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Working with Documentary Films in the Classroom
Working with Documentary Films in the Classroom

A list of strategies and examples of ways to work with subtitles and documentary films in a school context.

Written by Noel Garvey
Updated over a week ago

Every classroom and learning setting has a variety of students with different learning needs and learning styles. We understand and encourage teachers to differentiate our documentaries and consider some of the following ideas.

Our content team designed a CPD session exploring some of the elements of Lyfta documentaries and how to explore them with students.

Working with subtitles:

We invite teachers to think about the following questions as they explore how to teach with subtitled content:

  • Will you teach with subtitles/captions on or off? Why?

  • Will you pause the video? If yes, where and why?

  • Will you slow down the video? When and why?

  • Will you play video sound? When and why?

There are many ways that our teachers choose to work with subtitles in order to support students’ literacy. Some teachers choose to differentiate the subtitled content for their learners by using the following strategies:

  • Slow down the speed of the video (and lowering the sound) in order to encourage students to read along and process the information, focusing on literacy here.

  • Play/Pause - teachers play the video with subtitles at regular speed, but pause the video to elicit responses from students and consolidating key concepts in each section of the video before moving on

  • Turning subtitles off completely and asking students to watch the film without them, inviting them to make predictions about what they think is happening.

    • Optionally, some practitioners then re-play the video and ask students to look at their predictions in order to “check” to see how accurate they were

    • In primary school settings, some of our teachers supplement this strategy with blank storyboards where they ask students to draw their own images / map out the story and infer what they think is happening.

Further strategies for working with documentaries:

  • Pre-watch the documentary and only use specific clips to support your lesson objectives.

  • Consistent structure upon entering a storyworld every time

    • Examples include: always asking students the same three questions, always asking students to listen to the audio before sharing the screen with them, etc.

  • Search within the film strategy: where teachers are asking students to watch the film, but looking for a specific piece of content or specific theme.

    • For example, one of our primary teachers used Lyfta Time 4: Erkan in Turkey and found she had extra time during the lesson so she asked students to count and label all of the animals in the scene.

  • Building Social and Emotional Awareness

    • Some teachers play the documentaries but rather than ask students to summarise or reflect on the whole film, they ask students to focus on social and emotional occurrences in the documentary.

    • For example, some students visited Yu from China and teachers prompted them to focus on examples of Yu being a captain and role model for her team.

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