Films in the Classroom

I’m not a huge fan of showing movies in class; most films do not meet my expectations for a good use of class time. I tend to ask myself:

  • Will a clip suffice?
  • Will a series of short clips from a film suffice?
  • What is the purpose of using the film in class?
  • Is this the best way to teach my stated goal/objective?

However, just like the English language, rules can be broken for effect. I do use one film in its entirety each year when I teach Transcendentalism; that film is Dead Poet’s Society.

Usually, I have students pair up with one student responsible for listing as many instances of conformity and groupthink as possible while the other student creates a list of examples of individuality. More than anything, this is a kick start for thinking–almost like a brainstorming session.

I show the film in four segments of approximately 30 minutes. Before each section of the film I set (or reset) the purpose for the day’s viewing, and prior to the final three segments I have the students do a quick exercise to remind themselves of what was seen the previous day. One student summarizes the previous day’s segment in one minute, and the partner then adds any missing details within 30 seconds. Lastly, I have each student note what his/her favorite part was from the previous segment.

The kids are thinking, recalling, expressing themselves aloud, and finishing this quick exercise with a positive statement. This last portion is critical to create a positive, forward-leaning mindset. Why not start a lesson with a positive?

Once the 30 minute segment concludes I have the students share their findings with their partners (the aforementioned lists) for one minute each. At this point I may conduct a truncated version of the fish bowl activity my students enjoy or I may conduct a full-class discussion about what the students viewed, what they think about the ideas or events, and how the students react to the characters. Sometimes I finish with an exit ticket to be turned in as students leave the room, or I have the students finish the day with a quick notation in their binders answering this simple question: “What is one thing you learned today?”

At the end of the film I provide the class a series of quotations from Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walden by Henry David Thoreau (and from each we have read excerpts) in a two-columned chart with the quotations down the left side. On the right I have the students identify scenes, ideas, and characters matching the ideas of the left column.

The students’ explanations are generally excellent, and their insights impress me each year. Plus, they often come up with ideas I had not previously considered. I love learning something new, but I’m also an admitted nerd. 🙂

5 thoughts on “Films in the Classroom

  1. drpezz Post author

    Sorry. I was out of town. Off the top of my head, some of the ones I use are:
    “envy is ignorance”
    “imitation is suicide”
    “trust thyself”
    “consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”
    “To be great is to be misunderstood”
    “I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately.”
    “I wanted to suck the marrow out of life”
    “Our lives are frittered away by detail”

    You may want to double check that I quoted those correctly, but you get the idea. It all depends on which portions you have the kids read.


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