Teaching Film in the Classroom

We’ve all been here before. You walk into class and there it stands in the front of the room, gleaming with gold and all of heaven’s angels sing in a harmonic chorus–the television. Hooray for movie day! Where we as students don’t have to exercise our minds and we can take advantage of this class period to now catch up on sleep, last night’s math homework we forgot to do, or pass notes to find out the latest gossip. Where the teacher can finally get caught up on grading papers or lesson planning by pawning off his/her students to the T.V.


picture from: (http://lifeasandrea.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/movie-day.jpg)

This is the typical stereotype we get from teaching film in the classroom because, as students, we have all (or mostly all) been in this situation before. At least I have. And it was exactly what is was played out to be, and more. I can remember a time coming in to my Junior year English class and watching The Notebook. The Notebook. What relevance did that movie have to my education, you ask? Absolutely none. But hey, it was a nice break from school at least. Teachers have been giving showing film such a bad rep that some schools don’t even allow movies to be shown for “educational purposes” anymore because the power of doing so has been so abused.

The above clip is a bit of an exaggerated example of what showing film in the class is all about, but you get the point.

While most view film in the classroom as a plan for a “lazy day”, it is actually important to some parts of students’ learning. If you are planning to use film as part of your lesson plan, it is important to know how to teach it.

Relate the film to the students’ lives and/or to a text that is relevant to the class. You want them to learn from it, so make sure that that is what they will be getting out of it. It is important to frame the film, or rather, prepare the students with questions that you want them to analyze throughout the film and offer them short activities that highlight what you want the students to consider. You want the students to be engaged in active viewing, not zoning out and not paying attention to the lesson. Offer them graphic organizers or question sheets for them to follow along with so that they are following and understanding major parts of the film and maybe even asking questions of their own to discuss later on.

Media is important because it helps gain and maintain the students’ interest. Students sometimes need the audio and visual and that sense of living out experiences such as the character in the film might, as opposed to just being lectured at about it. Text can only take you so far, and that is why film can be utilized to enhance that learning if used properly.

If we bring in film, it should be valuable to the time that is spent on it, not just served as a time filler. If you are going to use film, teach it. Teach the students the different terms used in film and what they mean and what purposes they serve in movie-making. Get them informed on what film is so that they can understand what the film means and why major scenes where shot in the way they were. This will help them to interpret the meaning of the film and scenes and what the writer was trying to get across to the viewer.

There are a number of ways to use film in the classroom properly, and it is very important as teachers to understand film ourselves. There is more to it than just showing a movie.

Here are a list of links that demonstrate how to properly use film in the classroom:




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6 Responses to Teaching Film in the Classroom

  1. marybethlillian says:

    I don’t know that I ever experienced a truly effective use of film in the classroom during K-12. My most common experience with film has been teachers showing the film version of a book we have read in class. While this strategy can be useful, it must be done correctly. Usually, we simply watch the film, and that’s all. It would be much more effective to discuss the film, the differences from the book, the techniques used, etc. Short film clips and Youtube videos have been much more successful in my opinion. It is easier to incorporate those clips into a lesson and talk about them. Showing an entire film often takes up more than one class period. It is difficult to justify that use of time unless you are really incorporating it into the curriculum, not just showing it. When we went to see “Divergent” last year in #Eng366, we used it a lot to make connections with the text. This worked, because we viewed the film outside of class on our own time, and then utilized the film in class as we read the novel. I don’t know how practical it would be to assign film viewing outside of class for junior high and high school students, though. There may be some technology and access difficulties there. I also never knew that teaching film could be a part of an English class until I got to college. I am interested in learning more about teaching film for the sake of film. I probably should have taken a film class here.

  2. djkopping says:

    This is a very timely topic for me because my block class just started watching 10 things I hate about you in connection with taming the shrew by Shakespeare. One thing that my block teacher, Ms. Agar, is doing is having the students incorporate outside sources into the final paper they have to write about the play. So they can apply parts of the film in their discussion of the play, and hot make it feel like they are spending three days not really doing anything.
    When I hooked up to the links you posted, on the first one, a piece of advice that I liked was showing the movie at the start of the unit instead of the end. This would be useful for familiarizing the students with the material before they have to jump into a heavy text. Getting the gist of Taming the shrew by watching the movie could help students better understand what they are reading and clear up some questions that they might have if they have something to compare the play to.

  3. ptdinardi says:

    I agree with Marybeth about her example of Divergent from 366. That was the first time I used a film in a class to draw connections to the literature. For me, in my highschool lit classes, it always seemed like the movie was a reward for finally getting through the book. I remember reading the book and then watching the film for “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “The Crucible”, “Romeo and Juliet”, and “Of Mice and Men”. I do not remember ever discussing these movies. This is probably because they were always used to finish the last day of a unit. In some of my other classes, like History courses, films were used a lot and used well. When students can watch re-enactments or real footage it really makes the situation relevant. I don’t see why English teachers can not make a good use of film in the classroom as well!

  4. sdlambach says:

    I also had not-so-great learning experiences with films in my high school classes (although I did get a few solid naps). The one time the film was actually useful was when we watched various versions of Macbeth as well as saw a live performance as well as read the text. Then our cumulative paper incorporated comparisons of the various versions. I think films could help students a lot with plays because they really are meant to be performances.
    I like MaryBeth’s point about shorter clips. They can get across a lot of information in a new interesting way without eating a couple class periods and creating that movie time lull in students.
    I appreciate the links you provided at the bottom. Katie. They contain many good tips. I would agree that showing the film in the beginning would be more useful than the end. In my past experiences films have been tacked on at the end with no discussions. Showing the film at the beginning forces discussions throughout the unit and gets the point across that the film isn’t some kind of reward but a learning endeavor.

  5. Katie, I think discussing how to use film in the classroom is important. We so often use it as a filler and don’t think about teaching students how to “read” film and analyze and critique it. It is much more effective to show a variety of ways an act or scene from a play is represented in different films and talk about why directors would choose to present the play differently than to just show students the whole play without discussion.

    I also like the discussion of using the film at the beginning of a unit instead of at the end. Using film before reading makes students really think about differences in the film and the text. It also makes them see how there are elements of texts that need to be taken out or changed in movies in order to make them work for the medium.

  6. zxxkimxxz says:

    One thing I’ve never really seen in my years at school or observing (at least as far as I can remember) is the teacher using a film that wasn’t an adaptation of the novel they were reading to compare with the text. I think that even when we use film effectively, they’re used as pre-reading “warm ups” or after reading comparisons. It’s hard to realize that we can use this media as a type of text all on it’s own, but I think that’s when the film is most effective.

    On a side note, someone saw what I was reading about and said, “Oh sweet! Movie time! The perfect time for a nap.” This is just another one of the many reasons we can’t just show a film all the way through and not have something for the students to engage with as their watching. Whether that be a note sheet or physically stopping the film to ask questions, we need something to keep their attention focused on the aspect of the film they should be focusing on.

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