9 Unique Ways to Teach with Movies

9 Unique Ways to Teach with Movies
Movies aren’t just something to show students on the day before a long break or when you have a substitute in the classroom. Previously, we’ve shown you how to incorporate movies into the ELA and social studies classrooms, but there are many more interesting ways to bring movies into the classroom and help students build skills that will help them not only learn more about a particular subject, but also learn more about life.

“There are many interesting ways to bring movies into the classroom and help students build skills that will help them not only learn more about a particular subject, but also learn more about life.”

#1 Paying Attention to Details

When it comes to making a film, it’s all about the details, but filmmakers and others involved in the process still occasionally make mistakes. In fact, there’s an entire website devoted to the mistakes made in movies — Movie Mistakes. When you’re going over the rules and procedures at the beginning of the school year, show a few clips and see if students can spot the mistakes. Then discuss how not paying attention to details affected the film and what lessons they can learn from those mistakes that they can also apply to the classroom.

Many movies also contain crucial details that aren’t mistakes, but rather help propel the story along. This is especially true in mysteries and other suspenseful films. Pull out clips that foreshadow events to come or contain symbolism that is important later in the film to help students learn to pay attention to details while reading a novel, taking a test, or completing another important task. The Harry Potter and Lemony Snickets films work well for this type of task.

#2 Following a Story

Sometimes we rely too much on what we hear and not enough on what we see. Some movies, however, are created to encourage us to follow a story without listening to the words. Bring old Charlie Chaplin or Mr. Bean movies into the classroom to see if students can follow the story without any words. For an even trickier task, show a foreign film without subtitles and see if students can figure out what is going on without understanding the words. If you can’t find a foreign film, simply showing a movie with the sound off could work as well. Students will have to think critically and rely on other senses to really make sense of what is going on.

#3 Understanding Expressions and Emotions

The same types of movies can also help students understand how to read expressions and emotions. This is particularly helpful in kindergarten classrooms, where students learn a lot about feelings, and in special education classrooms where students may have trouble reading and relating to others. Use films without words to highlight key emotions such as anger, sadness, or happiness. Once students begin to understand what the emotions look like, you can show clips with words to help students understand more about an emotion, for example, what tone of voice someone might use when they are angry.

#4 Learning a Language

For ESL or ELL students, movies offer a great opportunity to help students learn a language. While they won’t pick it all up, they’ll get to hear a large amount of vocabulary in context which will provide them with visual clues to use when they hear the words used in other scenarios. Movies can also introduce students to slang and other unique expressions that they may not learn in traditional ESL instruction or even traditional foreign language instruction. If you decide to show a movie, skip the subtitles. While reading and listening for comprehension are closely-related students learning a new language may find themselves overwhelmed with trying to comprehend both at the same time.

Those feel-good movies, the ones that show individuals rising out of the ashes and overcoming obstacles can play a role in teaching students character

#5 Developing Character

Chances are you’ve seen a movie that made you come out of the theater feeling better about humanity. Those feel-good movies, the ones that show individuals rising out of the ashes and overcoming obstacles can play a role in teaching students character. Find movie clips to help students learn about making positive choices, developing resilience, reaching a goal, being honest, or handling conflict. You can play and discuss the clips while establishing your classroom environment at the beginning of the school year, as part of special counseling sessions, or even during after school programs or detention. Movies such as Rudy, The Blind Side, Radio, Pay it Forward, and Remember the Titans are just a few great films that provide a lot of teachable moments.

#6 Discovering Alternate Cultures and Perspectives

You can also use movies to help students learn about other cultures and different types of people. This can be done through fictional movies and through documentaries. Students can compare and contrast the way the characters in the movie live with their own lives and will begin to understand that not everyone has the same experience. While movies set in other countries provide the best way to teach about other cultures, don’t forget about other cultures around you. For example, you may show a movie set in the deep South, the Midwest, or focusing on Hispanic or Asian families in a particular area. The goal is to help students see those who are different and realize that being different isn’t a bad thing. Similarly, movies can help students learn how people might see a situation differently.  For example, documentaries frequently show multiple sides of an issue through different perspectives to help viewers fully understand an issue.

Visual examples and movies in particular tend to stick with people, therefore, they make a great tool for helping improve comprehension.

#7 Increasing Comprehension

How often do you come across things that remind you of a scene in a movie? Visual examples and movies in particular tend to stick with people, therefore, they make a great tool for helping improve comprehension. If you’re talking about diving fractions in math, show a movie clip related to dividing fractions. Want to drive home how a soldier’s experience during war was particularly grim? Share a clip. You can often find these clips in unlikely places. For example, characters in a young adult movie may dissect a frog in science class and even though it doesn’t really connect with the movie as a whole, it can serve as a visual example for your classroom.

#8 Hearing Vocabulary in Context

Movies also provide visual and auditory examples of vocabulary words in context. No matter what subject you teach, when you’re introducing a new vocabulary list, look for a movie clip that incorporates many of those words. Better yet, if you need inspiration to help develop a new vocabulary list, turn to a movie to help you garner words to add to the list. For example, a movie about a politician running for re-election will introduce students to key words related to the electoral process while a movie about a mathematical genius is likely to introduce students to some of the key vocabulary words they need to understand problems in math class. The clip only has to be a few seconds long for students to use it as an example. If you have tech-savvy students you can even have them turn the clips into video memes to use as study tools.

Movies have the potential to teach important lessons and provide real-world examples for students.

#9 Teaching Important Lessons

Whatever it is you want to teach students, chances are you can find a clip from a movie to help support it. Movies have the potential to teach important lessons and provide real-world examples for students. They can learn about business by watching a movie about an executive on Wall Street, discover the importance of lab safety by watching the clip of a high schooler’s experiment gone wrong, or even understand the impact of slavery by seeing a character portrayed in a movie. When looking for movies, think outside of the box to find clips, as many of them will be hidden in movies that have nothing to do with the lesson you plan to teach. Ask your students for help too. They’ll learn to make connections as they try to think of clips that will help enhance your teaching.

Do you have any favorite movie clips you use to teach students? Share them so other teachers can incorporate them too.

Posted By StacyZeiger

Stacy Zeiger is a high school English teacher who also works as the manager of ELA content for HelpTeaching.com and serves as curriculum developer for My Sisters' Kids, an organization that provides peer support for grieving kids and teens. Stacy has her own line of character education curriculum which can be found at BuildingKidsCharacter.org. She lives in South Jersey with her husband, two children, and eight cats. Her oldest son has autism.

2 Responses to “9 Unique Ways to Teach with Movies”

  1. Ebony Mackey says:

    This was very beneficial information. I teach 9th and 10th-grade intensive reading at a charter school.I have shown several videos from POV films like Food Inc., Swim Team, Lost Boys of Sudan, etc. and I used the discussion guide and restructured it to my style.I have also shown some African and Hispanic films to show them a different perspective on how films are made in different countries.

    It’s was great to hear some of my students review the films that they watched. It was interesting to hear what impacted them from film to film.

  2. Art Manning says:

    Good article, Stacy. I was surprised to see your name at the end.
    – Art

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