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Using Movies to Increase Student Learning

Meghan Mathis

Using Movies to Enhance Student LearningIn the past, students in my English class often looked forward to the end of literature units. Once the final test was over, they knew I would bring in the video version of the book – giving students a two day break to sleep, pass notes to friends, finish homework for other classes, or maybe (just maybe) compare and contrast the movie with the novel.

I have found film versions of novels to be incredibly useful in teaching literature units. By using films in a different way than we might have used them in the past, we can change their status from “fun reward with little meaning” to “incredibly beneficial tool with many uses.”

Here are my classroom movie strategies to increase student learning:

Use Movies To Enhance Comprehension

One problem inherent with literature units is how to assess student comprehension throughout the unit. Do you use assessments like chapter quizzes or reading logs? What do you do with the students who fail a quiz, or whose reading logs show that they are missing crucial understanding? 

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Assessments are important for letting us know who isn’t keeping up, but they are useless for helping us catch up the students who are falling behind. A video version of the novel offers a quick-and-easy solution to this dilemma.  Instead of waiting until the end of a unit, show 5-10 minutes of the film after every few chapters. 

With the novel still fresh in their minds, the students who have strong comprehension skills will enjoy seeing how the film compares to their mental picture of what they have read.  The students who struggle with comprehension will be able to see what they misunderstood and catch up with their classmates. 

[TeachHUB Recommends: Reading Instruction Workshops from the K-12 Teachers Alliance.]

Use Movies To Encourage Unmotivated Readers

In any class, you are going to encounter students who don’t like reading the assigned novel, or who don’t like reading novels in general.  Use film versions of the novels you are reading to excite those students who are struggling to become or stay interested. 

Show the film versions of one or several of the most exciting, funny, or interesting moments in the novel as an activating strategy before you begin reading.  You can also use book trailers to get students excited about their upcoming reads. (Also a great post-reading project).

Ask your students to write down their predictions about the novel based on what they saw.  By doing so, you’re asking each student to become invested in the novel before they have even begun to read it.  Even your unmotivated students will be interested in discovering whether or not their predictions were correct.

[TeachHUB Recommends: Video Writing Prompt: Tiger Eyes]

Use Movies To Develop Extended Thinking Strategies

Extended thinking strategies are some of the most important skills we can give our students, but they can also be some of the most difficult to fit into our lessons.  Covering essential vocabulary, comprehension, and other important skills – like comparing and contrasting, analyzing perspective, constructing support, or error analysis – can be challenging, if not impossible to fit into your curriculum. 

Film versions of the novels your class is reading can help. Have students work with in groups to complete a Venn diagram (or even just list) the differences and similarities between the first three chapters of the novel and the first 10 minutes of the film. As a class, discuss what they added after watching the film. How did it change their perspective?

Hold a class debate over which version is better – the novel or the film – and ask each student to construct support for their position. 

Require students to work in groups to come up with lists of the differences between the novel and the film. Display the posters in the room and have students add to them as you watch a bit more of the film each week. By the end of the literature unit, you will have had tons of chances to increase your students extended thinking skills by using 10 minutes of video only once or twice a week.

Ask students to pretend to be a character in the novel. With a colored pencil, have them write a letter to another character in the novel talking about a specific event that you read recently. Watch the film version of the event and then ask the students to add to their letter in a different color. 

Where to Find Film Versions or Cips

It isn’t always easy to find film versions of the novels you are using in class.  In fact, you might not even be aware that a film version of the novel you’ve taught for years exists! 

Library Resources

But it is easier now than ever before for teachers to find what we need.  Check first with your school librarian – often they can find movies through your school and/or community libraries. 

If the librarian doesn’t usually check with local libraries in your community – try there next. 

Streaming Movies

If you are tech savvy, Netflix, Amazon, and several other companies allow you to stream movies directly to computers and if you have a computer and a projector you can have access to numerous films when you need them for a fee. 

Book Trailers

As referenced above, Digital Books Talk and other websites share movie-style previews of books.

YouTube & Online Video Sites

Finally, I have been amazed at how helpful YouTube has been for finding snippets of films (or full versions broken into manageable chunks), or even student-made versions of films that are excellent for short compare-contrast activities. 

When teaching a unit utilizing Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, for example, I stumbled across a short version of the novel made into a series of short, 10-minute video chapters on YouTube made by a group of students.

Showing them the video that corresponded with the chapters we had read during the week piqued my students’ interest and got them talking about the novel more than they had before. 

What Movies Are Out There?

Here is a link to some of the most popular young adult novels that have film versions available.  Check it out – maybe it will inspire you to investigate a new literature unit for your class!

List of Children's Books Made Into Feature Films

Sometimes, even teachers love the idea of a relaxing reward at the end of a long unit.  But all good teachers know that we need to make the most of every moment we have with our students in the classroom. Using movie versions of the novels in short chunks and showing at the most appropriate times can bump up the learning potential in our literature units while increasing student interest and participation. 

I hope you will consider looking into ways to incorporate this useful and fun tool in some of your upcoming lessons!

How do you use movies/films in your classroom? Share in the comments section!