Why use precious class time to watch clips when we are supposed to be reading? Doesn’t film dumb students down when teachers should be raising rigor? These are common objections to using film in the classroom; however, there’s a huge difference between popping a movie in to catch up on grading and skillfully using film to instruct. Film can be a great lead-in for complex texts providing a common shared experience in the classroom. With film being a student-friendly medium, barriers to teaching critical thinking skills are often removed building student confidence in analysis.
Before using film in the classroom, you should address a few questions. Should I use a film clip or a full film? What is the purpose of the film? Is it teaching a skill, helping students with characterization, or making a thematic connection? What standards does the film meet? How will I assess my learning objectives? Once these questions have been answered, try out some of the following ideas for using film in your classroom.
Anatomy of a Scene — This is a fantastic tool because much it allows the viewer to hear the director’s thoughts while watching and hearing the scene. A slider allows you to adjust the balance between the director’s commentary and the movie scene. I generally play the movie scene without commentary the first time and give students the opportunity to discuss what they think the director is thinking. We watch the clip a second time listening to the director. This activity helps students think about author’s choice of detail, character development, method of narration, and structure of a piece.
Literary Analysis — Thanks to Sylvia Spruill for introducing me to these clips and the use of film in the classroom in a summer workshop where I got the following ideas. The Fast and the Furious 2001 race scene can be used to teach several concepts. We watch the scene once and discuss what we notice then we watch the scene again taking notes. Depending on the level of the class, I may prompt the class to take notes on character development, how the director manipulates time, or how selection of detail is important and helps the viewer form an opinion. From this activity, we can easily bridge to a close reading of a passage from a novel using the same skills. The Carl and Ellie’s love story from Up is a great clip for discussing exposition and/or characterization. Other clips I often use frequently are the girl in the red coat from Schlinder’s List to teach mood vs. tone and “What a Wonderful World” from Good Morning, Vietnam to teach irony.
Teach Point of View — Point of view is important in teaching characterization, selection of detail, and method of narration; all of these change based on the point of view. When we are studying the importance of point of view in short stories, I show my students a clip usually from Remember the Titans but almost any clip can work. First, have students identify the point of view and write a summary of it.
Next have students rewrite the same scene using a different point of view. Assign different points of view to different students and share the results with the class. This activity can also be used to introduce and discuss narrator reliability. Movie clips and Wing Clips are two great sites to search for clips or YouTube always works.
Rhetorical Devices — The American Rhetoric website has an entire bank of movie speeches just waiting for teachers to use. After reviewing rhetorical devices, Aristotle’s argumentative appeals, and general principles of persuasion, I send my students to this website for a virtual scavenger hunt for examples. I show and model this example before they begin:
Independence Day speech – to teach repetition, rule of three, contrast, parallel structure, pathos).
Film is a student-friendly platform for teaching difficult literary concepts and themes, and if used correctly can help students grasp these ideas quickly. If you’re not using film to teach, what better time than Oscar week to start?