By Teachers, For Teachers
My students ask from time to time, “Can we watch a movie in class?”
I’m not opposed to watching films in class – some of my own favorite instructors showed plenty of films that truly added value to my learning. As long as the film or clip offers knowledge, insights, and perspectives students can’t ordinarily gain, then I happily turn it on.
Sometimes I tease students: “Why would you want to watch a movie in an uncomfortable desk and have it interrupted three separate times so you can go to your next class?” Or I ask them: “So are you going to have intellectual, academic conversations and activities at home while we watch a movie here?”
There’s no doubt there are definitely wrong, boring ways to watch films in class. But if you’re looking to use classroom management to supplement your curriculum with a few films throughout the year, consider some of these creative ways to watch or respond to a movie!
Before we talk directly about the activities students will do during or after a film, here’s a few helpful classroom management ground rules that will enhance the film experience.
Not for fun, but for learning. Movies are fun, but that doesn’t mean we watch them “Because they are fun.” We are in school, and we watch films to learn. Consider your objectives and make sure you select the right film and timing to meet those learning objectives.
Set your expectations. Be sure that you are clear with your students about the learning and behavioral expectations. Tell them how they ought to conduct themselves while viewing a film in a classroom, and let them know up front how they should engage with the content the film offers.
Pay attention. You want your students to be engaged, right? Engagement often follows modeling. Do not lesson plan, grade, type e-mails, or be otherwise occupied during the film. Demonstrate the behaviors you want your students to exhibit while watching.
Now that we’re clear on the rules, let’s get to the good stuff! Here are some activities or methods for watching films that ensure students are thinking and engaged.
Create the Atmosphere. Bring in snacks, comfy seating, and themed decorations! At first this doesn’t seem like that academic of an idea. However, it’s amazing what a few nice touches can do for the overall experience. First, there’s just something about sharing food – even movie snacks – that helps bring people closer together. Second, the unique, comfortable seating and themed decorations establish a memorable atmosphere for your class to share. That’s the important part – the shared experience. When a group of people enjoys a memorable experience, it brings them together. They as a group have now shared something that no one else has, and this enhances the feeling of community and togetherness of your students. This is an intangible dynamic, but one that builds relationships and fosters feelings of safety, comfort, and growth.
Team observations. Organize students into teams of three or four and give each team member a unique task. Each team member is responsible for paying attention to or identifying key aspects in the film you’re class is watching. When you pause the film or reach the end, team members will share their findings with one another and add to their collective knowledge.
Class backchannel. Ask students to keep their smartphones and tablets out. Open up a backchannel on your class website, Twitter, or an online backchannel tool like TodaysMeet.com. A backchannel works like a live online discussion forum, where students can share their thoughts together without blurting them out in class. While watching the film, ask students to use the backchannel to share thoughts, ask questions, respond to one another, and generally write down their reactions to the movie.
Watch with “Class Commentary On.” No, you don’t have to turn on the commentary feature that accompanies some DVDs. Instead, tell your students that they’re allowed to share their thoughts out loud while watching the film. If they have a question, can make an observation, or even have a joke, tell them they’re allowed to share it out loud. This is very rude in a movie theater, but a fun plus when in a classroom!
Give your reviews. Before watching your specific film, you can view movie reviews from esteemed film critiques. Listen to what they pay attention to and how they share their ideas. While students watch the film, have them imitate these professionals. You can wait until the film is over or pause as you go, asking students to share their thoughts and reviews of the film. Include opportunities for them to give films a “Thumbs up” or to rank certain aspects on a scale of one to ten.
Write your own questions. Teachers are notorious for being the ones to generate questions for discussion. But a good film will likely stimulate the curiosity of everyone. Have students use index cards, post-its, or your favorite tech tool to record their question as they go. When you pause the film, spend some time having students share their questions and see which ones students can answer and which ones they can still only speculate about.
Pause and Predict. When you ask, “What do you think is going to happen next?” it can be frustrating for students who just want to watch the film and find out! Put keep your finger on that pause button and, at appropriate times, stop the film and ask students to think through what they have seen and what they believe would make the most sense to come next. When students do this repeatedly, it reinforces the still of prediction and also helps them to better identify patterns in stories and information.
These are just a few ideas related to viewing movies in the classroom. When we keep the objective of learning at the forefront of all we do – including the viewing of fun films in school – then we can design effective lessons that keep students’ minds stimulated. Show films with the goal to encourage thinking in fun ways.
What ideas do you have for showing films in fun and meaningful ways in your classroom? Share your thoughts with our TeachHUB community in the comments below!
Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.