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“Sweet, it’s Movie Day!” Engaging Strategies for Showing Films in Class
When I was in school, a class period (or two!) dedicated to watching a film was definitely a highlight for me. Now, my students consistently request movies or television shows as learning aids, but as an instructor I struggle with how and when to use them in class.
Showing films in the classroom: How to get the most mileage out of a movie day
How can instructors utilize visual media in a way that enhances rather than interrupts learning? A few key strategies can help ensure that the time invested in movie day is worthwhile.
Content and licensing to-dos for classroom movies
According to teachers Lloyd and Lauren Sommerer, it is important to preview anything that you may show in class to ensure that it is appropriate for student viewing. It is also important that you follow legal requirements regarding film licensing, though Lloyd and Lauren point out that a film shown by a teacher in a classroom, from a legitimate source, with a focus on curriculum content, should not require a license.
The focus on the curriculum is essential not just for legal purposes, but to ensure that your movie day contributes to forward momentum in your classroom. The storyline of the movie should enhance or iterate course material. AP English teacher and movie blogger James Sheridan advises using visual media that is relevant to the educational questions and larger goals of the classroom.
Helping students study films in class: Note-taking, discussion and analysis
Sheridan encourages instructors to consider what the best use of time is with films and whether teachers wish to show a movie in its entirety, lift specific scenes, or, in the case of teaching Shakespeare or another piece of literature that has several adaptations, watch the same scene from different performances.
Sheridan argues that it is essential to teach students how to encounter movies as academics rather than simple observers. Strategies he uses to get the most out of classroom films include active listening, note-taking, and occasional interruptions for discussion.
He says, “A movie, used strategically and with accountability pieces, can build inferencing skills, practice identification and analysis of symbols and motifs, and is a natural fit for exploring method, meaning, and so what.” He describes ways that students can be held accountable while they are watching by stopping the film after small sections and asking students pointed questions about directorial choices and other techniques used in the piece.
Though Sheridan’s focus is on literary works turned into movies, the same advice comes from TeachHub.com author Michael Zimmer. He recounts his experience showing a National Geographic film on North Korea. Before the film, he gave the students a note-taking strategy to compare what they witnessed in North Korea with the United States lives that they knew. Like Sheridan, Zimmer stopped the movie periodically during the experience to discuss what was happening during the piece.
More ways to use movies in the classroom: Teaching rhetoric using “My Cousin Vinny”
One of my colleagues teaches rhetoric and composition in the higher education classroom using the film “My Cousin Vinny”. He plays select scenes for the students, asking them to identify pieces of an argument or specific logical fallacies that they have read about in their textbook.
Movies can show real-world examples of textbook subjects
He then replays the scene, encouraging the students to call out when they witness something they have studied. The multiple viewings and active engagement with the clip help him avoid what might otherwise be a boring lecture but also helps students see real-world examples of the rather dry textbook definitions they’ve just finished reading about.
This strategy always results in a boisterous affair with the students active and engaged with the material. After the experience, students are welcome to discuss any remaining questions or clarifications they need. While my colleague does not show the movie in its entirety, he shared that often his students will watch the full movie at home to prepare for their next in-class clip.
While the administration and parents may worry that a movie-showing teacher is simply recreating their own scene from “Bad Teacher”, movies can play an interesting role in our classrooms, engaging auditory and visual learners in ways that the textbook or discussions cannot. With a little forethought and planning, full movies and movie clips can become an essential piece of our classrooms, enhancing rather than interrupting learning.
Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a current adjunct faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.