Everything You Need to Know About Teaching with Movies

Motion pictures have fascinated society since the first film was created in the late 1800s. Since then, movies have only grown in popularity, generating billions of dollars in sales and inspiring millions of people around the world. Movies are now ingrained in popular culture, being the subject of quotes, colloquialisms, and memes.

Given this phenomenon, it’s no surprise that teachers have used film to enhance their lessons and inspire their students. For example, Contact (1997) can illustrate in incredible depth our universe, while Dead Poets Society (1989) can bring out the poet in all of us.

As an educator thinking about leveraging movies in your classroom, you may have some questions. In this post, we’ll offer you tips and resources to help you effectively teach, engage, and inspire your students using movies.

Why should I use movies in my classroom?

This is an important question that you should ask of any new tool or resource that you plan to introduce into your classroom.

Movies are a comfortable and familiar medium for your students. Over 50% of teens watch at least one movie a month, and 41% watch an additional two or three movies a month. In today’s connected world, students are also frequently exposed to movies in the form of GIFs and memes on social media.

One challenge every educator faces is retention: will students remember what they learned? Studies show that students will forget roughly 56% of your lesson within an hour if their learning is not reinforced or connected to prior knowledge. This means it’s not enough to make your lessons engaging; they also need to be sticky.

Movies can provide just the reinforcement you need. They are familiar to your students since they feature familiar characters and actors, and they often contain humor. And humor has been shown to evoke curiosity and aid in the retention of thoughts.

All of these attributes make movies highly effective at transforming the learning experience into one that is more engaging and comfortable.

How can I effectively use movies in my teaching?

Not all the ways in which movies can be used are conducive to learning. Movies can take up a large chunk of valuable class time, so it’s important to consider the trade-offs of using them over other resources.

Many educators will show a full-length movie to their classroom. While it is effective in some contexts (ex: you’re teaching a film class), most of the time, it’s not a good investment. Movies are made primarily to entertain, so they contain a lot of filler content. If you’re trying to convey a key idea by playing an entire movie, students may have difficulties arriving at the conclusion. It’s also a passive learning experience.

Instead, you could show short, to-the-point video clips from the movie. Using short clips that convey key concepts and connect to your lesson objectives are more conducive to learning since it’s easier for your students to extract important concepts from them. Since they take up significantly less class time, they also allow you to engage your students in discussions and other activities that reinforce their learning.

Where can I find movies to use in my lessons?

After you’ve decided to use a movie to support your lesson, now you need to show it to your class.

There are a lot of places where you can watch movies these days. If you are subscribed to a streaming service such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Hulu, you can look for the movie on there. You can also take a visit to your local library and rent the movie on DVD. If you work at a school with a librarian or a media specialist, they can share the school-approved resources for playing movies in your classroom.

In addition, other services are available.

ClassHook is an increasingly popular website for teachers. It features a library of short, educational scenes from movies and television. You can search for videos by topic, grade level, length, and more.

YouTube is often the go-to website for teachers looking for videos. Sometimes it can be difficult to find the right movie scenes, but you can try searching the Movieclips channel for the right scene. Movieclips contains thousands of scenes from popular movies. Other producers are now also creating their own YouTube channels and uploading videos from their productions, making YouTube an increasingly attractive option for finding movie scenes.

What about copyright?

Fortunately, the Copyright Act offers protections that allow you to legally use movies in your classroom.

If you’re showing the entire movie, or an excerpt of the movie, in your classroom, then you’re allowed to do so thanks to the protections of the face-to-face teaching exemption. This exemption states that copyrighted material can be used freely in an educational setting as long as it’s been legally obtained. As the American Library Association mentions, it’s more important where the movie is viewed by the class rather than where the physical copy of the movie is located. This means that you can stream the movie from Netflix or load up a DVD, and you won’t need to worry.

If you teach an online class, then you can still show the movie to your class, but it must be in a closed online environment that only a limited number of people can access. An example would be a password-protected class or document.

While there are many resources you can use to foster learning in your classroom, movies are one of the most powerful tools at your disposable.

When used effectively, movies can actively engage your students in their learning and make key lesson ideas stick.

As an educator, you want to create a compelling learning experience for your students. Leverage the power of movies in your lessons to get your students excited and inspired to come to class every day.

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