TESOL Video News

TESOL Video News, Volume 15:2 (Fall 2004)

by User Not Found | 11/01/2011

TESOL Video News masthead.

In This Issue...

Interest Section Name Change Approved
Do We Need a New Masthead?
Editorial Note
From the Chair: Going Digital
Seven Frames of Communication in Film
Certificate of Appreciation for Past Chair Barbara Morris
New Officers of the Video and Digital Media Interest Section
About This Member Community

Interest Section Name Change Approved

The former TESOL Video Interest Section (VIS) has now become the TESOL Video and Digital Media Interest Section (VDMIS). This change was first suggested at the TESOL 2003 convention in Baltimore and later approved at the 2004 convention in Long Beach by a vote of attending members at the VIS Business Meeting. (For the rationale behind this name change, see the previous issue of TESOL Video News, Volume 15, Issue 1.) Before and after the vote, members' opinions were solicited via the TESOL-sponsored VIS e-list, and in May 2004, all members of the VIS were sent information from the TESOL Central Office and a link to an E-ballot on the TESOL Web site. Twenty-seven members responded; 92.6% approved and 7.4% disapproved. In late June, the proposal was brought before the TESOL Board of Directors at their regularly scheduled meeting and was approved. Our thanks go to JoAnn Miller, our interest section's liaison to the Interest Section Coordinating Council of the TESOL Board, for guiding us through this process and advocating on our behalf.

Do We Need a New Masthead?

If you are wondering, "What is a masthead?," just look at the top of this issue. It is the combination of text and graphics making up TESOL Video News that appears at the top of every issue. My memory is not long enough to remember who originally designed it, but it has been in use since the early days of the Video IS 15 years ago, passed on to successive newsletter editors in paper form and later electronically via scanner.

As you have just read above, our interest section has now changed its name to reflect changing reality in video use by incorporating the term digital media. Do we need to reflect this name change in our masthead? If so, how? What would be the new name of the publication and what would be its design? We welcome any ideas you may have. On the other hand, one could argue to keep the original masthead as Video is still the first word in our name. Let us know what you think either via the E-list or individually (see the last page of this issue for contact information).

Editorial Note

By Johanna Katchen, katchen@mx.nthu.edu.tw

After the TESOL annual convention each year in spring, it is time to get busy preparing an abstract for the next conference and submitting it by May 1. For interest section (IS) leaders, too, May and June are the busiest months. All those anonymous abstracts have to be portioned out to readers to evaluate--three readers for each abstract. Results have to be tallied, and only the few best can be chosen following the quota assigned to each IS by TESOL. Completing these tasks via the Internet in recent years has made the work faster and easier but also more complex as there are the inevitable glitches when applying technology to a new task. IS leaders, too, have to arrange speakers for each IS's Academic Session and work with other ISs to propose InterSections; these must be finalized and submitted to TESOL in June, Discussions Groups in July, Video Theater in August. And there seem to be all sorts of small tasks in-between as the convention begins to take shape. In future issues, we will be telling you more about what exciting events the Video and Digital Media Interest Section (VDMIS) is planning for the TESOL 2005 convention in San Antonio, Texas.

Now, while some of you are on summer vacation and others have just begun a new school year, we bring you more information about using films and other media in teaching. First, in line with our news of the name change, VDMIS chair Jonathan Gourlay expresses some nostalgia for the past while musing on the meaning of going digital. In our feature article, Michael Merrill applies film and communication theory to teaching with films in ESL/EFL classes. Finally, you can read about and see photos of the VDMIS leaders.

If you would like to continue discussing these and other video- and media-related issues online, why not sign up for the FREE Video and Digital Media Discussion List. Sign up right now, while you are online, by visitinghttp://www.tesol.org/getconnected/.

You should be receiving the next issue of TESOL Video News in late September. In line with our name change, we have slotted a feature article incorporating a combination of videotaping and voice recognition software to improve students' communication skills. Ideally, we would like to alternate feature articles between more traditional teaching tips on using video, as in this issue, for more immediate classroom application, with articles reporting on cutting-edge uses of digital media to keep readers informed of the latest developments in our field.

The Video IS is soliciting articles for future issues of TESOL Video News. Submit articles or announcements tokatchen@mx.nthu.edu.tw or mailto:chyipin@sinamail.com. You may also send opinions and suggestions at any time to the leaders (see the last page of this issue for contact information) or to the E-list. We look forward to hearing from you.

From the Chair: Going Digital

Jonathon Gourlay.By Jonathan Gourlay, jgourlay@comfsm.fm

I think of myself as a cutting-edge sort of person. Not exactly a true geek, but a person who likes to fuss with the latest toys and gadgets. I like a piece of software with hundreds of buttons, most of which I will never need. I like to fiddle with a camera or adjust a setting on a DVD player. Maybe it is the feeling of having control over something, no matter how small. Do I really need to tweak my gamma levels by .02? No. But it is comforting to know that I can do it anyway.

So I am surprised at the melancholy feelings I have about locking up our old darkroom and taking our photography class digital. I feel myself grasping at my last bit of analog life. Maybe it is the fumes from the chemicals in that darkroom, but it is a hard habit to break.

Somehow it seems that if you do not have to go through the process of setting your f-stop and exposure, putting on the correct filters, taking what you think is the picture you want, developing the film (hoping that any of 100 variables does not mess it up), and finally spending an afternoon making a print, then you really do not know what it is to take a photo.

We probably all have some kind of analog-nostalgia like this. Here is another: I remember making movies on plain-8 film with my grandfather's camera. You shot one side of the film and then you had to go into a closet and flip the film over and rethread it in the dark. One mistake and your masterpiece was kaput--an overexposed wash of pinkish white light.

Well, I guess it is time to come out of the closet and face the future. We are not losing what is great about photography or video. It is just a matter of how you get to what is great. After all, composition has not changed much since our forebears first smeared color onto cave walls. Pictures--whether still or moving--have always had the power to enlighten, entertain, and inspire.

The point of this little essay is that our interest section has also stepped into the 21st century. No longer just plain Video, we are now the Video and Digital Media Interest Section. Although we can be nostalgic about the past, we should look forward to the future. If nothing else, the digital age has brought what was once the realm of a few die-hard techies into the hands of any teacher or student willing to pick up a camera or insert a disc. So, in a way, we have come full circle. As I watch our digital photography students wandering around the campus madly clicking away, I think of them returning to their computers and painting the walls of their modern caves any way they please.

Jonathan Gourlay is the chair of the Languages and Literature Division at the College of Micronesia--FSM on the island of Pohnpei. He is serving this year as chair of the Video and Digital Media Interest Section.

Seven Frames of Communication in Film

By Michael Stetson Merrill, sstetsonn@yahoo.com

Stetson Merrill.This article is a summary of a presentation that was part of the Video Strand at the TESOL 2004 Annual Convention and Exhibit in Long Beach, California, USA.

At the end of class one day, a student came up to me and said, "I'm very worried about the midterm exam. I can't understand everything that is spoken in this film. How can I possibly answer questions about the content of it?"

As I looked at my student and the imploring gaze in his eyes, I thought back to the time when I first started teaching a film course and the long labyrinthine process of discovering how a film communicates. That was 6 years ago. I remember fumbling my way through the first semester and, after many trials and errors, finally realizing two important things. First, my students were focusing most of their attention on the spoken word and having a great deal of trouble grasping the gist of even simple passages. Second, my experience helped me understand that film is a hybrid medium, combining both literary devices and visual codes to convey information. Unfortunately, I did not know enough about the subject to show others how it works. So I began examining how films communicate from two seemingly diverse perspectives: a literary perspective and a visual art perspective.

Upon examining the literary perspective, I found that most films adhere to the same rules of presentation as the traditional form of the short story. The setting--time, place, conflict--is established immediately. The point of view is selected for its ability to best depict and propel the plot in a short period of time. Symbols--taking the form of motifs, archetypes, metaphors--are pervasive, helping to quickly establish context, conflict, and themes.

After looking at the visual perspective, I determined that film is primarily a visual art that exploits all the conventions available to visual artists. The primary vehicles for communicating content are color, space, shape, form, balance, light, and movement. Composition (mise en scene) is extremely important, conveying many messages that may either support or contradict the dialogue or context. Hence, great care is taken in how these visual materials are arranged, framed, and (in film) photographed. In addition, cinematography is the only visual art that communicates through the interaction of sound, space, and time.

The significance of this research was two-fold. First, I discovered that language (the spoken word) is only one of several communicative systems employed by filmmakers to convey information in films. Second, using films to teach communication skills, and the ability to comprehend contexts, content, and themes in a cinematic work of art, should include an approach that provides a complete view of all the communicative systems (both linguistic and paralinguistic) that are working synergistically to convey information in films.

At that moment, I looked up at my student, who was waiting patiently for a reply. Smiling at him, I reminded him that we had just finished watching the beginning of "Boyz 'n the Hood," and that all the information we gained about the setting was mainly communicated through symbols, not the spoken word. I encouraged him to shift his focus from relying solely on language to relying on all the forms of communication that filmmakers use to convey their ideas. I encouraged him to continue to explore the seven frames of communication in film and to learn how each of these frames contributes to and supports the spoken word.

Through this journey of understanding how films communicate, I identified seven language systems, or frames, that contribute exponentially to understanding films, both thematically and linguistically. The table below outlines these frames and gives a few categorical references to help distinguish the differences between the frames. It is important to note that all of these frames coexist within a film in varying capacities, each contributing information that supports the main ideas and themes that the director wants to convey. Sometimes one or two frames dominate the film, but all are present, providing support for the prominent frames.









Movement (camera)

Sound effects


Psychology of color

Costume, makeup

Costume, makeup





Color and composition

Story -- genre, myth

Story -- genre, myth



Human voice



Motifs, symbols, metaphors








Ideology -- neutral, implicit, explicit







Ideology -- culture, religion, ethnicity

The following lesson plan focuses on the Sound frame. The activities represent only a few of the many possibilities for illustrating how this frame functions alone and in conjunction with other frames.

  • Plenary: Ss brainstorm various "sound" aspects (i.e., pitch, range, tempo, intensity, emphasis, rhythm, silence) that filmmakers exploit in movies. Elicit responses.
  • Plenary: Review/introduce the various "sound" aspects and their role as a communicator. [Note: These aspects are applicable in sound effects, music, and the human voice.] Use a scene from "American Beauty" to illustrate (e.g., cheerleaders' performance--Lester Burnham fantasizes for the first time about his daughter's friend, Angela Hayes). The "American Beauty" scene makes a good transition from exploring the symbol frame to exploring the sound frame.
  • Plenary: Introduce "The Mission," and the composer, Ennio Morricone. Play three tracks (6, 9, 3) from the soundtrack CD (one at a time) and ask Ss to write the mood or emotions they think the music depicts. (Have Ss number their responses.)
  • Plenary: Begin the film. Have Ss watch the film, listening for one of the above tracks. When the scene for one of the tracks appears, have Ss compare the similarities/differences between their description and the composer's/director's depiction. If there is a difference, why? Elicit responses. (Continue the above process until the last track.)
  • Plenary: Advance the film to the battle scene (Indians hiding in canoes).
  • Plenary: Play the scene without the sound. Then play three different music tracks (15, 12, 17) from the soundtrack CD. Ask Ss to choose the music they think is most appropriate for the scene. (All of you are directors. Which music would you choose for this scene?) Elicit responses.
  • Groups: Have Ss discuss choice and reasoning. Elicit responses. Then play the scene again with the sound. What role did the music play in this final (battle) scene? What did the music signal/foreshadow/convey? Elicit responses.

In conclusion, I would like to say that this research and its theoretical implications are still a work-in-progress. Its practical application in the ESL/EFL classroom still requires further study and experimentation. Although this approach represents a divergent method for teaching a film course and may have many interesting merits, I do not believe that it should supplant other approaches that have proven successful and have their own merits. Instead, I hope that the Seven Frames approach will be viewed as an interesting addition or alternative to the fascinating realm of teaching English communication skills.


Albers, J. (1975). Interaction of color. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Arnheim, R. (1974). Art and visual perception: A psychology of the creative eye. Berkley: University of California Press.
Bain, C. E., Beaty, J., & Hunter, J. P. (1991). The Norton introduction to literature (5th ed.). New York: W. W. Norton.
Bang, M. (1991). Picture this: Perception and composition. Boston: Little, Brown.
Giannetti, L. (2002). Understanding movies. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Joffé, R. (Director). (1986). The mission. Warner Home Video.
Jung, C. G. (1964). Man and his symbols. New York: Dell.
Landy, R. J. (1993). Persona and performance: The meaning of role in drama, therapy, and everyday life. New York: Guilford Press.
Littlemore, J. (2001). Metaphoric competence: A language learning strength of students with a holistic cognitive style?TESOL Quarterly, 35, 459-491.
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Ennio Morricone. (1992). The mission: Original soundtrack from the motion picture [CD]. Virgin Records.
Stevick, E. W. (1996). Memory, meaning, and method: A view of language teaching. Boston: Heinle & Heinle.

Since 1988, Michael Stetson Merrill has been involved in teaching and developing ideas for courses and curricula. He first began by designing curricula and nationally acclaimed programs for disadvantaged youth, then, in 1996, he began teaching English as a foreign language in Greece and later in South Korea. For a brief time, he worked as a freelance photographer, publishing his photographs in magazines and a book, The Beauty of Vermont. He is currently a visiting professor at Seoul National University, Seoul, where he teaches film and drama in an EFL content-based context.

Certificate of Appreciation for Past Chair Barbara Morris

Miller and Morris.

The officers of the Video and Digital Media Interest Section would like to express their appreciation to Barbara Morris, who did a superb job as chair of the Video Interest Section in 2003. Barb (on the right) is shown receiving a TESOL Certificate of Appreciation from JoAnn Miller (left), Interest Section Coordinating Council of the TESOL Board of Directors, at the TESOL 2004 conference in Long Beach, California, in March.

New Officers of the Video and Digital Media Interest Section

VDMIS Officers.

Pictured are the 2004 officers of the Video and Digital Media Interest Section. From left: Kenneth Kuo-pin Chi, Assistant Newsletter Editor; Johanna Katchen, Newsletter Editor; Daniel Walsh, Chair-Elect; Barbara Morris, Past Chair; Jonathan Gourlay, Chair. Not pictured: Tina Jia-jen Luo, who will be our Web manager when the IS is given space on the TESOL site

About This Member Community TESOL Video and Digital Media Interest Section (VDMIS)

The Video and Digital Media Interest Section focuses on the production and use of video and digital materials in English language teaching. Areas include student- and teacher-produced videos, reviews of commercially available materials, listening/speaking/reading/writing instruction through movies and TV, media literacy, film analysis, intercultural training, video as an assessment tool, teacher education, interactive video, distance learning, and the use of new video-related technology.

VDMIS Community Leaders, 2004-2005

Chair: Jonathan Gourlay, jgourlay@comfsm.fm
Chair-Elect: Daniel Walsh, walsh@hagoromo.ac.jp
Coeditor: Johanna E. Katchen, katchen@mx.nthu.edu.tw
Coeditor: Kuo-Pin Chi
Coeditor: Jia-Jen Luo, g905256@oz.nthu.edu.tw

Discussion e-list: Visit http://www.tesol.org/getconnected/ to sign up for VDMIS-L, the discussion list for members of this community, or visit http://lists.tesol.org/read/?forum=vdmis-l if already a subscriber.