By Teachers, For Teachers
Even the rowdiest class tends to sit down and pay attention on those rare occasions they get to watch a movie. Oscar season gives you a chance to use kids’ love of movies to actually further their education. Try these great activities for connecting the Academy Awards to your classroom.
A number of this year’s Oscar nominees are based on literature. For example:
Obviously it may be that not all of this literature is appropriate for your students, so preview anything you want to share with your class.
If possible, show the film in class and assign students the book or play it was based on. Then, have students write a comparative essay. In their essay, students should answer questions like: What did they notice was different in the book versus the film? How did these differences impact the story? Why might the changes have been made? For older students, assign a persuasive essay in which they argue which of the formats they preferred.
One of the great things about the internet age is that it’s easy to find data. Specifically, box office data about each of this year’s Oscar nominees can be found on websites like boxofficemojo.com or the-numbers.com.
Use this data to assign math problems for your students. You can have students look through the list of nominees and identify the highest and lowest-grossing films, figure out the mean or median numbers, or even find the standard deviation. They could also look up past nominees and winners, and compare how much money this year’s movies made compared to previous years. You can even use older data to work out problems on adjusting for inflation!
Several of this year’s films are based on historical events. Here are a few ideas for how to incorporate these films into your classroom. (Again, please review all films before deciding if they’re appropriate for your class!)
Lincoln: Lincoln tells the story of how Abraham Lincoln, Thaddeus Stevens, and others worked to pass the Thirteenth Amendment and outlaw slavery. It’s also based in part on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography of Lincoln, Tem of Rivals. Have students research and write their own biography of one of the other historical figures featured in the film, such as Stevens, Mary Todd Lincoln, or William H. Seward.
Argo: Argo tells the story of how several Americans stranded in Iran during the hostage crisis in the 1970s were rescued. Students can research the actual crisis that serves as a backdrop for the film, and connect it to current events by explaining how that crisis is tied to ongoing political difficulties between the United States and Iran.
Zero Dark Thirty: Zero Dark Thirty is a partly-fictionalized account of a CIA agent whose mission to find Osama bin Laden leads to his eventual death in a raid on his hideout. Although the violent subject-matter may not be appropriate for class, the important ethical issues raised by the film—including the use of enhanced interrogation methods that are often called torture and the question of whether the United States has the right to conduct military missions in other nations without permission—are ripe ground for discussion in high school current events or ethics classes.
ParaNorman: Although ParaNorman is a work of fiction, it’s based around a thinly-veiled version of the real-life Salem Witch Trials. Tell students about the trials, and how mass hysteria and superstition led to the deaths of twenty-four people accused of witchcraft. Have students write a short essay about why an event like this could happen in the colonies in the seventeenth century, and whether they think a similar tragedy could occur today.
If you can’t get ahold of all these films, check out our video writing prompts for Oscar nominees! These activities will get your kids thinking about films and media instead of just goggling at the screen.
Are you going to be talking about the Oscars in class on Monday? Tell us in the comments!