Film: The Power of Visual Authres

A good friend of mine, and former colleague, came by last week to talk about film in the classroom. Let me give you a little background on our work relationship: “Phil” and I were hired in Carlyle the same year. In our third year, I began dabbling in TPRS and CI based methods and something amazing happened.. Kids started flooding my Spanish classes! As Spanish grew and grew, German enrollment declined! I talked with “Phil” about learning to use TPRS or CI based methods but he learned German in a grammar based classroom and felt like what he was doing was right for his kids. It cost him his job! In the third year of my CI based classes, he only had 3 sign up for German I, the district could not rehire him!

Fast forward to two years ago…. After a 4 year break from teaching, Phil found a new job teaching German. The program was shrinking and they were looking for someone to turn it around. He wanted to be the one, and he wanted me to train him to use CI! Today his German program has eclipsed the Spanish program (who had to release a teacher due to declining enrollment!) He is thrilled but is getting a lot of grief about his method from the Spanish teachers! They say that the kids only want to take his class because he just tells stories and shows a lot of films…..

What do we tell teachers who don’t understand the power of film when it is used well? Here are some ideas:

1. Films are alive with culture! My students learn a LOT about the history and culture of Spanish speaking countries through film study. We watch films for background, for comparison, and for interpretation! Used in a clear context, they can have real meaning to students.

2. Films are engaging! If I had students take notes on Archbishop Romero, it would not be as engaging as watching the film Romero together. We can focus on his metamorphosis through the film rather than simply on paper!

3. Films are memorable! When my students took the AAPPL Proficiency Exam from ACTFL, they mentioned that several of our class films appeared in the listening and reading sections! They remembered so much about them that they felt very confident about their performance! (And the scores reflected it!)

4. Films teach language! Nothing has taught me this more than using the series Internado Laguna Negra with my level III and IV classes! The words they learn watching this show appear over and over again in their writing!!

5. Films reach visual learners! So many of our weak readers have trouble creating a movie in their miss when we read together. By adding a film, students can call up images from the film when we read to foster comprehension of the story! I often show a film before a novel so that students have a point of reference as we read!

I am in my room today, a school holiday, with my Spanish IV kids. They wanted to come in and watch two episodes of Internado today… On a school holiday…. Film is powerful! In context, with clear goals an purpose, and with plenty of explanation/connections, it can be the most powerful #authres we bring to the classroom!!!


  1. Love that your Spanish IV class is watching Internado on a holiday. My Spanish IV class wants to meet this summer to continue watching it.
    I find that film and music are the two most powerful and popular Authres. My students want to more than anything watch films and listen to music.

  2. I love viewing film with my students as well. My dilemma is always how to make it more comprehensible: show with English subtitles and use events for discussion in TL, show with TL subtitles, no subtitles to work on listening? How do you approach this especially when dialogue contains enough slang to make it difficult for any level? Do you view films with Novices? If so, how can we ensure understanding and language learning happening?

    • I DO use film with novices. In novice classes I focus on TL discussion of the movie with English subtitles. I do the films as film studies in level I and II… 10-15 minute segments without and then with subtitles plus heavy TL discussion! In films with lots of slang… Like Casi Casi, I choose some expressions I want them to acquire and rephrase others in Spanish they will understand. It is amazing how much they can catch through the visual clues!

      The real key to language learning and understanding is the discussion that keeps the culture in context and the language comprehensible!!

  3. My native speaker class loves El Internado. They beg to come in during lunch to be able to watch an extra 30 mins! Their vocabulary is improving, they’re learning a variety of idiomatic expressions, they’re better able to grasp the vosotros… The list goes on an on! Some of my level ones were interested in it too, they said it looked more interesting than Mi Vida Loca, lol!

  4. Thanks to you, Carrie, I’m gradually including more film with my units and making purposeful connections. I agree that the TL discussion is a crucial element.

    Some day….I’ll get on that Internado train. Some day….

  5. How often do your classes watch El Internado? Did you purchase the series or are you streaming it? This is something I would like to start next year!

  6. I have been using El Internado with my 3 & 4 students this year and they love it. I purchased the entire series from Amazon Spain and spent last summer watching all of it because I couldn’t stop watching it. They have really enjoyed watching it, but I would like to use it more next year as a teaching tool and not just something they watch. They stay focused on it, but I still want to do more with it than them just watching it. What did you start with when you first started using it as a teaching tool? Do you have some suggestions on where to start? I’ve also thought about starting it as early as Spanish 2 so that hopefully by the time they make it through Spanish 4 they will be able to finish the entire series.

  7. I would love to use el internado… Do the dvd’s play through a computer (since it is region 2 and the US is region 1? Help please…this is confusing to me! Thanks for sharing all of your resources; I would love your class!

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