The Pros and Cons of Using Movies in the Classroom


Apr 6, 2022

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Many people think that using movies in the classroom wastes time. Perhaps it’s because they had substitute teachers who did so to run down the clock or maybe they’re educators, themselves, the ones who put on films to take coffee breaks. Whatever the case, instructors who teach with movies often get a bad wrap, within and without the academia. 

Yet, there are a few upsides to this visual medium. That’s why it’s important to consider both the pros and the cons of using movies in the classroom before deciding whether to incorporate them into your lesson plans. 

Pros of Using Movies in Class

There are plenty of benefits to using movies in the classroom, many of which parents and even instructors are unaware of. Of course, a film’s effectiveness depends on how well the teacher presents it to their students. However, if they choose a relevant, engaging and informative film, they’re sure to experience the following advantages and advancements in their own classroom. 

Helps Visual Learners

Most people learn best when they focus on learning through one of the five basic senses. Those who rely on their sense of sight are visual learners. These students often use charts, graphs, movies, and other images to engage with and understand new information. Thus, teaching with movies could help them better understand the topic at hand. Pair it with hand-outs featuring flowcharts or diagrams that students can use to take notes as the plot unfolds. 

Provides Context

If you incorporate other mediums like text and audio, a movie can add context to your lessons. For instance, if the class is reading about the Civil War, you might also listen to a podcast that covers the topic. Additionally, you could watch the movie Gettsyburg and discuss it in class. The film offers historically accurate and realistic depictions to help young learners better understand what led up to and occurred during battle. 

Breaks Up Longer Lessons

Four to five-year-olds should be able to focus for two to five minutes times the year of their age, according to experts. That means a kindergartner should have a 10 to 25-minute attention span. If you’re planning a longer lesson, teaching with a short movie halfway through could help break it up into two or three shorter sessions. This approach will engage students and incentivize good behavior. They can’t watch the rest of the movie if they don’t participate and listen. 

Cons of Using Movies in Class

Despite all the good that movies can do, there are a few downsides to using them in class. If an instructor chooses poorly or shows a film with little explanation, whipping out the TV or projector might do more harm than good. Even the most well-meaning educators can experience some of the following disadvantages when using movies in class. 

Requires Some Permissions

One of the biggest disadvantages to using movies in class is that doing so often requires extra permissions from school administrators and fellow teachers. They may ask you to send students home with permission slips for their parents to sign, too. Acquiring these slips is even more pertinent if you plan to show a PG-13 or R-rated movie. Films that address war, racism, and other similar topics often receive these ratings because of their graphic depictions. 

May Be Distracting or Upsetting

Teaching with movies may give students time to decompress between longer periods of active learning. However, students can only focus for so long. Eventually, they may get fidgety and disruptive, regardless of how engaging you think the film is. Relevant but upsetting images of violence, discrimination, poverty, and death may also upset young children. Thus, some movies might be more distracting or traumatic than they’re worth. Perhaps their parents can share the film with them when they’re older. 

Could Waste Time

Ultimately, watching films in class could waste time, even if you choose them wisely. Gettysburg might be educational, but it’s four hours long. Plus, it only covers a single battle whereas you’re likely teaching students about the entire Civil War. In this case, you might consider sharing just a short clip or trailer instead. That way you still have time to discuss other relevant topics during class. 

Movies Don’t Teach Themselves

Should you use movies in the classroom? Ultimately, the choice is up to you, your superiors, and the school’s various classroom policies. However, if you do decide to show a film, remember to provide your students with some context. 

Movies don’t teach themselves, and young minds will glean very little from them if you don’t offer some explanation as to why you’re showing them. Provide feedback before, during, and after each film you watch and choose each one purposefully. That way they fit into your lesson plan and facilitate learning, not just engagement.

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