Conversation circle, film interviews and debate: 7 activities to broaden students cultural knowledge through film

El niño- cartel

Spanish Cinema delivers with El Niño

Before talking about the pedagogical merits of  El Niño , I have to say that I absolutely love the protagonista (Luis Tosar) and antagonist (Jesús Castro). I have seen their work in other films and series and they are the real deal!  I have become a fan of Spanish Cinema as I find the films to be refreshingly real, costumbrista and very gutsy. This film not only delivers on action, but it does on thematic content, storyline and romance!

Te llamas el Niño, por qué te gusta jugar…

    This month I got to introduce some of my favorite short and full feature films and series from Latin American and Spain. The goal was to get students talking in Spanish much like they do in their English classes.

          El Niño is an action-packed 1 hour and 40 minutes film. ¡Ojo! it does have two scenes that I usually censure. Prior to this film, I do a mini lesson on Spanish-Africa, we watch a video on Ceuta and Melilla as the film takes place at the crossroads of the two cultures.  The film explores the themes of illegal immigration, oppressive governments, corruption, unemployment and the selling of contraband- all these things really mesh together to create the storyline.  Many students were completely unaware of the presence of Spanish Africa, the Moors and the confluence of Spanish, African and Arabian culture. The love interest and tension between the Spaniard and a muslim girl from Africa, kept them on their edge of their seats and gave us some meaty morsels for class discussion.

    One of the best activities I did associated with this was the Film Interview. We compiled a list of themes presented in the film. I called five students out randomly and facilitated a discussion with them highlighting  one of the themes. I tossed one catalyst question and they just went at it. Of the comments made, it was encouraging to hear them use their accountable talk phrases to agree, disagree and when they struggled they relied on circumlocution, much like they would in a more authentic context with native speakers.  They added  new perspective to the film that I had not even noticed (I annotated them for the following year). However, students noticed an interesting detail in the film; possessors where criminalized more than consumers of contraband. This dichotomy surfaced as those who shipped, grew and sold  contraband were relentless pursued by police, while those who topping the  “demand” aspect of the chain  aspects brillaban por su ausencia. This led to several dynamic discussions. I had to extend interviews because se calentaba la mesa de conversación.

Activities for viewing the film 

1. Conversation Circle 

To introcomunicacion-iconduce the lesson, we discussed favorite books and movies. These lively conversations inevitably led to words and ideas that would comprise our vocabulary list. I used activities such as these to engage them in the begging stages. From there I created a simple vocabulary list.  The list was used as a point of reference and also provided students with vocabulary for describing, analyzing and writing about films.  Vocabulary for Flim unit 

I’d also like to put a plug in for this amazing Movie Sheet  I got from one of the teachers on TPT. This sheet saves my life every time I am in a bind. If you ever show a movie or even a Telenovela, just have a view of these handy to avoid students annoying asking ” Do we take notes? What do we do?

Preliminary input and interest 

2.  To get students excited about the unit in addition to providing them with resources they could view on their own beyond the four walls of the class,  I featured a few trailers of Spanish-speaking series. Most of the series are from Spain (I have A3series- a new channel offered on RCN).  However, it also highlights Spain’s dominance in this particular market. Series such as Gran Hotel and El Internado are also popularly viewed by both Spanish-Speaking and non Spanish-Speaking audiences. Since we had been working on the subjunctive in this particular class, I organized activities to include that grammatical point. This activity Hoja de actividad worked the vocabulary and grammar.

Trailers o Avances to the series. 

El principe

El barco

El Mar plastico

3. As we begin to discuss how to analyze film. we looked at camera angles and shots in terms of their importance in bringing the story alive.  Here is the activity with the video that I used to help students get a sense of the language used to describe angles in addition to their importance. This is the second year I’ve included the angle shots. The first year I had introduced them was disastrous as I assumed that students had some familiarity with photography (we have AP Photo at my school). Lesson learned! This year we covered all but only emphasized a few.

Film shots in Spanish (the url of the video is embedded in the document).

4.  Film Carrousel

This was something different I did this year. We have 90 minute block periods so this worked perfectly for one class. I selected three films. The vocabulary as well as questions front loading some the films content and themes were included in the anticipatory set prior to seeing the film (see the PPT).  The order was as follows:

– Complete previewing activities

– View cortometraje and jot down new vocabulary words

– Turn to a partner to discuss the themes, characters, plot and overall impression of the film (next year I will include the camera shots)

– Engage in a class discussion about themes.

Power Point used to launch the film carrousel activity

Activity sheets for students

Useful websites

Film Vocabulary in Spanish

!Más actividades por delante! Please share your favorite films!  

Join the ACTFL Cinema SIG page on Facebook where we discuss and share film ideas!


Keeping students in the Target Language


 How to flip your class into a productively themed-based “chatty classroom.”

 I have had days where after teaching what I thought to be a dynamic-pat-myself on the back lesson, only to realize the student had not uttered a word or communicated substantively with other students. This was my conundrum early in the school year and I sought to solve it with turning every activity into a communicative focused one. I thought this was going to be a challenge in my novice-level class, but it turned out to be a lot of fun, a lot o noise and a lot of learning.

I know for many it can be a challenge to speak the duration of class due to the limited language ability of of super green- novice speakers.  However, despite the challenges I committed myself  to providing a whole language experience to all my students regardless of level. The goal early this year, I wanted to test the “stay 100% in the target language in Spanish I.”

In order to accomplish this goal, I had to relax some of my rules (respira y cuenta hasta 10).   I allowed my lower levels to Speak “Spanglish” in the beginning due to their limited scope and depth of the language. My new model has adjusted to this reality of baby’s first words and thusly I charged them with  “say what you can in Spanish” and we’ll work with the rest. One of my students put this into practice right away.   After my little spiel about staying in the TL he continued his conversation about basketball describing  one of the players for the previous night’s game he said “Él es un point guard.” Well, it made me think that Spanishglish  is also a strategies for circumlocution- when used correctly of course.

I divided my 90 minute block period into, what I have call language carousel. This has enabled me to have interaction with every students in the class, perform quick dipstick assessments and get production skill data in a manner of seconds.  If you have 45 minute block periods, you will have to adjust this plan, but this is what I am working on now. Here is a sample layout of my language carrousel.

Unit: Vamos a la escuela- Speaking carrousel

-up/ Calentamiento

– View a picture and write 5 verbs associated with the picture (well, writing is a catalyst for speaking)

– Interview students about what they see (extemporaneous speech) and students interview each other. Here, I taught using TPR some sentence stems that they used with their vocabulary. Such as “Yo veo” pointing to my eye.  This was a great opportunity for them to use definite and indefinite articles as well. They also had to say what they did not see, which helped to expand their vocabulary, while having fun.

–  After the warm up, I was introducing the first episode of Eres Tú María.  I love this series because each episode builds progressively on the vocabulary. I believe this is connected with a textbook, but the videos are in Youtube. Click here for the series.

-Introduce pre-viewing activity for video with vocabulary words. 

– Show students a screenshot of the video/ have them make predictions going beyond the visual stimuli and the vocabulary words. Students can also use basic questioning techniques to ask other students questions. This is always a winner. 

–  Students interview other students about predictions

– Show video once- interview students about what they say (present tense) to make connections

– Show video a second time/ interview students asking them visual interpretations questions about the video.

– Students get into groups to discuss comprehension question. I have some questions that are not on the sheet that are reserved for my student interview.

Please note that each speaking task is with a different student and that during this time, I have a clipboard with my attendance chart. At the bottom of my attendance chart I have an novice-mid quick rubric to assessing students as they speak (picture forthcoming). This has helped me formatively assess my students, tweak my lessons daily and formulate better summative assessments more commiserate with their growth and stretch goal.  Not to mention many of my students will have an opportunity to speak thus building the confidence that is a necessary precursor to

The only drawback I have encountered with the method is that after the third student, the other students get a bit restless. I am going to try incorporating this while other students are working and not oblige them to listen to the conversation. I will keep you posted!!