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The timeline

Here we look at the editing process in filmmaking, and how we can use a timeline to practise different tenses in language learning.
Timeline screen from editing package iMovie

In filmmaking, the editing process is central to ‘how meaning is made’. Editing is where we decide how to sequence our shots; how long to make them, and how we move from one to the next. We may choose to use a straightforward cut, or we might use ‘transitions’ like ‘dissolve’, ‘fade to black’, ‘wipes’ etc.

The image at the head of this step shows the interface for the latest version of iMovie – Apple’s proprietary editing package. There are many other editing packages of course, but the principles are pretty much the same:

  1. You have an area from where you choose your ‘source media’, which can be video; sounds, including music and dialogue; still images, or titles for credit sequences or subtitles.

  2. You have a monitor, which shows you either the media you are importing (source media) or the film you are building.

  3. A timeline where you build your film by dragging and dropping clips, sounds, and titles.


For the activity in this step, we would like you to try out some writing in different tenses, using the principle of the timeline. You can use your own language, or a target language to complete it. You could even draw a visual version of your sentence!

In the downloads section you will see a Timeline resource which has a still from The Mouse’s Tale (La Queue de la souris) plotted at three different points on a simple timeline. For each position of the still image, there are two other blank boxes – either two frames before, two frames after, or one before and one after. The activity is to write a sentence (or draw an image) in each of the boxes that would explain what was happening before or after the still image, using the appropriate tense.

image of the timeline worksheet

So, for the first example, where the still from the film is in the first position, write two sentences in the future tense that say what will happen after the event in the still image, for example: ‘the lion will bite open the string tying up the animals’, and then ‘the lion will eat all of the animals’.

Teaching Ideas

Ask your pupils to complete the above activity too if you can. Thinking about the pupils you work with, what would you want the language learning purpose of this activity to be? Is there anything that you might need to teach pupils before starting this activity? How would you suggest following up or developing the learning further in subsequent lessons? Add any comments to the comment section.

© British Film Institute
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Short Film in Language Teaching

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