I often find my students have trouble identifying a theme in a text because they don't understand the basic elements of a plot, and are lacking the ability to write a summary. Without these foundational skills, identifying a theme can be very difficult. The film lesson for FOXED! focuses on these skills. It's a cautionary tale about a little girl who is kidnapped by foxes and forced to work in their underground mines. It has a very Coraline-esque feel too it-when she attempts to escape she sees her mother through a mirror. Her mother is taking her new and improved daughter to school, and doesn't seem to realize that her daughter is actually a fox. This film can be viewed for free online: www.foxedmovie.com/theshortfilm/
In this animated short Stu is a young alien trying to pass his abduction test. Students will practice crafting a thematic statement after identifying a topic. They will learn that texts can have multiple themes, and will practice explaining how a theme has been implied in this film. As an added bonus, the theme in this film relates to mindset, resilience, and perseverence which are really good life lessons for students. If theme is the author's critical belief about life, why not choose texts with themes that include character lessons that will be beneficial to students as well?
La Luna is the story of a young who boy discovers his own identity, as he is taken out in his grandfather’s boat and introduced to the family business. In this lesson the activities are more complex as students begin to look at the role that dynamic characters and conflict play in developing the author's message. Pair this film with a novel that you are teaching that explores the topic of coming of age/identity.
After students have begun to develop a basic understanding of theme, share "The Lost Thing". In this film lesson students will explore the role of setting as a way to develop the theme in a story. The film shifts from gray to colorful scenes as the parrallel worlds help to make the author's point that being overly focused on putting things in their place rather than simply enjoying the wonder and amusement of the unexpected, can lead to a bland and unimaginative society. Students begin to examine the universal nature of themes though the analysis of well-known texts that share similar themes in which contrasting settings play an important role in the story's message. "The Lost Thing" pairs well with "The Polar Express", "The Wizard of Oz", "The Giver", "Peter Pan", and "Alice in Wonderland".
My goal for teaching with films is to give students an understanding of theme through a very short and engaging shared text; an understanding that they can then apply to more complex written texts. Through the teaching of common themes in literature, students begin to see that themes are universal, and that the themes in this film can be found in multiple texts. This final lesson is where we get to that point.
The conflict and themes in this film would work really well with Tarzan of the Apes, Lord of the Flies, Passager, My Side of the Mountain, The Jungle Book, Into the Wild, and probably several other texts. I focused mostly on Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book”, as it is a short text that my students have most likely seen the film version of. It is also available for free online, eliminating the need for purchasing a class set of books.