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Teachers often struggle to create movie assignments for students. We’ve all been in our students’ shoes — you heard rumors all day that you’d get to watch a movie in class. The moment arrives, and you sit at your desk as the lights dim and the movie cart rolls onto center stage. Then something goes terribly wrong — the teacher keeps pausing the movie every few minutes to comment. To make matters worse, you have to fill out a generic worksheet as you watch.
Don’t let this be the way you handle movie assignments for students in your classroom. Film can help visual learners process information. It’s also a fantastic way to extend learning and apply skills your class has been working on. Despite the benefits of showing movies in the classroom, others may see it as lazy teaching, and if not executed properly, students might check out. Using these tips can get you started towards a movie day everyone can appreciate.
1. Be Intentional
Be picky about when and what movies you show to your students. In many cases, class time could be better spent on engaging activities where learning is front and center. You should never use films to avoid active teaching. However, there are certainly times when a different medium can increase learning.
Begin by looking at your desired learning outcomes to see if a movie day would advance student learning or distract from it. Only choose ones you’ve seen multiple times and know are appropriate for school. In most cases, you’ll need to share your intended movie with administration and parents.
Once you’ve made a choice and gotten approval, you need to lay the groundwork. Your movie could be an introduction to a unit or an extension of something you’ve been learning. Either way, students should have a clear idea of what they’ll be watching and how it ties to what they’ve learned or will be learning before the movie begins.
2. Don’t Interrupt
Even though you should only use movies to advance learning, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t also be fun. Watching something could be a meaningful reward after working through a cognitively demanding unit.
Probably the worst thing you could do at this point is assign a generic worksheet for students to fill out as they watch. Multi-tasking is impossible for people of any age, so instead, your class will be rapidly switching between paying attention to the movie and filling out the worksheet. It would be more beneficial to allow them to watch the film for a set period and then check for understanding.
Also, try to avoid interrupting their movie time by pausing every few minutes. To engage the class as they watch, use a chat program that allows you and the students to comment and ask questions about what they’re watching. If you want to encourage students to participate in the chat, you could make it part of their grade or worth some bonus points. Use a program that will allow you to save the dialogue for everyone to refer back to.
3. Make Creative Movie Assignments for Students
Just because we skipped the fill-in-the-blank movie worksheet doesn’t mean students shouldn’t complete a movie assignment. You should prepare a way to gauge student engagement and understanding of the material. Rather than aim for basic understanding, design projects that will move students farther up Bloom’s taxonomy.
Here are some ideas to get your creative juices flowing:
- Create Movie Posters- an artistic option where students use persuasive techniques to encourage others to watch the movie.
- Character Analysis- before the movie, assign each student a character from the film to analyze. After, they could apply their knowledge in a mock interview where they play their character, and the class can ask them questions. Another option is to write an obituary, focusing on their motivations and life accomplishments.
- Write an Alternate Ending- have students re-write the ending or a pivotal scene in the movie and analyze how that would change things for the characters. Students could even work in groups to film their adaptations if you have the equipment.
- Be Movie Critics- have students write reviews of the movie and “publish” their work.
4. Offer Student Choice
What’s better than any of the above options? All of them. Students are more engaged in the classroom when they feel they have a choice in the learning process. Offer a menu with options on a similar level of assessment but that use different student skills and interests. Students who aren’t artistic may not enjoy drawing something for their project, and those who struggle with writing might share more powerful thoughts through video if given the opportunity.
A menu of options is also a great way to differentiate movie assignments for students. Students with different learning needs could have menus targeted to challenge them without being unattainable.
5. Watch More Than Once
Watching an entire movie takes a lot of valuable class time, but only seeing something once may not allow your students to get enough information. However, it would take too much time to watch the movie multiple times during class. Instead, provide a way for students to go back and view it on their own time.
Students could rewatch the movie at home while working on their assignment or preparing for it. While in class, you could allow students to watch portions of it on their own device if they’re missing information or want some clarification or inspiration.
Alternatively, you could see if your movie has a script you could share with students. This could be especially helpful for students with different auditory and visual needs. Scanning a script for a part they’re looking for is also much faster than rewatching whole segments of a movie and is more than likely less distracting.
Think Outside the Box
When deciding how to use film in the classroom, many teachers think only of full-length films, but short clips can be just as effective in certain scenarios and are much more time-effective. Student movie assignments would look different for short videos, but since they don’t take as much class time, a quick formative assessment would be sufficient.
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