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Pros and Cons of Using Movies in Class

Looking at the Use of Movies in Lesson Plans

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Using movies in class can be engaging and helpful for students. However, teachers who show movies that are not connected to learning have given movies a bad name. This article looks at the pros and cons of including movies in lesson plans and gives advice to help ensure that movies are used in an effective manner. You can also check out Movie Lesson Plan Ideas for further information. Note: Some of the movies mentioned below would not be appropriate for certain age groups while others can really only be shown in part because of the inclusion of inappropriate scenes.

Pros of Using Movies in Class

  • Can extend the learning beyond the textbook

    Sometimes a movie can really help students get a feel for an era or an event. For example, if you are teaching about the Titanic disaster, clips from the movie Titanic which portray the different classes and why lifeboats were allowed to leave partially full can help students experience the issues involved involved to a much greater extent.

  • Interest building

    At some point in the year, students might need an interest building activity. Typically, this happens in my classroom between the end of winter holidays and the beginning of spring break when the weather is not that great outside and there are only a couple of days off. Adding a movie can build interest in a topic that is being learned while providing a small break from normal classroom activities.

  • Meets additional learning styles

    Presenting information in numerous ways can be the key to helping students understand topics. For example, having students watch the movie Separate But Equal can help them understand the reason behind the court case Brown v. Board of Education beyond just what they can read in a textbook or listen to in a lecture.

  • Provide teachable moments

    Sometimes a movie can include moments that go beyond what you are teaching in a lesson and allow you to highlight other important topics. For example, the movie Gandhi can provide you with the ability to discuss world religions, imperialism, non-violent protest, personal freedoms, rights and responsibilities, gender relations, India as a country, and so much more.

  • Can be a good thing to do on days where students would be unfocused

    It is a fact of day-to-day teaching that there will be days when students will be focused more on their homecoming dance and game that night or the holiday that starts the next day than on the topic of the day. While this is not an excuse to show a non-educational movie, this could be a good time to watch something on the topic you are teaching.

Cons of Using Movies in the Classroom

  • Can cause students to lose focus

    Movies can be distracting. It is important that you completely watch and know everything about the movie you are showing so that it does not lead to unwanted conversations and situations. For example, you might have watched a movie numerous times at home but only when watching it with a classroom full of students will those curse words that you didn't notice truly stand out or an off-color joke rear its head causing students to laugh and talk amongst themselves.

  • May take too much time

    Movies can sometimes be very long. I taught at a school district where it was the policy to watch Schindler's List with every 10th grade class (with their parent's permission of course). This took an entire week of classroom time. Even a short movie can take up 2-3 days of classroom time. Further, it can be difficult if different classes have to start and stop at different spots of a movie. A fire drill can really mess up your lesson plans for that week since one class will not have gotten as far in the movie as the others.

  • Really educational part may only be a small portion of the overall

    As with my Titanic example earlier, there are only parts of the movie that would be appropriate for the classroom setting and truly provide an educational benefit. In these cases, it is best to just show the clips if you feel that they truly add to the lesson you are teaching.

  • May not be completely historically accurate

    Movies often play with historical facts to make a better story. Therefore, it is important that you notice and point out the historical inaccuracies or students will believe that they are true. If done properly, pointing out the issues with a movie can provide you with teachable moments for your students.

  • Amount of prep time is important to make sure educational experience

    If done properly, showing movies is not an easy way to create a lesson. You should watch the movie and determine exactly how you are going to include it in your lesson plans. For example, are you going to create a worksheet to be completed as the movie is being watched, provide the students with specific information that they are to look out for, stop the movie and discuss at certain points, etc. Just turning on a movie like "Glory," without putting it in the historical context of African Americans and the Civil War and providing feedback throughout the movie is little better than using the television as a babysitter for your children.

  • Perception of using movies can be bad.

    Finally, there is a perception that watching movies is a bad method of teaching. That is why it is key that if you are including movies that you pick them wisely and properly create lessons that involve the movies and the information that the students are learning. You don't want to get a reputation as the teacher who shows all those movies like "Finding Nemo" which serve little to no purpose within the classroom setting.

  • Parents might object to specific content within a movie.

    If you have any concerns at all about a movie, you should send home permission slips for students to return. It is wise to include as many specific reasons as possible why you feel the movie is necessary for your lesson. Invite the parents to talk with you about any concerns they might have before the showing. If a students is not allowed to watch the movie, they should be given work to complete in the library while you are showing it to the rest of class.

In the end, movies can be an effective tool as you are creating your lesson plans. The key to success is to choose wisely and create lesson plans that involve the information learned in the movie.

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