How to Turn Any Short Film Into a Language Lesson

smiling bucket of popcorn saying "Turtn it up!"

I love using short films in the classroom! Why? Three major reasons:

  • Short films always give me a theme to build the lesson around.
  • It is easy to build multi-modal and differentiated activities around short films.
  • It is always (well, most of the time) popular with students.

In this article, I will share how I go about creating my short film lessons.

Step One: Pick a Flick

YouTube gives you a virtual buffet of films. Got access to movie subscription services? Even better!

A search on YouTube for “short film” yields page after page of results. My cup filleth over, as it were, as I scroll through the options and I’m suddenly struck by the paradox of choice. To make it easier, I try to narrow down my options. Instead of starting to search among the search results for the query “short film”, I usually first decide what type of movie I want to base the lesson on. Do I want the movie to be funny, serious, action-packed or scary? Once I have decided on a genre, I add it to the search bar and still get a metric tonne of films, but still less than before. Many times, a film crew or YouTube channel has released several films. Therefore, if I find a well-made film that suits my students, I always browse the YouTube channel’s publications for more. Trust me, you’ll come across many a gold mine! Personally, I often use films by Pixar SparkShorts. The CGMeetup channel also offers many great works.

Step Two: Outlining the Lesson

Time to identify the roadmap and goals of the lesson.

Once you have chosen your film, you can start thinking about how you want to use it in the classroom. I always ask myself two main questions:

  • What are the themes of the film and how can I work with them? (The theme of the film theme is a great source for discussion questions!)
  • What language skills do I want students to work with? (It is usually quite easy to shoehorn in exercises focused on a particular skill.)

Step Three: Activities

The fun stuff — Coming up with classroom activities.

The third step is to come up with activities. I’ve written a list of activities that can be used with virtually any film. Pick a couple (or a lot) of these activities. Add some of your own, and hey presto! — Lesson plan done!

Speaking and/or Writing Activities Based on Film Content:
  • Ask discussion questions about the theme that the film touches on.
  • Summarize the plot of the film. Variations: use present or past tense exclusively.
  • Describe the environment in the film. 
  • Describe the characters. How do they look? What are their personalities like?
  • Describe the overall feeling that the film gives you.
  • Write a sequel to the film. What happens after the last scene? What does the characters’ situation look like ten years later? Variations: Write what happened before the events in the film. Use past, present or future tense exclusively.
Speaking and/or Writing Activities Based on Film Craft / Style
  • Describe the way the movie is animated. How does the style of the film affect our perception of the plot?
  • Talk about the actors’ efforts. How do their expressions affect us as viewers? What makes us sucked into the story? What keeps us from getting carried away?
  • How do you think the film was made? Would you like to become a filmmaker? Why/Why not?
Activities to strengthen specific language skills
  • Refer to a given scene from the film and ask students to write down all the nouns they find in the scene. Write all nouns on the board.
  • Describe the environment and the characters only by using adjectives. Write the adjectives on the board.
  • Watch the movie again. Each time a character performs an action, pause the film and ask students to describe how they perform the action using adverbs. Put the adverbs on the whiteboard.

Step Four: Dive Deeper

Exploring the depth of the rabbit hole of education.

Elaborate on the theme you selected from the movie. How? Here are some examples: 

  • If you have seen a short film about food, you can task the students with writing a recipe that they have a personal connection to. In addition, they can also write a short text about why this recipe is important to them. 
  • Have you seen a film that deals with the theme of injustice? Set up a debate on the definition of justice. 
  • Pick out additional films (facts as well as fiction) that touch on the theme. Build further tasks based on the film.


Short films can be milked into infinity on lesson material. Many of the films you find on YouTube do not contain any dialogue and can therefore be used for several different target languages. If you teach several languages, you can reuse (with some modification) the material you have created for one target language. Simple + effective = more time for student interaction.

Curious about what a finished lesson plan might look like? Take a look at my short film lesson plans on TpT or pick up my freebie lesson plan.

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