María Postigo. Canal Winchester HS, Spanish III & IV Teacher, OFLA Secondary Language Learning Committee.
María is currently on a sabbatical as she finishes her PhD Dissertation.
Despite how difficult it is to define the concept of film genre even for scholars, and to classify movies accordingly, it is a pretty useful category for everyday users. This includes producers, directors, translators, distributors, audience, teachers, students, etc. Although film genres consist of fictional industrial products, their resemblance with reality makes them very versatile in the classroom. They have the power to bring cultures closer by exposing the audience and students to what makes certain individuals laugh, cry, or have feelings of astonishment, fear, disappointment, hope and so forth. Apart from the cultural discussion that film genres bring into the classroom, due to the simultaneous audio-visual channels of communication entailed in genre films, they provide a great tool for students to practice the different language skills and modes of communication.
Film Genre Definition
There are excellent publications on the topic, such as those by Schatz (1981), Andrew (1984), Leutrat (1998), Altman (1999), Romaguera i Ramió (1999), Neale (2000), Gledhill (2000), Sánchez Noriega (2002), etc. There seems to be a common (and international) agreement on how notoriously difficult it is to define the concept of film genre. The establishment of a taxonomy that classifies its numerous genres, subgenres, hybrid genres and so on is equally laborious. Definitions vary, but in general, we could define a film genre as a category of classification whose movies share similarities in narrative form and artistic style, theme and content, as well as communicative function. As Romaguera i Ramió puts it, if the specific elements are dominant, we are talking about a certain genre, whereas if the external ones are more prominent, than we are talking about another (1999, 47). It has been extensively suggested that genre conventions have an influence on genre films as well as on the audience expectations. It is very likely that without any definitions needed in the classroom, our students have been exposed to enough movies to be able to distinguish between genres, their conventions and the expectations they entail. Finally, film genres ever-changing nature provides teachers with a both historic and current resource.
World Language Classroom Applications
The aforementioned audiovisual channel of communication of genre films presents itself as a great way to reinforce all language skills (listening, reading, speaking and writing) as well as all modes of communication (interpretive, presentational and interpersonal). Here are some ideas on how to use them in the classroom:
- Students listen to the trailer without looking at it and debate in groups what genre it belongs to and why, and share information that they understood regarding characters, time, place, music, etc. Students watch the trailer and compare and contrast the information they got when they did/ did not see the images on the screen.
- Students read movie posters, sort them out by genres and discuss why.
- Students read a movie script and summarize it taking into account its genre.
- Students read some subtitles and try to predict what is going to happen according to the genre.
- Students read information about different genres of films from various media sources, listen to information from podcasts or watch premier reviews; later they answer comprehension questions based on the sources they have used.
- Students present different genre movies at a film festival (films from various countries can be used).
- Students make a trailer for a certain film genre.
- Students suggest an alternate ending for a genre film.
- Each group of students acts out a different scene which is then made into a movie. The creations from each class are shared.
- Students take the same characters or themes and present them in another film genre (can be combined with the previous activity).
- Students write movie reviews.
- Students take roles interviewing characters of the movie and react the way the character would react in the movie, in that particular genre or in another genre.
- Students take roles interviewing the director and actors at the movie premiere and ask about their experiences making the movie.
- Students read the synopses of different genre films and agree on which one they plan to watch.
- Students carry on a conversation about their favorite film genre.
- Students discuss what themes make a movie romantic, tragic, etc.
Once different film genres in the target language have been introduced in the classroom and a cultural discussion has taken place, students will have a chance to reproduce or change the film genre conventions, its narrative form, artistic style, theme, content and communicative function. This will provide them with a versatile context where their language skills can improve in a fun way, while taking ownership of their work. Film genres can be similar to understanding context clues in a conversation and can help students learn to use appropriate words and expressions in different scenarios.