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BTW was created by Patrick & Julie Johnson, two Canadian educators with an interest in eduction & technology. This site showcases our interactive IBOOKS for students, but we also explore educational issues in our INQUIRY segments and share lessons/teaching ideas in our TEACHING TOOLS sections. Use the Labels section in the sidebar to navigate by topic or simply browse.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016


Clip from short film: PLOT DEVICE

In SCDSB, some Gr. 4-8 teachers will administer a reading comprehension assessment called a CASI.

This includes a short piece (non fiction or fiction) to read, and then a series of questions.

For fiction, these questions include:
  • summary
  • main idea
  • narrative traits (such as plot, setting, character)
  • character traits
  • evaluation of title
  • connection to text (text to self, text to world and/or text to text)
  • evaluation of perspective or point of view

Students complete their first CASI in September and I like to retest in January.

From that, I can determine which areas need support.

For example, typically students often confuse summary with main idea, or do not provide enough evidence to support their conclusion, or make fairly superficial inferences when discussing a connection, etc.

I can use that data as a starting point, to help students learn how to be more specific, to provide proof, to go deeper into the text, to develop our ideas more thoroughly and with more conviction.

A great way to practice this is to use short films!

They are narratives, and thus allow for the same discussion points as the CASI.

Being so short, they allow for repetition. We can tackle main idea x 5 in a fairly short amount of time, while still analyzing stories that have depth and complexity. (Also, they are a lot of FUN).

In class, we've watched:

And for each we discussed the various CASI questions.

We also look at emotional arcs as a subtext: in addition to the obvious plot there is a not so obvious emotional journey. Therein lies the substance for our more complex inferences, the deeper meaning and connections.

Lots of rich discussion can come from these short narrative pieces. Discussion about character motivation, author/director intention, the methods by which character or setting or plot are conveyed to the reader/viewer, etc. Lots of great debate ensues...what would be a better title? How could this story be improved? What's the main idea?

There's a lot of excitement in these short videos...which generate to excitement in the classroom. Students actually start debating 'main idea' interpretations! WOW!

Written stories differ from their visual counterparts only by the fact that words are used to paint a 'mental picture in our heads'. In most other ways, they

To consolidate these skills, I give students an at home assignment, their own version of a Movie CASI. They can choose any movie they want (for example, I've had Star Wars, The Incredibles, The Dukes of Hazzard, etc), or they can choose another new short film I've provided (The Butterfly Circus). They respond to the film using the CASI question format.

The results are really fabulous...

I've done this many times now and I alway see immediate student improvement, from the beginning of this unit to the end. And the skills transfer to the reading CASI portion as well, when I retest in the winter.

All in all, I'd say my experience using short films to boost reading comprehension has been a huge success!

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