Do you remember the joy that you felt as a student when you saw the teacher roll the TV into the classroom? Your students can experience the same joy when you show a film in your own classroom – and it won’t be because it’s a perceived distraction. In her recent Guardian.com blog post, Sarah Marsh outlines 12 ways to use film creatively in the classroom. Building on concepts from that piece, we’ll focus on three key themes here: film immersion, cultural immersion, and student activity.
There are a plethora of ways to immerse students into a film. Let’s say that you show a full-length film in class. Students can research the director or actors’ body of work, seeking commonalities and inspiration, which allows students to discover what inspires them. They can use podcast and radio reviews of a movie to determine how reviewers describe the visual aspects of a film using nothing but audio, and they can even create their own podcast reviews of the film.
Speaking of audio, students can learn to create their own sound effects for the film. Play them a segment of the film’s score or soundtrack so they can ascertain the corresponding mood. Break down all elements of the film, from cinematography and computer graphics to costuming and setting, and ask students to analyze these tools and decide how they can enhance the meaning of the film and its overall experience.
Meaning is often drawn from not only the period in which the film was set, but also the time in which it was made. Ask students to research films from a specific decade to discern the culture’s interconnectedness with the film’s themes and execution. Have students show clips of these films in class. They will enjoy exploring historical films and drawing connections between art and life.
While films offer students an escape from the classroom — think of them as fairly inexpensive, easily organized field trips — they can also meet students where they are and help them gain a better understanding of the culture that they’re in or the one to which they aspire. For instance, showing a workplace-themed movie in a business class opens students to the working world, allowing them to question their reactions to workplace situations.
Why? Because as viewers, we become immersed in the world of the movie. When a beloved on-screen character is slighted, students feel slighted too. When the character succeeds, the students feel that they have succeeded as well. Through lighting, music, and storytelling tools, filmmakers evoke emotion. As Melinda Barlow, an Associate Professor of Film Studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder, writes for the NEA, “Reactions to films are often involuntary, and verbal responses are just as visceral.”
What does that mean for the classroom? It means that students will connect with what they see on the screen and be able to discuss it from a deeply personal perspective. A well-planned film, or even a short clip, can illustrate a point and spark productive conversation because everyone can opine on the matter. That’s the power of film!
For foreign language learners, film can transport students into the target culture, making them more aware of the customs of another country. Students can explore how language fits into the daily context and navigate their language recognition skills among the native accents. Foreign films can also spotlight social and political issues.
Immersion sometimes means having students transform from film viewers into film makers. Encourage them to create their own films based on the films that you show in class by having them explore a variety of filmmaking techniques and determining for themselves which options best create and portray a story.
In her Guardian post, Sarah Marsh suggests transforming film from a one-off showing in the classroom to an entire extracurricular experience via a film club, which can help students engage with film and even the world around them. By choosing and screening films, students can think more deeply and reflect about each film’s topics while becoming involved in a constructive after-school activity. They can explore new cultures and question their own viewpoints, making them better-informed global citizens.
Film club isn’t just an excuse to watch movies after school; it’s a transformative experience that has the potential to engage even disinterested students.
As we have seen, it’s not hyperbole to say that the possibilities for film in the classroom are many. A simple YouTube clip can illustrate a classroom concept and generate a lengthy discussion on how it relates to the “real world.” A full-length film can help students explore the social dynamic between the genders.
As obvious as it may seem, the well-chosen film or film clip will not have the intended effect if the setting isn’t right. The following steps help ensure that your film presentation will always receive two thumbs up from your students:
For too long, film has been a distraction in the classroom. Used effectively, film is an effective teaching tool that has lasting effects far beyond the classroom.