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This content is taken from the The British Film Institute (BFI) & Into Film's online course, Short Film in Language Teaching. Join the course to learn more.

Narrating - teaching ideas

Film is an unusual medium because it is quite ‘present’ in form - it feels as though it is happening directly before our eyes. At the same time, film stories have ‘already happened’, in that film is a recorded medium. On top of this, film sometimes adds language to tell its story - whether in voice-over narration, or the intertitles (cards carrying writing that are interspersed between shots) that were used to explain some of the story before sound was added to film in 1928.

There are a number of written genres associated with film that use the present tense and which can be exploited successfully for language production in classrooms:

  • Scripting an audio description commentary for a sequence of film similar to the ‘audio description’ function available on most TVs. An audio description script has to be succinct, accurate, and state things which are quite apparent, or obvious. But it also works as an exercise in inference: if you try it in a lesson, you will find that no two students write exactly the same description of the same scene. A further constraint is established when the description has to be written in another language.

  • Voice-over is a variant of audio description, the difference being that a voice-over is set within the ‘diegesis’ - or the world of the film. This means sometimes the voice is recounting the story of the film as if from a future vantage point, so the narration won’t necessarily be in the present tense. In documentary or news features, voiceover is more likely to be in present tense.

  • Intertitles, as used in the silent film era, typically ‘voiced’ dialogue that actors could only otherwise mime, or enable a shift in time or location.

  • Sometimes subtitling is used to comment on the content of a sequence of images, where a voice-over would be too intrusive.


The activity in this step is to consider the benefits, attraction, and challenges associated with each of these approaches, in relation to your own teaching. What obstacles do they present to you? Do you think there would be enough learning benefit in them to warrant taking on the challenge? Then take one of the activities, and plan out a short, simple teaching sequence using the final section of Taps (in the video window at the top of the step). Add your simple sequence to the comment section.

Extension Activity

If you are feeling technically confident, you are welcome to attempt one of these activities in relation to the Taps clip. Follow the technical guide in this step, download the film and either add your own audio description onto it, or paste in some intertitles or subtitles, and upload your re-edited video clip to YouTube. See the ‘How to share your film’ instructions at the bottom of this step to remind yourself how to do this. Make sure you copy and paste the URL to the comments section.

Extension activities are not required in order to successfully complete the course.

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Short Film in Language Teaching

The British Film Institute (BFI)

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