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Films can be a great resource to use in order to increase students’ comprehension of subject-matter concepts. This lesson will discuss ways in which film can be taught to students in high school with a short quiz to follow that will test your knowledge.

Teaching Film in High School

With many schools adopting the Common Core Standards, being able to critically analyze visual information is part of the curriculum for various subject areas, including language arts and history. One way you, the teacher, can introduce visual information into your lesson plans is by using film.

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Not only will your students have to stay focused on the content of the film, but they will need to be able to think about literary elements such as character development, plot and setting (when and where the story takes place). You may have students analyze character development from the beginning to the end of the movie or determine whether certain characters are being stereotyped based on the way they talk, act or dress. You may also use film to increase your students’ understanding of events that took place in history, such as an abbreviated version of the movie Titanic or the reality of life in concentration camps during World War II as depicted in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.

How is Film Taught?

In today’s classroom, being able to effectively analyze visual information may be a little more difficult than analyzing text. There are a number of strategies that can be used when teaching film in high school.

Before Viewing the Film

  • As the teacher, familiarize yourself with the film’s content.

    You definitely need to look at the film at least once so that you will know what to expect. Is there adult content, language or situations that may not be appropriate for students? What information needs to be discussed with your students prior to watching the film that will build their background knowledge about subject matter?

  • Get parental permission to view the film in class before showing it to students. Make parents aware of any content that may be PG-13 rated.

    It will probably be wise not to show films with higher than a PG-13 rating in class.

  • Create a thorough lesson plan. Be careful not to have your students view a film just for the sake of breaking from instruction. You should prepare a lesson plan, complete with objectives, goals and activities.

    What do you want your students to learn as a result of watching a particular film? How will you assess your students’ learning? What is the goal of watching the film? How does the film meet state standards? These are all questions that should be addressed when you are planning your lesson.

  • Teach any important terminology and language related to the film before your students actually start viewing. You may also give background information about the film and brief character descriptions. For example, if the film takes place during the 1930s, you may want to talk to your students about the Great Depression or how World War 1 impacted everyday life.
  • If you can get a copy of the script, you could have students look at an excerpt just to show them things such as character dialogue and movement (i.e. Harry Potter exits the castle) that will give them a little insight into what it takes to create a film.

During the Film

  • Decide where you will pause during the film so that you can engage your students in discussion. You may need to explain certain events taking place or draw students’ attention to important parts of the film that may be confusing, relate to other subject matter that has been discussed in class or require deeper critical analysis. For example, you may ask whether a character’s actions tells the audience anything about him as a person or whether a change in setting influences the story’s plot. Having questions prepared ahead of time is probably a good idea when you are engaging students in these types of discussions.
  • Divide the film into chunks. As the teacher, you will likely not want to have your students spend an hour or more watching a film without engaging them in some related activity. You may have them answer questions, summarize what they saw or illustrate an important scene from that day’s viewing of the film.

    This will also help ensure that students are actually watching the film from a critical analysis point of view as opposed to just viewing for entertainment purposes.

  • Have students take notes and be sure to circulate the room to make sure students are on task. You may want to provide a note-taking sheet or a set number of questions for students to answer as they are watching the movie. If providing questions for students, you may want to design the questions so that students are not just answering yes or no.

After the Film

  • Create an extended assignment. For example, if the film was adapted from a novel, you could have students read an excerpt from the novel and compare it to the film. They could complete a Venn diagram detailing the similarities and differences between the two mediums, or you may ask students whether they prefer the film or the novel and explain why.

Lesson Summary

Teaching film can be an engaging teaching tool for increasing your students’ interest in current events and issues related to the world in which they live. In the past, teachers commonly used movies in the classroom as a means of taking a break from instruction. Now, films can be used to introduce visual and auditory information, along with character, plot, setting and other literary elements.

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