DigiLit Sunday: Using Film as a Mentor Text

I’m slowly incorporating more digital into my literacy workshops.  Understanding the many options and how they might enhance learning has been a journey.  I’ve learned so much from those who contribute each week to Margaret Simon’s Digi Lit Sunday link up. You all inspire me to try things out and see where it might work in my classroom. Today I offer a piece of my learning.

slide11Testing ended this week, and I was itching to get back to teaching.  Anticipating the end of elementary school, students don’t quite know what to do with themselves. They are antsy. They need to be busy.

All of this makes the end of the school year a perfect time to try out new ideas, to stretch, to try something a little scary, but exciting in a safe place. So this week I challenged my 5th-grade students and myself to reach up to middle school expectations by introducing a new literary idea: tone.

I’ve stayed away from teaching tone for a couple of reasons. One, it isn’t a 5th-grade standard and two, I’ve been a little shaky on the difference between tone and mood. In my mind, they kind of flow together. But this week, for the challenge of it, we went there, and we went there by way of using film as an entry point to understanding.  Film is hardly new in the world of digital literacy, but it’s one of the most powerful teaching tools.

I introduced the concept by talking about a person’s tone of voice and how you can tell (or infer) how the speaker feels through that “tone”.

I gave students some possible words to describe the tone and then showed them a clip from the Hunger Games asking them to look for clues that might tell us the author’s feeling or attitude. Thanks to Katie Clements from TCRWP, I found Clip Converter that allows me to downloaded clips to my computer, making access fool proof during the lesson. No spooling, no ads, only what I wanted and when I wanted it. Clip Converter is easy, and the downloaded clips can be stored on Google Drive.

The beautiful thing about this clip is its lack of dialog.  We infer the emotion from facial expressions, body language and tone of voice. Students watched and jotted. Then they watched again looking for evidence to support their word choice. They came up with words like powerful, defiant, and fearless citing Katniss’s bold move shooting the apple and her tone of voice as she left.

Transferring this thinking to written text was the next step.

The planned read aloud was at a spot with intense action. I asked students to take the work they did with the film clip and use in this part of our story.

Hundreds of people lined the riverbank. The soldiers were forcing some of them into the water, prodding them with their rifle butts, shooting into the air. Other people, afraid of the soldiers and their guns, were leaping into the water on their own. They were immediately swept downstream by the powerful current.

This action packed part was a perfect place. It’s intense, and you can’t help but be on the edge of your seat. With me reading it, all had access to the text. Students came up with:

  • crazy
  • scary
  • chaos
  • doom
  • powerless

The images of rifle buts, forcing, shooting in the air, leaping in the water all created feeling and it was easy for students to describe the tone.

Using this clip again and again as a mentor text is inviting and accessible to all students. Film clips help students grab hold of abstract literary ideas. And I just don’t use it enough.

Can you imagine using this same clip to dig into character, setting, mood, symbolism? How could this be transferred into writing?  

Using Clip Converter and Google Drive as a virtual filing cabinet I’ll be more likely to reach for this tool in the future.