Film in the Classroom

Film (feature films, documentaries, cable and some TV series) and film clips are a valuable resource in modern language instruction: film offers students contextualized language use; compelling narratives; and a window into the cultural practices and values of different regions and peoples.

Thanks to a generous grant from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, the Berkeley Language Center offers the following resources to support the integration of film into the language classroom.

Tips for Working with Film in the Classroom

Learning Objectives: Film can be a great way to support a range of learning objectives in the language classroom, including: listening comprehension; vocabulary acquisition or practice; oral or written production; cultural knowledge, analysis and comparison; textual analysis. 

Film in All Levels: Don’t feel limited to using film/film clips at the advanced level. Film or film clips can be integrated at any level of proficiency, with the appropriate objectives and scaffolding.

Copyright: Think through questions of copyright and film: the viewing of films and film clips in the context of a classroom (students registered/enrolled in a not-for-profit educational institution) is typically covered by Fair Use. However, it would be important to verify with your institution’s administration. 

Use of English vs. Target Language: Films are a great way to expose students to “authentic” target language use and a great springboard to student-created texts (written or oral) in the target language. Consider the use of English to discuss more complex topics (e.g., cultural assumptions, filmic devices), especially at beginning and intermediate levels. 

Distribution: Consider questions of distribution of the film or the film clip: how will students watch the film or the film clip? In class? At home? How will they access it?  

Multiple Viewings: Consider multiple viewings of film clips with layered objectives–for example, first round of viewings: a focus on listening comprehension and/or language, second round of viewings: a focus on culture; third round of viewings: a focus on the film as a text. 

Films vs Film Clips: Instructors might decide to use a singular clip from a film, a full-length film, or a combination of the two. Here are some guidelines for thinking through how to decide: 

  • Clips: if time is tight and if a particular learning objective can be targeted with a short segment of the film, clips can be a good option. Ensure that students have enough context about the larger film to be able to make sense of the clip.  
  • Films: if time allows and if the full film would provide fodder for additional, important learning objectives, consider using a full film. It can save class time to ask students to watch the film on their own and to dedicate class time to discussion. 
  • A combination of clips and films: one approach that can be useful, if time allows, is to combine clips with the whole film. The sequencing can vary depending on the course and the learning objectives. For example, students can watch short clips throughout the semester, with learning objectives that parallel course content, with the full-length film being a final activity. Alternatively, students can first be assigned a full-length film and then clips, to dive into specific scenes and the attached learning objectives. 

Reflections: Consider saving time for students to reflect on the film and how it impacted their understanding of the target culture. Reflection can also be useful as spaces where students pose their own questions about the film/film clips.

Activities to Engage in the Classroom

Listening Comprehension 

Film can be a great way to support learners’ listening comprehension. Listening comprehension can be approached in several ways including, pending time, asking students to watch a particular clip or segment of a film multiple times with different combinations of subtitles (translation of the film dialogue into English) or captions (transcription of the film dialogue in the original language). One approach here would be to increase the level of listening comprehension scaffolding with each additional round of viewing—e.g., round 1: no captions/subtitles; round 2: captions; round 3: subtitles. 

For instance, asking students at a beginning or intermediate level to first watch a clip without any captions or subtitles, to familiarize them with the sound of the language and to expose them to spoken discourse at a proficient-speaker pace. Students could also be asked to identify segments of speech that they understand or to begin to answer questions on what is taking place or what is being said. In a subsequent round, students could then re-watch the clip with captions or subtitles and revise their previous answers as well as answer new questions. 

Oral & Written Production 

Films can also be an excellent basis for student production of oral or written language. This kind of production can be as simple as asking students to describe plot details in writing or out loud. Alternatively, films can also be a great basis for more complex tasks, such as a classroom debate on a particular character’s actions; a student-created video project in the style of the film in question; or a short, written summary on a political, historical or social issue present in the target film.  


Films can also stand as “a model and reflection of the C2’s cultural artifacts, values, and behaviors” (Kaiser, 2011, p. 241). 

At a more superficial level, film (and, in particular, film clips) can be a great way to showcase festivals, holidays and food traditions. Often, instructors can identify a short scene that provides a visual of these cultural practices without needing to provide too much of the context/backstory of the film. 

Film and film clips can also offer a window into more subtle cultural practices and beliefs. For instance, instructors can identify scenes that offer a deeper look into cultural practices, such as: 

  • Discussions or arguments
  • Gender roles 
  • Relationships (family, friends, neighbors, etc)
  • Work culture 
  • School expectations 

Some activity structures that work well for cultural objectives include:

  • Cultural comparisons: Ask students to compare cultural practices or beliefs in the target culture, as highlighted by a film or film clip, with other cultures the students are familiar with
  • Research: Ask students to research any key historical, political, or social happenings in the movie, either in the target language or English; this can be accompanied by a written or oral discussion or synthesis to incorporate text-production objectives into the activity.

Film as a Text

Film can be a great way to spark “an exploration of how multiple semiotic systems work together to create an artistic, meaning-full text” (Kaiser, 2011, p. 241). More concretely, films/film clips are multimodal texts that can serve as an ideal subject for the exploration of the following questions: how do image/video, score/soundtrack, and dialogue work together (or in opposition) to create meaning?

Some activity ideas within this general objective umbrella would be: 

  • Support student analysis of how modes (e.g., video, sound or music, dialogue, camera shots) in a particular scene complement or contradict each other and the impact of this on the meaning(s) created.
  • Break a scene up into its constituent parts (e.g., image/video, sounds, dialogue) and ask students to watch/listen to/read each individually—i.e., watching the video without sound or dialogue, listening to the sound/soundtrack, reading the dialogue). Does their interpretation change for different parts? How? What would happen if one of the modes changed? (e.g., if the soundtrack was different? If the video was shot from a different angle?) 
  • Ask students to re-write the dialogue, perhaps in a different register, from a different perspective, for a particular clip or scene. How does this change the meaning of the text? 

References & Further Reading

Etienne, C., & Vanbaelen, S. (2017). Exploring symbolic competence: Constructing meaning(s) and stretching cultural imagination in an intermediate college-level French class. L2 Journal9(2), 63–83.

Kaiser, M. (2011). New approach to exploiting film in the foreign language classroom.” L2 Journal 3(2), 232–49.

Kaiser, M., & Shibahara, C. (2014). Film as source material in advanced foreign language classes. L2 Journal6(1), 1–14.

Kambara, W. (2011). Teaching Japanese Pragmatic Competence Using Film ClipsL2 Journal 3(2). 

Zhang, L. (2011). Teaching Chinese cultural perspectives through film. L2 Journal3(2), 201–231. 

Language and Film Lesson Plans

In Summer 2023, six language instructors from UC Berkeley participated in a Summer Film Fellows Program, generously funded by the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation. 

As a part of the Fellows Program, the instructors created activities and lesson plans for use in their classrooms. The content of the film fellows’ projects is ultimately the product of their own imagination and vision. 

The languages, films, and levels covered in these lesson plans is summarized here: 

  • Film: Almanya: Willkommen in Deutschland (dir. Yasemin Şamdereli, 2011)
    • Level/Language: second-semester German
  • Film: Chumo (dir. Jordan Riber, Media for Development International, 2011)
    • Level/Language: advanced Swahili
  • Film: Calendar (dir. Atom Egoyan, 1993)
    • Level/Language: second-semester Armenian
  • Film: Wajib (dir. Annemarie Jacir, 2017)
    • Level/Language: first-semester Arabic
  • Films: Sameblod (dir. Amanda Kernell, 2016), Hva vil folk si (dir. Iram Haq, 2017)
    • Language level: first-year Nordic languages (Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Danish) 
  • Film: An Ordinary Miracle, (dir. Mark Zakharov, 1978)
    • Level/Language: second/third-semester Russian

The Fellows also presented portions of their lesson plans at a Roundtable on Sept 15, 2023 — watch it here

Download the full pdf of lesson plans below. 

Film and Language in the Classroom Webinar 

In Summer 2023, thanks to generous support from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, the Berkeley Language Center organized a Summer Film Fellows Program. As a part of the Program, Dr. Mark Kaiser (Associate Director Emeritus of the Berkeley Language Center and creator of Lumière), and Dr. Maya Sidhu (Lecturer of French and specialist in film studies) gave a webinar on instructional strategies for best using film and film clips in the language classroom. 

Watch the webinar here. 

Summer Film Fellows Webinar May 15, 2023

Summer Film Fellows, September 15, 2023

BLC Fellows Lesson Plans