Teaching Tip:

When you find a text that is useful for a close analysis, put it on a videotape six or eight times with 5 seconds of black between. This makes it easier to show it several times without having to stop and rewind.


What did you notice?
A sample inquiry into visual language.

Media Text: A :60 commercial showing an attractive middle-aged woman driving on a dark, lonely road when her car breaks down. She tries in vain to restart the car. . .a truck passes going the other way but does not stop.
(Turns out to be a commercial for a cell phone.)

What did you notice about this text? First, what did you actually see on the screen?
Group Responses: driving on a lonely road. . . it's night / dark . . . woman alone . . . car breaks down . . . she's afraid. . .

T/L: Oh?, you saw fear?! How did you see fear? Fear is an abstract concept . . . what did you actually see (that led you to conclude : fear)?
(You might want to chart the following typical responses in two columns which can later clarify: denotation / connotation)

GR: Closeup of woman turning key in ignition with sound of car grinding but not starting . . . close-up of foot on gas pedal. . . close-up of engine light. . . close-up of her fingers drumming on the steering wheel. . . closeup of her looking out the window to see if anyone around. . . no . . . on the sound track, the music is in a minor key, kind of eerie.

T/L: Okay! After the establishing shot which put her on a dark country road, there were four quick cuts showing her trying to start the car. Put those together with the eerie music and we viewers jump to the conclusion that she's afraid-- or that she should be afraid. . .

Further exploration reveals that each shot of the commercial, plus the editing which goes faster and faster like a racing heartbeat, is carefully constructed to build the case that the woman is in danger and afraid. If we, as viewers, buy into it and begin to identify with a feeling of fear, we've been “hooked” by the commercial's
premise, whether we ever buy a cell phone or not. This is the power of visual language and why we need to help our students learn to “read” it.