Watching movies in the classroom sometimes gets a bad rep. That’s because there are some teachers who press play too often and with no purpose. However, movies in your classroom have a great deal of educational value and can be a very effective strategy for achieving some of your curriculum outcomes.
1. Movies in the classroom can build analytical skills
If anyone gives you a hard time about using a movie, you can point out to them that most curricula encourage students to read and view a variety of texts. Movies in the classroom offer an engaging way for students to do just that.
In fact, the NCTE Standards for the English Language Arts state:
Being literate in contemporary society means being active, critical, and creative users not only of print and spoken language but also of the visual language of film and television, commercial and political advertising, photography, and more. Teaching students how to interpret and create visual texts such as illustrations, charts, graphs, electronic displays, photographs, film, and video is another essential component of the English language arts curriculum (11).
Also, many students need a visual to really understand something, so breaking out a movie when you want them to work on the skill of analyzing character and theme is most definitely a sound educational strategy. Movies can also help students understand how setting, mood and atmosphere is created and used for effect. Often these elements are an important component of a movie, and students will be able to identify how a dark scene, a close up, or music can make them feel suspense or fear. Then, hopefully they can start to look for the ways that writers do the same things in the books they read.
Teaching analysis through viewing a film is also perfect for differentiation: you can ask groups of students to track different characters and themes as they watch the movie, and you can carefully choose who does what. After viewing, groups can meet to discuss their findings and then present them to the rest of the class.
Get more tips for viewing here.
2. Showing movies in the classroom builds real life skills
When you ask kids to analyze a movie you are giving them the opportunity to build real life critical thinking skills because, whether we like it or not, many of our students spend more time on Netflix and Amazon Prime than they do reading. The skill of being able to “read” a character or interpret a message is an important one, whether they are doing it on a page, a screen, or in real life, and the more opportunities we give our students to build these skills the better.
And, when they learn to interpret things they see on the screen in our classrooms, they will be more adept at doing it when they are on their own. This is a skill that is becoming more an more important, as we are inundated with so many messages everywhere we turn.
3. Movies can expose students to great books they might not otherwise read
There are many excellent screen versions of some classics, ones that students usually find more engaging than the book. By showing these films, we expose students to novels or plays they may never pick up and read.
For example you could show the most recent version of Pride and Prejudice and assign one of the activities that you can find here. There are a number of excellent exercises included in the document; choose one for everyone to do or assign different tasks to different groups of students. Then, each group could do a presentation or lead a discussion on their topic.
There are also many excellent new young adult books that some of your students might shy away from because of the reading level or length of the book. Showing them the screen version will expose them to ideas worth considering, and may even encourage them to try the actual book.
4. Movies help you explore topics more quickly than books
Movies, because of their length, can allow you to dig more deeply into a topic. For example, if you want to do a study into how certain attitudes and beliefs have changed over the years, it can be hard to find the time to read multiple texts. Using a film version, though, can allow you to do that.
For example, you might want to use To Kill a Mockingbird, The Hate U Give, and Stamped, but it would take too long to get students to read all three. However, you could read Stamped (or excerpts) and watch the movies of the other two. This would allow you to plan a unit around an important topic in a way that won’t eat into too much of your precious time during the term.
5. Movies in class can give you and your students a break
Let’s get this out of the way right now: Sometimes it’s ok to take a break. Actually, it’s always ok to take a break.
The perfect time to use a movie in the classroom is when your students have been working really hard on a big project or a difficult topic, and you want to let them relax a little before they start the next thing.
Or you are exhausted and just need some breathing room. You are a human being not a superhero, so it’s perfectly acceptable to devote a few classes to viewing – especially if you are using it for educational purposes.
The key – and the thing that will keep those teachers down the hall from thinking you’re a slacker – is that you hold the kids accountable for their viewing. And, you need to find a way to do this that doesn’t add too much to your already heavy load Luckily, I’ve already got some activities that you can use with your students ready to go:
You’ll find several activities you can use in my guide that can be applied to any movie you might watch in your classroom. And if you’d like to have your students do a review, I have some activities that you can use to teach them how to do that too. You can read all about them on this post about real life writing activities.