Three Ways Film Can Enhance the Student Classroom Experience

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 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.

Film Immersion

Image via Flickr by kcolwell

Image via Flickr by kcolwell

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.

Cultural Immersion

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.

Student Activity

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.

Image via Flickr by WorldLitToday

Image via Flickr by WorldLitToday

Doing Film in the Classroom Right

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:

  1. Internet Connection: This is the first tip that Sarah Marsh offers, owing to its importance. When showing web-based clips, make sure that the Internet connection is strong, and the clip is already buffered to avoid awkward pauses.
  2. Advertisements: Ads are quite prevalent in videos today, especially those posted on YouTube. Make sure that advertisements before the clip have played through before showing the clip. This is especially important if the ad isn’t student-friendly.
  3. Room Size: When showing a film, think about moving the class to a large room made for film viewing, such as a theater or auditorium.
  4. Darkness: Make sure that the room is sufficiently darkened so that all pertinent details of the film can be sufficiently detected, and make sure that the sound system is strong.
  5. Sound: Of course, a surround-sound setup is ideal, but clear speakers with no feedback or buzzing also are important.

In Short

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.



  1. Sarah Alahmadi

    February 14, 2015 at 8:12 pm

    It is true that using film in classroom help create a very engaging and enjoyable atmosphere. However, even though we want that, we should still learn how to manage using this tool. From a personal experience, whenever the teacher told us in the past that we were watching a movie in class, we always thought “Yes! Time to take a break from thinking.” No one really cared to think critically about what they were watching, or tried to apply what we were learning to it. It is important, like with any other teaching tool, to put more emphasis on how to use it in order to effectively help students learn—which is the ultimate goal. There are two critical points to the effectiveness of using film in class I would like to shed light on. First, what type of film is used? Is it very explicit regarding the material being learned? Or does it have some hidden, deep message? In all cases, it is very important for the teacher to introduce the topic first and discuss it later in order to play “the retriever” role: pointing out to students how the movie is related to their topic of interest, and what they can infer from the movie. Research shows that people are bad in transferring information from a situation to another, or from an abstract to a concrete concept. It all depends on what kind of material is learned, and how the movie is related to it. In general, the teacher should make sure students have enough background knowledge to use while watching the movie to make inferences and mappings—and discuss that thoroughly with them afterwards. Secondly, the length of the film might influence the effectiveness of this tool. Playing a movie for a whole class might defeat its purpose. Students might get engaged at first, but their minds might start wandering somewhere else. Using short clips and discussing them during the class, would lead to better engagement and comprehension of students. Alternating between the movie and the discussion makes it easier as to how transfer the information and concepts learned from both. To sum up, I believe that using film in class could be a great tool, yet a not-very-effective one if misused. It is important to think more about how to use this tool to reach the best results possible. This article shows how film is enjoyable and engaging, yet I believe that in order for it to really, as described in the article, have “lasting effects far beyond the classroom,” it needs to be effectively supervised leading students through discussions that link both the message in the movie and the material learned in class.

  2. Toby Klein Greenwald

    February 15, 2015 at 4:51 pm

    Thank you for this excellent article. I integrate film often into the classroom, using it to compare various issues and story lines and to illustrate others. As opposed to Sarah, I’m more of a purist and believe in showing the entire film, though I’ll pause as needed or, at the very least, show it in two screenings, and bring a variety of literary sources for additional enrichment. One thing your article fails to address is the issue of legality. If one screens an entire film, especially, it should be properly purchased.

  3. Meena Sharma

    February 16, 2015 at 4:15 am

    Well explained about Ways film enhances classroom experience …