Using Full-length Feature Films in the Novice and Intermediate Russian Classroom

Wendy Johnson, University of Wisconsin, Madison

With the increased popularity of the computer and the internet, the use of visual effects in the classroom has been recognized as an approach that will capture the particularly image oriented students of today. Certainly the advantages of using authentic texts of any kind in the classroom has been recognized by such notable researchers as Krashen and Omaggio Hadley (82)1. Furthermore, Svensson has suggested that authentic video is in particular "a splendid means to provide cultural insights to learners who will perhaps never visit a country where the language is spoken" (Svensson, 149).

However, the anxiety that authentic language can produce in the student, in particular, that which seems to speed by in the full-length feature film, is well known to all teachers. At the same time there are great advantages specific to the full-length feature film: the introduction of the artistic legacy of the Soviet and Russian film, and the glimpse into how Russians live are amongst many. The teacher is left with the question:

How can we make the full length feature film accessible to the most novice of students?

My solution to this problem is based on Richards' principle to "simplify the task, not the text": I provide a number of highly structured activities based around very short clips from films. Much of the research on the use of video texts in the classroom has centered around the advantages of film in increasing listening comprehension skills. Other papers, such as Rifkin's, have focused on developing speech. I have created exercises that will promote all four skills. By means of multiple viewings of a short clip, students engage in increasingly difficult tasks, ranging from those that require them to "listen to" nonverbal communication with the sound in the film turned down, to homework tasks that require students to rewrite the scene they viewed in class. Additionally, while the teaching system Chto vy ob etom dumaete? was developed for use with intermediate and advanced level students, my exercises have been developed for the novice-intermediate level student.

My talk will consist of two parts: tips on choosing an appropriate film and film passage for the novice and intermediate classrooms, and an explanation of suggested activities. I will use examples from Mikhailkov's film, Burnt by the Sun, a film that should be readily available to all teachers of Russian.

M. Lekic, O. Rassudova, T. Kirsh. 1994. Chto vy ob etom dumaete? ACTR/ACCELS Publications.

Omaggio Hadley, Alice. Teaching Language in Context. 2nd ed. Boston: Heinle & Heinle, 1993.

Richards, J.C. "Listening Comprehension: Approach, Design, Procedure." TESOL Quarterly 17 (1983): 219-40.

Rifkin, B. "Film in the Advanced Russian-Language Conversation Class." AATSEEL National Conference, Washington, D.C., December 1996.

Svensson, Sture E. "Video Authenticity, and Language for Special Purposes Teaching." Foreign Language Annals 18, No. 2, 1985, 149-52.