By Daryn Simon, Beatrix Clark

29 June 2016 - 12:57

'[W]atch the films in advance so there are no awkward moments during the screening.' Photo
'[W]atch the films in advance so there are no awkward moments during the screening.' Photo ©

Matt Neale, licensed under CC BY 2.0 and adapted from the original.

Have you ever shown films to your class, or considered setting up a film club? Daryn Simon, Head of History at Ysgol Bryn Alyn, and Beatrix Clark of Into Film share some advice.

Why show films in the classroom?

Using film in the classroom is particularly effective in developing children's literacy skills. The ‘Leeds Partnership Project’ (PDF download, 283 KB), in which pupils regularly watched and made films, recorded a 96 per cent improvement in reading, compared with the previous term, and a 60 per cent improvement in writing.

What do students and teachers get out of establishing a film club?

I have seen pupils become far more confident in expressing opinions about films. Their critical writing skills have got better, with many of them winning review of the week from Into Film for their film reviews. I teach many of the pupils who attend film club, and those good relationships cross over into our lessons.

How can teachers make sure that pupils don't 'zone out' in class when shown a film? 

Choose the film carefully. This requires some knowledge (or research), but also an understanding of your pupils. It is much better to choose a film they have not seen before. They are far more likely to engage with the characters if they don't already know the story's twists and turns.

What's the best way to structure the lesson to keep things lively?

Before the film starts, share discussion points with pupils to help them watch in an active way. You can also introduce your class to the '3Cs' (colour, camera, character) and the '3Ss' (story, setting, sound) to help them analyse all the different elements of a film 'text'. During the film, press 'pause' at critical points in the plot, and ask ‘what happens next?’. This is a great way to keep pupils involved in the story. Afterwards, ask the class to write a review of the film, to consolidate their thoughts. Into Film's review writing guides and other resources contain suggestions and tips.

In practical terms, how should teachers go about setting up a film club? 

Before I set up my film club for Year 9 students, I gave an assembly to the whole year group, put up posters and held an initial meeting with interested pupils. Then, during each session, I use the cyclical process described in my blog to ensure pupils understand what we are doing before, during, and after watching the film.

Are there any common pitfalls?

A film usually has to be shown over a series of lessons. This can be problematic if there is a week between viewing, or if pupils are absent. To overcome this, before we start watching again, I get pupils to write a brief synopsis or sketch a quick storyboard summary of the plot so far. That way, they reinforce what they've learnt, and classmates who missed the previous lesson can catch up.

How can teachers choose the best film to show their students, if they aren’t film buffs themselves? 

I’m a huge film fan and enjoy the process of researching and finding films to use. If you're unsure or just want some ideas, the Into Film website is fantastic for sourcing films and resources, like this list of films set during the First World War. So is the British Film Institute’s teaching and learning resources. Furthermore, IMDB is great, as they often have lists put together by users, such as ‘the best films about WWI’, which are also peer-reviewed.

How can teachers deal with worries about the content of films being inappropriate for students?

I watch the films in advance so there are no awkward moments during the screening. If there are any scenes involving sex, drugs, or violence, it is much better to discuss them with the pupils, rather than just ignore it.

The Film Club website is brilliant as it offers ‘teachers' guidance’ for violence, bad language, sex etc. You can also access the parents’ guide for each film on IMDB.

Which subjects are particularly brought alive by film?

History, in particular. When teaching about the First World War, I showed pupils scenes from All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) and War Horse (2011), as part of a larger investigation into life in the trenches. I have also used Joyeux Noel (2005) as part of a cross-curriculum (French and history) study of the Christmas Truce of 1914. Pupils wrote letters ‘home’ as if they had experienced the truce themselves.

If your pupils are studying a historical figure, such as Queen Elizabeth I (Elizabeth, 1998), Martin Luther King (Selma, 2014) or Abraham Lincoln (Lincoln, 2013), film is extremely valuable. It can also play a role when critically evaluating reports of historical events, such as the Kennedy assassination (JFK, 1991) or the Holocaust (Schindler’s List, 1993). I recently used the film Suffragette (2015) and asked students to assess how accurately the suffrage movement was portrayed.

Film adaptations have long been used by English teachers, although they have generally been perceived as an ‘add-on’. But studied alongside a novel or play, the film version can develop students’ understanding of narrative, character, form, and language.

For language teachers, film is a perfect way to teach a foreign language in context and expose pupils to real-life conversation, new vocabulary, and cultural context.

Films about science and space present possibilities for mathematical calculations and the analysis of statistics. For instance, in The Martian (2015), a stranded astronaut demonstrates how to make water from burning hydrogen in the presence of oxygen.

In personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education, there are many films that could start conversations about sensitive subjects such as bullying, e-safety, underage sex, drinking and drug use. A few examples include Cinderella (2015), Rebel Without A Cause (1955), Mean Girls (2004), Maria Full of Grace (2004) or InRealLife (2013).

Browse and download the British Council's classroom resources for teachers.

Find out more about Into Film, the UK film education organisation, and get advice on how to set up a film club. Clubs are free for state-funded school and non-school settings, such as youth clubs, cinemas and libraries.

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