Documentaries: Resources

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Finding documentary resources can feel an insurmountable task. To find appropriate and engaging content can take hours.  It can also be difficult to determine how you will assess students’ interaction with these films.  Simple viewing questions can only go so far.

Today’s post will offer some resources for both of these areas in the hopes that you will be able to gain a foothold on how to implement short documentaries into your classroom.

 

Reading in the Reel World-John Golden

A must-have text if you want to implement better viewing and critical thinking strategies.  Golden argues that documentaries are non-fiction texts.  As such, students should SOAPSTone them as well as create their own essential questions while watching.   He also explains and models using levels of questioning to use in tandem with documentary viewing. A sample chapter is available via NCTE.

PBS POV

This website is a treasure trove of all types of documentaries.  The best part is that they have an entire educator’s resource center.  You will want to look specifically at the short films.  To get to them, search “short documentaries.”  Some of my favorites include:

 

Utopia Part 3: The World’s Largest Shopping Mall

A good piece to teach consumerism and personal folly.  Use this 13-minute documentary to teach argument and purpose.   Most definitely have them SOAPSTone the piece and create their own essential questions.  Consider having them tweet those questions while watching.

Watch Utopia, Part 3: The World’s Largest Shopping Mall on PBS. See more from POV.

 

Trash Out

This is a good documentary to use when discussing the death of the American dream.  Consider having students use at the end of The Great Gatsby as Nick is watching Gatsby’s house stand empty or as a stand alone to teach argument in regards to how we see accomplishment and loss.

Watch Trash-Out on PBS. See more from POV.

SnagLearning

An offshoot of SnagFilms, it’s a great resource for documentaries from National Geographic, PBS, and a whole host of other resources.  There are some simple lesson plans posted but for the most part you’ll want to create your own following Golden’s ideas of how students should interact with documentaries in writing.

The New York Times Learning Network has also partnered with them and has created some useful documentary “film festivals” that are worth a look.  The9/11 documentary lessons are especially helpful if you’re teaching Bush’s speech at Ground Zero or Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

You’ll want to examine their documentary shorts specifically.  Titled Media that Matters, they have a range of films short documentaries between 5-10 minutes in length.  Some of my favorites include:

Alienated: Undocumented Immigrant Youth

A great short film that profiles one young woman specifically who works as a nanny/housekeeper.  It’s perfect to partner with The Jungle and the later chapters of Fast Food Nation.

Young Agrarians

A short film about young people/students involved in organic farming.  It would be a perfect pairing for anything by Michael Pollan or as a supplement to Fast Food Nation.  You might also use it to teach AP Language students the synthesis essay about locavores.

Night Visions

This documentary short focuses on one soldier’s experiences after his tour.  The short would serve as a good companion to The Things They CarriedAll Quiet on the Western Front and Catch 22.

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