Sunday, January 23, 2011

WS: Movie Clips

Occasionally, a quote from an old favorite movie will come to my mind when I'm trying to decide how to present a new grammar point in class.

I mean, we've already seen how drab some textbook examples can be. Why not dump all those examples about Kumi's pencils and learn the comparative forms through clips from Braveheart ("That can't be William Wallace! I'm prettier than this man!") and Spaceballs ("I see your Schwartz is as big as mine!")?

But, before you jump in to using media in the classroom, it's a good idea to at least familiarize yourself with etiquette regarding copyrighted material in the classroom. UnderstandMedia makes some good general recommendations about fair use of media, concluding that using movie clips to make a point in the classroom falls under fair use. That's great, because it's exactly what this article is about: Finding an interesting clip you can use to show your students "real" English. (Incidentally, letting your first graders watch Aladin 2 in segments over a week of classes because you are too lazy/forgot to prepare actual lessons does not fall under fair use.)

The tools to find the text of your funny quote aren't groundbreaking. The best quotes are going to be the ones that pop into your mind when checking out next week's grammar lesson, not the ones that you forcibly scour out of the Internet from obscure movies. Google will obviously help you track down your estimations of quotes, or check out IMDB's search function, which allows you to search exclusively for movie quotes as cataloged by site users.

Getting visuals for your quote is the harder part. You can take in a copy of the whole movie, but that takes time to cue up in class, especially if you're working from a DVD player. If you have the whole video copied over in another format, such as DivX or XviD, there are many editing tools to cut down the video. However, I find that even simple edits like cropping can quickly eat up a lot of time. You may be better off cuing up the clip from a full copy of the film before class, especially if you only plan to use it once.

Or, of course it's possible to find some clips on Youtube. Youtube clips come in an obnoxious Flash video format (.flv) which can be hard to edit. I found some success with RichFLV when parsing two .flv files together. But, cropping just a few seconds out of a longer clip seems to cause problems with audio and video desync. Converting the .flv to another format is also possible, but that can cause audio-video desync as well.

So, there's two duds of suggestions that you could have probably figured out yourself. But, here's the part where we introduce something not everyone already knows about. :)

MovieClips is a great site that does a lot of this tedious locating and cropping work for you. Simply type in the title of a movie, and it spits back specific, memorable scenes from that movie. The library isn't comprehensive, but the clips that are available are edited down to perfect 2-to-3-minute snippets for classroom examples. And better yet, it's free and clear of that "free use" grey area surrounding movie clips. (You may not care, but it'll put your supervisors' minds at ease.)

Finally, a word on displaying the clip in class: Japanese classrooms are starting to get more techy, despite plenty of teachers that don't know how/just don't use the new tools. Depending on your city, it may be standard for public school classrooms to have a DVD player or TV with PC hookups. Visiting a tiny junior high school in the mountains last year, I noticed even it had flatscreen TVs with USB-to-HDMI converter boxes for each classroom, which would I think be the ideal setup for showing movie clips: Cue up your PC before class, walk in two or three minutes before the starting bell, hook up to the TV, and have the clip ready for whenever you need it.

(If you don't know what your school has available, ask! Public initiatives send all kinds of crap into schools with tax money; a lot of it perplexes the ever-changing staff of Japanese schools and just never gets used. I've discovered digital whiteboards and still-wrapped CDs of English sing-a-longs stashed away in language labs just by asking the administration what was available to work with.)

So, there it is! If you have any other tricks you use when finding and playing media in class, we'd love to hear them. Comment below!

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