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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.

Brain Pickings: Posts with Video

What draws me to online resources for the classroom like Brain Pickings is the multimedia experience a single post can offer students.  While it’s true that video cannot be the only way we teach students to interact with the world, short, meaningful videos can help enrich the social commentary that student construct within their writing and discussion.

Part of asking students to become digital citizens means requiring them to consider how video, text and images overlap within writing online.  Brain Pickings offers a thoughtful way to incorporate this skill into a humanities style classroom.  The examples below are just a starting point and are meant to offer you some choices in teaching rhetoric, texts or moral/ethical debates.  You can easily find posts that better serve your needs depending on your curriculum simply by subscribing to the weekly newsletter or searching the archives.

Michael Pollan’s Food Rules Animated in Stop Motion

This post is an appropriate supplement to Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser or The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.  There are several other Brain Pickings posts referenced, as well.  Consider having student explore/research the topic via these hyperlinks.  The video is a wonderful argument about food via food.  Consider the questions below for written response or discussion.

“Food Rules” by Michael Pollan – RSA/Nominet Trust competition from Marija Jacimovic on Vimeo.

  1. What elements of the video are the most engaging or clever?  Explain your reasoning.
  2. What necessity is there for a visual representation of this nature?  Why not simply use both audio and video from Michael Pollan?
  3. Identify Pollan’s argument via the narration.  Identify the video’s argument via its content.

You may even consider including the Brain Pickings post entitled “The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption.”

Six Vintage Inspired Animations on Critical Thinking

Teaching logical fallacies can be difficult.  Students struggle to understand where/when they exist because they are inexperience and often believe most information is true.  This particular post includes a series of animated videos that teach logic and logical fallacies.  The non-sequitur and straw man videos are especially clear in teaching and could easily be posted for students to watch.

Non-Sequitur 

Straw Man 

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

This post is a convergence of teaching the importance of empathy, action/volunteerism, entrepreneurship, global citizenship and literacy.  Use this multimedia post to teach students about the importance of literacy and personal action.  Questions below consider all aspects of the post.

  1. Why adapt this type of story from a memoir and turn it into an illustrated children’s book?
  2. What argument is to be found in the actual images assembled in the Brain Pickings post
  3. What argument is made within the post about this type of entrepreneurship and literacy?  Discuss the type or responsibility being advocated.
  4. View the video.  Discuss the mixed media is relies upon.  What is the effect of using the books illustrations, interviews and real video?
  5. Discuss the purpose of the video.  Does it accomplish that goal?

Encourage students to explore the We Give Books website.  Much like Free Rice, students, teacher, parents, etc. can read books online and then have books donated for no personal cost to several charities.

Weekend Culture: Commercials

Viral videos consume us.  Surprised cats and spray bottle babies are at the heart of a technology rich culture.  But homemade videos aren’t the only videos that go viral.  Each week Visible Measures with Advertising Age releases a list of the top ten viral video advertisements.  It’s an incredible resource for the classroom.  All are ready made “arguments” for use in your classroom.

Consider having students watch any advertisement 2-3 times.

  • First viewing should be basic comprehension
  • Second viewing should focus on detail
  • Third viewing should allow them to answer guiding questions and/or create them on their own.

You may choose to have students SOAPSTone the ads by simply tweaking the category of “speaker” and changing it to advertiser/company or director.

Chipotle Commercial-“Back to the Start”

This is part of Chipotle’s anti factory farming and organic/free range campaign.  The commercial employs wooden toys to tell a three-part story.  Small farm turned factory farm turned small farm again. Willie Nelson sings a cover of Coldplay’s “The Scientist” in the background.  Use the commercial as a perfect pairing for teaching The Jungle, Fast Food Nation and the 2011 AP Language & Composition prompt about locavores or teach it on its own.

Some guiding questions:

    1. Why children’s toys?
    2. What arguments are made over the course of the commercials?
    3. Why “The Scientist?”  Why are the lyrics important?  Why Willie Nelson and not Coldplay?
    4. What is the importance of the final phrase “cultivate a better world?”
    5. What is the significance of the title?
    6. Write your own essential big picture question.  You are so smart.  You can do it.

Samsung Galaxy S II Commercial- “The Next Big Thing”
This pits the iPhone (without ever mentioning its name) against the Samsung Galaxy.  The commercial itself is a caricature of Apple fanboys and girls.  Use this to discuss the role of technology and even the importance of the “it” cell phone in today’s culture.

Some guiding questions:

1.  Identify elements of satire/humor.
2.  How are Apple consumers characterized?
3.  In comparison, how are Samsung consumers characterized.
4.  What is the significance of the title?
5.  Write your own essential question.

QR Codes: Non-Fiction Lesson

There are a multitude of great QR classroom uses out there already.  In fact the Daring Librarian has a great post from December of 2010 about different QR codes and a great video about how they were used in one high school for multiple classrooms.

Today, I’m going to offer one approach to using QR codes in the English classroom.  This is quite simply a teacher driven, small groups at stations, QR code assignment. Keep in mind this post is quite lengthy so as to give you an activity and an example of how to use this with Fast Food Nation.

The purpose: to extend student learning on topics that relate to a non-fiction book.

Things to consider: You may, depending on  your means, want students to use ipods, phones and ipads.  A bigger screen would be useful if you plan on having students use any of the articles below.  You may also want to encourage your students to share devices.  You’ll absolutely want them to bring headphones as some of the QR codes, when scanned, link to videos and podcasts.

Non-Fiction, Teacher Generated QR Codes

This activity could be used at anytime during the study of a unit of novel. The goal: create a deeper/broader understanding of the concepts studied.  Choose a series of articles, podcasts, images, cartoons, etc. that could be easily used for synthesizing a larger understanding.  I’ve chosen Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation as an example because non-fiction may be an easier way for you to attempt this type of activity.  Resources should also be easier to find. Read more

Novel & Unit Projects: Day Two

 

 I find it helps to organize books and units around one “principle.”  This principle will be modeled and practiced throughout the entirety of the unit from a variety of angles.  It’s always my goal to then have students “produce” that skill on their own or in small groups by the end of our study.  Today I’ll provide two different approaches. The options for today all focus on culminating activities that measure writing ability.

Idea #1

It seems to me that many of the books we give our students are meta “texts.”  Novels like To Kill a Mockingbird, All the King’s Men, even The Scarlet Letter include a series of speeches, sermons or courtroom arguments that have their own “life.”   Books that include other “texts” within them offer a range of opportunities for end projects.

Read more