Screenplay for language learning

Natalia Plotkina

The film Land of the Deaf is an exciting crime movie which leads the viewer step by step into the world of deaf people with all the particular features of this world. 

I divided the class into fixed groups of two so that the pupils could support one another. One pupil was to listen to the dialogue in the film while the other described the surroundings, sequence of scenes and the setting. The pupils were to alternate their tasks to practice in both areas. At the end of their work, each group would have its own screenplay with dialogue and scene descriptions.

This task offered the pupils sufficient free space for each one to do justice to the work required in accordance with their capabilities, skills and ambition. The spectrum ranged from very detailed dialogues which left out nothing any of the characters said to descriptions which were reduced to the key essentials without causing a break in the action, from linguistically precise almost verbatim reproduction to freely rendered dialogues. We started the lesson by going over what had been done on the previous day. Together with questions of content we discussed our personal impressions, interpretations and analyses. We held our discussions primarily in Russian. This meant that the pupils who had missed the lesson or had not understood everything were able to make sense of what happened and – if necessary – could go back to look at the relevant scenes again. The vocabulary work was vital because the film could not be understood without vocabulary and idiomatic expressions.

Before each next section of the film, I asked questions to which the pupils were to find the answers from the film. The questions were aimed at making it easier to understand the content of the following film sequence or to draw attention to particular scenes and identify characters and key situations. The film units which were then shown lasted three to four minutes. That may seem very short, but if we consider roughly how many sentences we can say in a continuous three-minute conversation and the amount of text that would be created if we wrote everything down – then a few minutes suddenly appears not that short at all.

The groups of two pupils were able to look at the film extracts on laptops. That left each group free also to go back to earlier scenes in addition to the scenes for the current lesson in order to go over what they had not properly understood, or independently to take a peek at the next scenes. Each group developed its own pace of work. Homework consisted of summarising the viewed film sections in writing.

At the end of the project I asked the pupils two questions:

1. Looking back, what is your opinion of the task?

2. What did you learn and how (language, content)?

The reviews of the pupils confirmed that their language skills had deepened through the more intensive written and oral work. The psychological processes were much more subtle. The pupils learned to relate to a sphere of life which was unknown to, or rather, not perceived by them: the sensory restriction of people without hearing and the adaptation resulting from this disability to an environment which may be in possession of all the senses but which is all too frequently emotionally deaf and thoughtless.

About the author: Natalia Plotkina is a Russian teacher at the Stuttgart-Uhlandshöhe Free Waldorf School and lecturer at the Freie Hochschule Stuttgart.