Teaching guide: works - films
This guide has been written for all AS and A-level modern language teachers, particularly for those with little or no experience of teaching film. It includes advice on selecting the right film for your students, time and staff planning, resourcing your teaching, ideas for exploiting film in class and how to prepare your students for success in the AS or A-level exams.
Choosing films from our list
The AQA prescribed list of films offers subject matter rooted in the target language country which should stimulate AS and A-level students. You may choose a film from the list which corresponds with your own tastes as well those of your students. If you’re enthusiastic about the film, it’s more likely your students will be too.
Although all the films in the prescribed lists are suitable for AS and A-level study, some films may contain material which, for a number of reasons, may not suit you, your particular class or individuals within the class.
It would be a good idea to watch all the films from the list before making your choice. You may wish to consider the perceived difficulty, type, speed and clarity of language used in the film.
You may want to consider the availability of support materials for the film. Your school/college library could stock suitable books and online resource links.
You may enrich the work by watching other films by the same director or of the same genre. Specialist websites provide ready-made support materials such as lesson plans and handouts, but you should assess these for quality and may prefer to adapt them or design your own.
You could choose a film to tie in with one of the themes from the specification. Alternatively you may see the choice of film as an opportunity to venture into different cultural areas. You may wish to collaborate with other colleagues in person or online in creating and sharing support materials.
Time and staff planning
Many schools have found that the second year of the A-level course is best for students working on film. Depending on staffing availability, one teacher could spend a good part of the autumn or spring term working solely on the film.
Some schools may like to start preparing after the lower sixth summer term exams. You may still prefer to split your lessons between language and film to provide variety in the week.
AS alongside A-level course
If you are teaching one year AS and two year A-level students together, you will need to teach a film (or literary work) in the first year. As a teacher you will want to begin preparing your film, resources and lesson planning well in advance. Gained time in the summer term may be useful for this.
Time required for teaching film
You will probably spend less time working on a film than on literature for the simple reason it takes much longer to read a book. However, you will probably allocate at least a third of your lesson time over at least half a term. You may spend longer if you build your film teaching into a broader topic.
How to approach teaching film
If you have never taught film at AS and A-level before you could view this new challenge as an excellent way to develop your own knowledge, skills and enthusiasm. If you prepare your film carefully and are clear in how you wish to approach your teaching you will bring expertise to the task and your students will derive great pleasure from the work. You will have enormous freedom in how you approach your study of film with students. Students often say the study of film or literature was what they enjoyed most in their modern languages A-level.
Teachers new to teaching AS and A-level film may like to include the area in their personal performance targets. This could form part of a departmental target. Don’t forget that there’s plenty of expertise to help you: colleagues in your school, forums, blogs and websites, both free and commercial.
You may like to do some work before first viewing to prepare students for the content of the film. This could mean looking at the life of the director, studying the setting or historical context of the film.
You may do some themed vocabulary work if the film features a particular range of lexis. You could introduce generic language which students will find useful when reading and discussing the film: character, themes, plot, structure and film-making terminology.
Students may benefit from a general introduction to film-making, looking at the history of film, directorial techniques, types of shot, types of film, and roles in the film-making business. Your students will need to understand and use language such as close-up, long shot, panning, dolly shot, zoom, freeze frame, cutting, editing, framing, soundtrack, camera angle, establishing shot and so on. You could introduce this early or bring it in at appropriate times during the viewing of the film.
Bear in mind that when you teach film you’re still teaching language so you should use as much target language as possible when doing question-answer, other types of oral work, pair and group work and comprehension worksheets.
Many teachers like to use English when discussing harder areas or, for example, doing a translation task. One approach is to rehearse some discussion points in English before going through them again in the target language. Once students have ideas to express they are much more likely to engage in communicative activities.
We would recommend watching the film with English subtitles. This makes the film more enjoyable for students and allows them to focus on visual and thematic aspects rather than struggling to comprehend fast-paced speech. If you have the option of subtitles in the target language this may be preferable when reviewing sections and allow students to get a mixture of high quality listening and reading input.
The best option would be to have a recording with the option for subtitles in English and the target language. Some teachers may wish to view parts of some films without subtitles.
Integrating film with other aspects of the course
Try not to see language and film study in isolation. You can do all kinds of language work with your film and look for other language resources which may support the themes of your film. For example:
- if you were studying the French film La Haine there are clear links with the theme Politics and immigration. Les 400 coups could be tied in with the theme The changing nature of the family
- the German films Das Leben der Anderen and Goodbye Lenin could be taught to support the theme Cultural life in Berlin – past and present
- the Spanish film Las 13 rosas, set at the end of the Spanish civil war, would be relevant to the theme Monarchies, republics and dictatorships.
A short extract from a film can always be used as a source of video listening on which you can do a wide range of exercises.
Class and home viewing
Plenty of close, guided viewing and analysis in class will be vital. For example, playing a scene, summarising and analysing in detail. Some teachers have used the technique of viewing without sound so as to focus on visual techniques. Some teachers use freeze frames as a basis for description and evaluation.
It will be useful for students to be able to have their own copy of the film or access to it in the school library or resource centre.
Studying the film
There’s a range of oral, reading and writing tasks for studying a film. Do not forget that a film is a fine example of authentic spoken language. Therefore you can employ the full spectrum of tasks you might use with any piece of listening.
After the first viewing – probably best done without interruption so that students can simply enjoy the film - a common approach is to watch sections of the film in sequence with handouts for students to complete in class, at home or during private study. These might be in the form of comprehension questions or, at a simpler level, matching tasks, gap fill, true/false statements or ticking correct statements.
Traditional comprehension questions are effective because they generate a good deal of reading comprehension, as well as listening and speaking. Some teachers like to provide a plot or scene-by-scene summary with timings marked in the margin to help students locate key moments. Alternatively students could do this themselves.
A script of the film (if obtainable) may be useful, but is by no means necessary. Some teachers may wish to supply vocabulary lists which follow the sequence of the film.
- Use still images as a basis for oral description and try to predict the storyline.
- Show the first scene – what came before?
- Show an extract without sound or listening with no visual.
- Play the soundtrack and have a tick list of words for the moods created.
- Do matching tasks (starts and ends of statements).
- Correct false statements about the film.
- Re-order the plot for jigsaw reading.
- Who said what? Match characters and quotations. Or, who could have said what?
- Open dialogues – imagining the other character (eg dialogue on the telephone) or imagining what the people in the scene are thinking.
- Rewrite a scene from the film – how else could it have started or ended?
- Write and possibly film a brand new scene (an imagined deleted scene).
- Perform or write an imaginary interview with the director.
- Do research on the director or a main actor for a presentation or essay.
- Watch interviews with the director and actors online or from DVD bonus material.
- Do listening gap fill, statement identification or matching tasks on sections of dialogue.
- Do written gap fills on characters and themes.
- Write a film review.
- Find film reviews in the target language and produce worksheets as if the students were the teacher.
- Where relevant, learn about the characteristics of the film school being studied (eg the French New Wave).
- Re-enact and film a scene as role play. This may appeal strongly to students with an interest in drama.
- Define film-making terms from a list.
- Find and translate online reviews.
- Design a classroom display (eg with film posters, reviews, pictures of actors).
- Prepare questions and activities for your foreign language assistant to do, if you have one.
- Write an analytical essay.
Generating target language discussions
The activities suggested should create plenty of opportunities for discussion. It’s wise to start with factual points and plot then move on to analysis of themes, character and style. Once students have got used to a repertoire of film-related language they will find it easier to speak and write.
In the early stages structured communication tasks will work better than open-ended discussion. You may find students are more confident talking about film than literature since the former is more likely to be part of their general cultural experience. If you find students are slow to respond, don’t forget to see the film as just another form of listening and use your full repertoire of activities to generate communication.
Help with vocabulary
Some classes may benefit from being provided with detailed glossaries. You need to decide how much careful guidance is useful and to what extent you wish students to work independently.
Students always welcome handouts, lists, guides and booklets. You may be able to source these online or in conjunction with other language teachers. However, doing them yourself does help you get acquainted with the film. You will want to be an expert.
Planning: a 10-point approach
- Do some pre-viewing work based on the theme of the film and the language of film.
- Watch the film in one go.
- Watch the film in sections supported by handouts to be used for language reinforcement, comprehension and discussion. These might include vocabulary lists.
- Work with textual material on the film eg reviews, analysis, biography of the director, character analyses. Provide a scene by scene summary.
- Show video material where available eg interviews with actors and the director. Use these for listening, speaking and writing practice as well as to develop further knowledge of the film.
- Do a selection of the numerous tasks listed by bullet point above.
- Analyse specification mark schemes and show exemplar essays. Brainstorm possible titles. Get students to think like an examiner.
- Have students write essays at home or in private study. Provide detailed feedback, copy the best examples to share (with permission) and show model essays.
- Do at least three timed essays in class. Provide detailed feedback to enable students to refine their technique.
- Watch the film through again. Provide any one-to-one assistance to students who feel they need extra support.
You should study the assessment criteria (AO3 and AO4) in the specification very carefully and share these criteria with students. Students need to have a clear understanding of what performance looks like at each level.
AS alongside A-level course
If you’re co-teaching the one year AS and two year A-level, you will need to distinguish any differences in question style and assessment criteria. In the case of both exams, the emphasis is on relevance, sound knowledge and analysis, coherent structure and appropriate and accurate language to carry out the task.
Encouraging analysis and evaluation
Teachers commonly find that AS and A-level students are better at describing events, themes and characters than analysing and evaluating them. You will need to formulate your questioning in class and on worksheets to encourage both description and analysis.
Look carefully at mark schemes and specimen question papers to get a clear idea of expectations.
You will need to share mark schemes with students so that they clearly understand there are far more marks for analysis and evaluation than simple description. A significant depth of analysis is expected.
As students build their essay writing skills you may choose to use AO2, AO3 and AO4 criteria for marking. You may prefer to do this later in the course when students have reached the point when they are ready for exam style questions. If you apply the criteria to their first attempts students may be dispirited.
On the other hand, you may feel that it is best that students know the demands of the task from the outset. Don’t forget that students will improve the quality of their essays with practice. You should look at the specimen exam papers to see how essay questions are framed.
You will probably wish to supply students with lists of vocabulary, structures and idiomatic expressions which will add quality to their essays. You should study the exemplar essays which will be published on the AQA website, along with commentaries. Again, it would be wise to share these with students and get them to analyse carefully their own performance against the example essays and assessment criteria.
Writing effective essays
At some point students will need to develop their essay technique through guidance, modelling and practice. Remember that there are all kinds of written work you can do before students write fully fledged essays – questions in the target language, correcting false statements, true/false, summary, writing individual paragraphs, introductions and conclusions.
Most teachers leave full essay writing to a later stage. However, some teachers say they prefer their students to start essay writing at an early stage to develop good habits. This may depend on your group. Remember that some of your students, particularly any studying English literature or film, will have more experience of this type of analytical essay writing than others.
You will want to provide lists of effective essay phrases and grammatical structures, effective exemplar essays (they will be available on AQA website) and examples of essays written by peers or the teacher.
You may encourage students to read (and perhaps correct) each other’s essays. You will need to allocate lesson time for timed essays. This may be best done late in the course in the run-up to exams. You will want to impress on students that exam questions will be challenging and demand a good level of evaluation and analysis, not description.
AS questions will require a critical response in the target language to aspects such as plot, characterisation, imagery or other stylistic features, as appropriate to the work.
A-level questions will require a critical appreciation in the target language of the concepts and issues covered in the work studied and a critical and analytical response to features, such as the form and the technique of presentation, as appropriate to the work studied (eg the effect of narrative voice in a prose text or camera work in a film). You will want to provide students with as many possible essay questions as you can.
Timed essay writing
Students may feel the essay is the hardest challenge they face. However, if students are well rehearsed in technique and have good knowledge they will cope very well indeed. Close analysis of mark schemes will refine their technique and realise that content, relevance, structure and range of language are all rewarded alongside grammatical and spelling accuracy. Superficial, merely descriptive and or irrelevant essays will score low marks.
Examiners will judge the overall quality of the essay and apply the assessment criteria. Although they are provided with lists of points they may hope to see, this is not exhaustive and any valid points will be rewarded. There are no ‘set answers’.
Memorising lines from the film
Mark schemes will not specifically reward the use of direct quotations from the film, but students may find they can exemplify points of content effectively through direct quotation. Some films may lend themselves very well to this.
You will need a DVD or digital copy of the film. Try to source DVDs with useful bonus features to enhance your teaching. Some films are viewable online, but you may wish to supply students with individual copies.
You may want to make sure the school library is stocked with printed resources (books on films or directors from the target language country) and at least one extra copy of the DVD.
You could also consider creating a wiki or blog on which you (and students) could post links, reviews and ideas.
Suggestions for online and printed resources to support your work:
- World online cinema – DVDs and resources for French, German and Spanish language films
- Dolanguages – Resources for French, German and Spanish films
- Cinepacks – Resources for French, German and Spanish films
- French Accessible Ideas & Resources for Teachers – Free resources for French films
- French cinema vocabulary
- Mucho mas que cine - Spanish film vocabulary
- TES Resources site has a range of useful resources, some of which you may find appropriate for your students.
- Austin, G (2008), Contemporary French cinema, Manchester University Press
- Faulkner, S (2013), A history of Spanish film, Bloomsbury Academic
- Hoffgen, M (2009), Studying German cinema, Auteur
- Hodder and OUP have been selected to enter our approval process for AS and A-level French, German and Spanish. These resources will include guidance on teaching both films and set texts. Any enquiries relating to these resources should be made directly to the publisher.