Two Short Films to Get Students Thinking

I had an epiphany this past spring: in the classroom, short films are just as good as full-length features if not better. This was a big deal for a guy who traffics in yearly showings of Say AnythingJunoBenny & JoonCitizen KaneTo Kill a MockingbirdA Rebel Without a Cause and whatever other films I can use as thinking and learning texts.  I love film.  I love movies.  They can be massively time consuming teaching tools.  With shorts, a lot less time gets consumed.  Here are four reasons short films are awesome for the classroom.

1. You get a complete story in about 20 minutes or less. (I went to a midnight showing of Dark Knight Rises and I could not say the same thing after nearly three hours.)   No more worrying about block scheduling, discovering that a single snow day pushed your showing of William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet from two classes to a week-and-a half.

2. With sources like Vimeo and YouTube, the availability of quality material has never been higher. You just have to navigate through the  LOLCats and “Call Me Maybe” covers.  (The brilliant Mt. Blue High School entry to the fold, excepted, of course.  Everyone should watch that thing daily, while eating apples, drinking water, and munching Flintstones Chewables.)

3. Every genre under the sun can be represented in the space of a school year, only increasing the likelihood of engaging every student.  Film noir, slapstick, supernatural, inspirational, puppies as astronauts.  Yay, right?

4. Students learn that short films can be powerful forms of expression and may well be inspired to create their own.  Whenever I hear students say, “I want to make a movie for my project,” I grin, nod, and say, “Sure! Go for it!”  In the back of my head, I’m thinking, “How many days before they say, ‘This is too much work.  What else could I do?'”  With short films, they have mentor texts showcasing attainable goals — at least in terms of length.

While I get sent links to shorts by my friends and colleagues all the time, credit for overhauling my thinking about film integration goes to Muldoon (Mike McCutchen) and his Saturday Shorts column over at Harry Knowles’ Ain’t It Cool News .  Every Saturday he curates a new collection of material sent to him and that he discovers on his own and wouldn’t you know it, a ton of it is great material for the classroom.  (Not all of it.  No, no.  Please don’t just send your classes there and say “Watch things!” Please.  Then I will feel bad and there will be emotional scarring.)

It was a column of his several months back to turned me on to Miracle Fish, Luke Doolan’s Academy Award-nominated short that fit exceptionally well into Period One Gold’s recent discussions on gun control, school safety, and bullying.

Miracle Fish


This past weekend, Muldoon posted a link to this fantastic five-minute film by Martin Stirling that could open up some terrific discussion about the power of the internet, digital citizenship, social responsibility, dating, truth and honest, business ethics, media literacy, and dramatic irony.  You know, just a few things.

“Future, Inc” by Martin Stirling

Future.Inc from Martin Stirling on Vimeo.

I’m looking forward to the fall and working this right into our first lessons on digital citizenship with my ninth grade crew.

Know of any great short films that have made learning better in your neck of the woods?  Post a link or several in the comments.  Woot!


About Dan Ryder

Dan Ryder & Jeff Bailey, co-founders of Wicked Decent Learning, a blog, podcast, Twitter feed and who-knows-what-all-else devoted to teaching and learning in Vacationland and beyond. Teachers, dads, actors, writers, geeks, buds.

4 thoughts on “Two Short Films to Get Students Thinking

  1. Wow! Just watched Miracle Fish! Talk about a twist. Great way to look at how that was built up. For my video class I often have students look at the Pixar shorts (For the Birds for example) to show how you can create an engaging film that is short, has all the elements and many don’t even use words. I particularly like using “One Man Band”

    • The Pixar short collection is a great resource. It comes and goes on Netflix Instant Watch — and you can find it used just about anywhere used DVDs are sold.

      Have you ever thought about having your crew create silent, one-to-three-minute shorts? I’m thinking about having students do that this fall. Challenging them to examine the essentials of storytelling. I think it could be powerful for my AP Lit class, even. They will be doing so much literary analysis, it could give them an angle on how to deconstruct story at its most essential level.

      Wicked Decent Learning

      • I have a “voiceless video” assignment which challenges them to create a story without words. Songs and sounds are allowed and it helps them better understand how camera angles and sound (not dialogue) can tell a story or set a mood all on their own.

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