Moviemaking for the Language Acquisition Classroom

Television melodrama, like grand opera, is constructed to formula. Character interactions are highly charged and plot dominates, initiating excitement, suspense, and raising questions around timeless and universal themes. Despite-or because of-their extreme nature, the soaps remain one of the longest-standing television genres, with the loyal masses impatiently awaiting each new episode.

Traditionally, language acquisition has focused primarily on two intelligences: verbal linguistic and logical mathematical. Verbal linguistics naturally is conducive to the acquisition process through reading, writing, poetry, literature, storytelling, humor, grammar, syntax, and metaphors. Also conducive to the language acquisition process are vocabulary activities, grammar skills, reading, oral presentations, debates, memorized facts, and pattern games. What is challenging about traditional methods is that students frequently do not feel connected to the process of learning a language. Video and computer games have served the purpose of honing nontraditional intelligences, with the important by-product of also preparing students well for the digital workplace.

As technology becomes more widely available in language classrooms, opportunities to address multiple intelligences increase. For the visual spatial intelligence, students can be encouraged to create mental pictures, develop strategies for reading, interpret and create maps, graphs and other diagrams, create craft and art projects, and make comparisons of artifacts from various cultures. Bodily kinesthetic intelligence can be addressed through role-playing, folk dancing, drama, and total physical response. Musical rhythmic youngsters can be encouraged to write and sing songs and to remember information through music. Music can also be used to stimulate creativity.

Global Standards

The 5 Cs for the National Standards for World Languages (Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons & Communities) provide many venues for teaching languages in ways that address multiple intelligences. standards/5cs.shtml

A well-known North American television series, created for the purpose of teaching Spanish, is Destinos, inspired its producers say, by the audience popularity of Que Pasa, USA? (Destinos is an instructional television series designed to motivate Spanish Language Learners by providing them comprehensible input from various Spanish speaking locations around the world.) Entertainment-education programs such as these integrate the visual, verbal, logical, musical, and audio learning by presenting a story that introduces language in the context of a melodrama. All these aspects of Destinos provide students the opportunity to venture beyond the physical walls of the classroom into cultures, histories, geographies, stereotypes, family values, and traditions from around the world as they are presented in this soap opera.

Destinos offers the perfect opportunity to both teach and entertain. Among the many uses for educators and students are the following:

  • word banks: words banks are lists of vocabulary words that provide students with language they need to work in a given topic.
  • new plot lines: skeletal story structures based on a genre to provide students samples of story line development.
  • character descriptions: three-dimensional character features-psychological, physical and social as well as strengths and flaws.
  • a Pictionary-like game: Pictionary is a game that helps students learn vocabulary by addressing multiple learning styles.
  • skits: short drama vignettes for role-playing activities, enabling students to speak Spanish as they act out characters in melodrama scenarios.

NEXT: Sample Lesson

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Sample Lesson



Teacher: Prepare a dramatic scenario and brief descriptions of five characters.
Students: Have students bring old clothes that can be used as costumes for a melodrama activity.
Technology: One computer per student group of five.

Ask for five volunteers to improvise as melodrama actors in front of the class. The actors will be assigned roles based on the five characters in the scenario. They will choose two classmates to help them dress up for the roles they are assigned to play. They have five minutes to improvise costumes over their clothes.

Divide the class into groups of five. Each person in a group will be the dialog writer for one of the five characters that have been assigned to the actors.

The group of actors will divide the scenario into five human-size static scenes. Each group is assigned to direct a static scene. The first scene should be the introduction of the episode. The second should reflect motives of the characters and the effect the scenario has on each of them. The third scene should reveal the turning point of the episode. The fourth should show the effect of the turning point on the five characters. The fifth and final scene will show the resolution with a hanging ending, as is usually the case with television soap operas.

Each group member is assigned a character and will direct the corresponding character accordingly in every static scene. As the actors follow instructions from each group, each group will also document all the static scenes with three digital images shot using a DV camera. Each of the shots should be from a different angle, and so at the end of the five static scenes, each group should have a total of 15 digital still shots.

Ramon Melchor is the 28-year-old son of an old politico and is running for counselor in his hometown in Mexico. He is the son of Alejandro Melchor, now in his third and last term as senator. Ramon is an amateur in the political game. It is the peak of the campaign period and Gliceria Soriano, 17 years old and an upcoming movie star, is threatening to reveal to the press her unwanted pregnancy by Ramon. Unfortunately, Ramon, being the carefree guy that he is, refuses to take responsibility for the pregnancy. Having no other recourse at this point, Gliceria sets up a meeting with Linda Aboitiz, the wife of Alejandro Melchor’s long-time political opponent, to ask for support on the matter.

Ramon Melchor’s girlfriend, Corazon de la Cruz, aged 23, receives a message from Gliceria about her plans. Corazon de la Cruz is torn as to whether she will protect Ramon’s candidacy (she still loves him), or take revenge for his betrayal and encourage Gliceria to pursue her plans. Since she is so hurt by Ramon Melchor’s irresponsible act, she is deciding to talk to Alejandro Melchor, and maybe get some cash for the information on Ramon.


In the next activity, the students use Ulead VideoStudio to create a storyboard of the scenario. (If you use another program, use the following as a rough map, and modify the procedure as needed.) You should guide the students in the transfer of their still images from the DV camera into the computer using a FireWire connection. The image format should be JPEG. To change the setting, go to File and then click on Preferences. In Preferences, click on Capture Tab and then choose JPEG. The actors should watch as their classmates create the storyboards.

To transfer the images, you should instruct each of the groups to switch their DV cameras to VTR/VCR mode. They can then connect the DV camera to the computer’s capture card. Then, have them to go to File and Open a New Project, click the Capture Step, and then click Play in the Navigator. The images will be displayed on the Preview screen. They can choose a clip and then click Capture Image, which is in the Capture Settings Tab on the Options Panel. The image is captured when it is displayed in the Clip Pane, which is located at the right side of the screen. Repeat this process until the remaining 14 still images are captured.

The groups now can create the storyboard of the melodrama episode using the Storyboard mode of VideoStudio. A storyboard is a visual representation of a series of key scenes in a story or script. It is usually illustrated but in this lesson, students will build their storyboards using Ulead VideoStudio’s tools. Storyboards are used much like milestones to plot the flow of the scenes and enable scriptwriters and directors to plan details of production shoots.

To create their storyboard, have the students to drag and drop images from the Clips Pane onto the Storyboard mode. The interface provides an easy way to rearrange the images according to the flow they wish to achieve for the episode, by cutting and pasting the clips. The default of VideoStudio creates an automatic transition effect between clips. Delete all these transition effects by pressing the delete key. When done, groups can review their storyboard by clicking on Project and then Play in the Navigator.


Earlier, each member of the group was assigned a character. The task of each student is to provide the dialogue of his or her character for the storyboard with the assistance of the actors. In a team, each group should write the script for the episode using MS Word and referring to the storyboard for the flow of the story. They can also refer to their word banks and previous writing exercises to find the best words and phrases to fill the dialogues. After writing the episode script, each group should print a copy for you to review and edit. The groups can then revise their scripts according to your edits. When the final draft is complete, each group should print 10 copies, one for each member and actor.


Each teams will work with the actors to produce their episode using a single set as background. Together, the class can create the physical setting using improvised objects, such as boxes and chairs available in school. While the genre requires realistic sets, costumes, and props, the main purpose for this lesson is to learn a new language. As such, students can use their imaginations to symbolically simulate these physical requisites.

Each group should use one to two DV cameras in shooting the scenes of the episode. The DV camera should be switched to Camera mode. The groups should record on their DV cameras as the actors perform the script. As they shoot, you can guide the actors in proper enunciation of the words. While the actors master proper enunciation, the rest of the class listens and learns as well. Moreover, with the script on hand, the other group members can help the actors remember their lines.

After all scenes are shot, the groups shifts their cameras to VTR/VCR mode and transfer files to the computer using a FireWire connection. When the images are on the Clip Pane, the groups can begin their editing.

There are five tracks in the timeline: video, overlay, title, music, and voice. With the easy-to-use interface of VideoStudio, you can give students an overview of each of the tools for each of the steps, which include File, Capture, Edit, Effect, Overlay, Title, Audio, and Share. It is important to inform the students that for every Step, the options provided change accordingly. Also, to avoid having to edit the transition effects between each clip, instruct the students to go to Preferences and uncheck Use Default Transition Effect.

Guided by the storyboard and their script, the groups can drag and drop the moving image clips to the Overlay timeline. They then should trim the clips using the Trim Bar, which is below the Preview Window representing the portion of the clip. The groups can trim their clips by selecting a clip from the Timeline, then click and drag the left and right trim handles to the area they intend to keep. To preview the edited clip, hold down the Shift key and click Play Clip. Accomplish this process for each of the moving images on in their episode. You should remind students to click Save Trimmed Clip each time to save their edited version.

As soon as they trim all the clips, you can provide guidelines on the use of transition effects between clips. It helps to review transition effects used in Destinos and adopt the technique to their episode. When done, the group can deletes their storyboard and preview their episode to determine whether the story flows convincingly and where adjustments are needed.

After editing the clips into a storyline, the groups are now ready to plug in the musical score. They can choose music from CDs or from available music clips on the audio pane of VideoStudio which will open when they click on the Audio step. Melodrama uses music in almost every scene, specifically to highlight emotional moments. Each groups should divide the task of looking for the corresponding music according to the scenes. One member can look for the main theme music while the rest look for emotional music to highlight the melodramatic acting technique.

There are two audio timelines in Video Studio. You should encourage students to experiment with both. If the various musical pieces is dragged into a single timeline, this will create silent gaps. However, the edges of the musical clips on two audio timelines are overlapped, the gaps will disappear. It’s hard to hear that there is more than one piece of music. Each group member should be given the opportunity to score music in his or her assigned scene. You can direct students to the VideoStudio options to adjust sound levels. An overall review should determine whether the score is fit or will need revisions/adjustments.

The final step is to have students type titles onto their episodes. The groups can choose the clip where they wan to place text. They then can click the Edit Tab in the Options panel, click Create Title, and type in the titles. You should remind groups to use titles to introduce the episode and for credits at the end. Depending on how they want to structure their titles, the groups may include credits in the beginning. The font and font sizes can be revised in the Title Step. You can also encourage students who finish their work early to experiment with the animated title effects.

As the project progresses, the students will gain respect for what it takes to really edit a film. They will learn that film is not like a home video where you set up a camera and do all your antic, but actually a series of very short cuts. In addition to honing their language skills while having fun, they will have also learned the basics of moviemaking.

Gigi Carlson teaches digital media and entrepreneurship and English at the Monte Del Sol Charter School at Santa Fe, N.M.

Judith Crowther, Ph.D., is currently head of the world languages department at Monte del Sol Charter School.

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