Lights, Camera, Action! Making and Using Movies in your Classroom

In this age of Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, it’s wondrously easy for both us and our students to make short films as projects in our classes.  Editing software is often cheap, even free, and anyone who has a smartphone or tablet can capture video footage.  Students are excited about movies – adults are too (did you see how many advance tickets Star Wars: The Force Awakens sold before it’s premiere?).  So the question naturally becomes how to harness this tool and enthusiasm in a useful way in your classes.
Below I present some ideas I’ve used myself or seen used by others.

  1. Myth Movies – mythology is a core part of almost any Classics teacher’s curriculum, and what more fun way for students to connect with myth than to recreate a favorite myth with bad costumes, bad acting, and cheesy special effects?  When I first started this many years ago, I’d let students get into groups and film their adaptation of their favorite myth.  Most turned out OK, a few abysmally bad, and some have been brilliant for one reason or another.  One idea that has been very popular is a vote for Best in Show, in which laurels and extra credit are given to the movie with the most votes.  Sometimes I let a second class decide the winner (helping create a culture of continuity and expectation through the levels), and sometimes I also give a Best Reason Award and ask every student in the class to explain what part of the adaptation they liked best about their favorite film.  But after awhile seeing mostly the same myths picked year after year led me to the idea I tried last year…
  2. Myth Mash Up! – In this idea we test myth’s power of symbolism, trope/stereotype, and theme to tell us interesting things about the human condition.  Students divide up into groups and then pick a random genre, two characters, and a place that they must turn into the trailer for a movie or TV show.  Last year I filled the character and place bags with the usual suspects (Jupiter, Pan, Achilles, Medusa, Mt. Olympus, a sacred grove, the wine-dark sea, etc.) and in the genre category I had Medical Drama, Cop Show, Horror, Romance, Sitcom, Talk Show, Documentary, and Comedy.  The movies were some of the most creative I’d seen in years, and since I also asked each group to explain the motifs, stereotypes, and so on of their movie before they presented it, the groups really thought about how to use the attributes of their places and people to work within the genre they were assigned.
  3. If you’ve got a good crew of upper level Latin students who can speak at the intermediate level, you can use them to make videos that your Latin 1 students can watch and get some comprehensible input from.  I haven’t made good use of this yet, but it’s in my wheelhouse for this year or next.
  4. Our school has a school-wide Language Fair and the upper level students in all languages create videos for their peers in the other languages to enjoy.  This can be a great way to showcase student talent and maybe even get a few people to double-up in Latin next year!  Last year my students did Myth-o-Mercials – Medea sold love potions, Pandora promoted boxes, and so on.
  5. There are short videos on YouTube presenting funny situations without using any words.  Here are some examples – Wildebeest from BirdBox Studio, Dinner also from BirdBox Studio, or Snow Cat from Simon’s Cat.  While I was at Rusticatio last year, we were shown two such shorts with many stops in order to not only describe what was going on but also to wonder about what might happen next.  There’s lots of opportunity for fun discussion and comprehensible input here while everyone practices their language skills.  This is best probably in an upper level Latin class where students have some command of basic vocabulary and can speak at the sentence or paragraph level.

How do you use videos and movies in your classes?  We’d love to know!  Add your ideas to the comment section of this post.

Links for the Week of 16 December

A petition to keep the tomb of the Roman general who inspired Gladiator from being reburied: (via @SaveRome)
A Kickstarter to raise money for a free online movie about archaeology: (via @SaveRome)
Online book chats about Roman Historical fiction: (via @IHahn)
Helmet from Caesar’s era found in Britain: (via @jntribolo)
A stage where Nero performed is being excavated: (via @Nihil_Novi_Net)
An interactive graphic (requires Flash) of Zeus’s relationships: (via @classicslibrary and @adrianmurdoch)
A tool for creating differentiated projects (with a nice section on Bloom’s built in): (via @KatyReddick)
English translations of Attic inscriptions: (via @classicslibrary)
Caroline Lawrence’s thoughts on how Romans are different from people today: (via @CarolineLawrenc)
Not strictly Classical, but a piece on how different cultures differentiate colors (useful for thinking about “Roman purple”): (via @CarolineLawrenc)

Links for the week of 4 November

Comparisons of mummy portraits with the mummies’ faces: (via @DrKillgrove)

A new online Latin dictionary: (via @etclassics)

A reconstruction of a dish from Apicius: (via @Nihil_Novi_Net)

Cat sanctuary may be pushed out of Torre Argentina: (via @AIRomanCulture)

A cartoon about a day in the life of a rich Roman boy: (Warning: does contain cartoon nudity at the beginning as part of a discussion about Roman fires and briefly in the baths, as well as vomiting). (via @rogueclassicist)

Virtual tour of the Ara Pacis (requires Flash): (via @ProfChristensen)