students engaged in listening while they are watching. Many teachers suggested incorporating Youtube playlists into the world language classroom and searching out top hits in a country where the target language is spoken. @BridgetCroyle said, “I like to use music videos too. Sometimes we watch the video without sound and discuss what kids think the song is about.” @dwphotoski said, “Music videos add great variety too. @senorwooly ‘s videos are always popular, especially Billy.”

10. Reflect and Respond

Post-watching activities are just as important as pre-watching activities. @SraSpanglish said, “Like reading, there must be pre-reading, reading and post-reading activities: Frontload essential vocabulary. Go from LOTS to HOTS.” World language teachers suggested a number of great ways to have students reflect and respond to the films they have seen, including class discussion, summaries or having students act out the video using their own words. @BridgetCroyle even suggested having students write an alternate ending to engage higher levels of thinking with the film. @sonrisadelcampo said, “I have a film short as part of final. Students write what the characters were afraid of, angry about, etc.”

Other Great Video Ideas for the World Language Classroom

  • Compare: @SrtaTeresa said, “It’s interesting to watch snippets of a film in English with subtitles in the target language and have the students compare what they hear and read.”
  • Share: @CatherineKU72 said, “Use Socrative circles, personal reactions, partner shares.”
  • Cloze: @SraSpanglish said, “I like cloze activities with songs, interviews, promotional videos: I make mine by transcribing them, then taking out key words.”
  • Describe: @jeanrueckert said, “Turn sound off with introduction or particular scenes and have them do a viewing activity only (pre, post). Yes, description.”
  • Compete: @Sra_Hildinger does a highlighter race using videos in her world language classroom. She gives each a different highlighter pen and a Wordle for each pair of competitors. The competition is to see who can highlight the word first when it is heard on the video.
  • Feast: @CatherineKU72 said, “I use “Un diner presque parfait” from a French reality show. Five people entertain and cook for the others in turn. Then they rate the food and hospitality. Culture!”
  • Converse: @alenord said, “If I show a whole movie, I prepare “conversation cards” that have questions to guide students through a talk about the movie in TL.”
  • Play: @CatherineKU72 said, “Make playlists on YouTube for students to watch on their own: trailers, clips, shows, ads!”
  • Repeat: @ConnectExtend said, “Would it make sense to show same video clip 2-3-4 times? Each time focus on something different: vocab, grammer patterns, culture, characters.”
  • Promote: @tiesamgraf said, “We started international movie night once a month this year – a good way to show full length films and good advocacy.”
  • Connect: @jeanrueckert said, “For ideas, I also touch base with native speaking teachers in their native countries – what’s new and ‘appropriate’?”

Thank You!

Thank you for being a part of our professional learning network . We love to hear your ideas and advice about how to become a more effective and authentic world language teacher. If you have a specific topic you would like to see discussed this Thursday at 8pm EST, please share it with us!

Again, thank you to our moderator for the evening, @CalicoTeach. It is great to have someone keeping us on our toes and asking the vital questions that make our teaching more inspirational. For a complete transcript of this session, please visit our online archive.

Suggested Movies For World Language Classes


Un diner presque parfait
Man in the Iron Mask
Midnight in Paris
Le Havre
Au Revoir Les Enfants
Astãrix Mission ClÃopatre


La Misma Luna
Hija del Sastre
Señor Wooly Videos
Que Mi Sirve La Vida
Los Olvidados
La Cosecha
Viva Cuba
A Better Life
El Estudiante
Pan’s Labyrinth
Devil’s Backbone
Ladron Que Roba Ladron
Sin Nombre
Voces Inocentes
Motorcycle Diaries
Which Way Home
Viaje a Marte
Historia Oficial
Maria Full of Grace
El Norte


Mr. Bean
Pixar short films

Additional Resources

YouTube Videos
Gretchen Hess via Lindsey Kneisley
Kidsimmersion YouTube
Black Beans and Rica in Costa Rica Gallo Pinto Costa Rica
Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell
A collaborative project for our Spanish-teacher PLN
Frases de la película El estudiante
Cortometraje for narration
Canal Encuentro
Cinema Latino
SHHS International Movie Nights
Comida Compartida
7:35 de la mañana corto

Elementary in Spanish
Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

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