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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

6 Tips for Making the Most of Film in the Classroom

6 Tips for Making the Most of Film in the Classroom

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With the advances in technology, it has never been easier to use or create films in classrooms - from elementary school to high school. And let’s face it, using film - whether watching them or actually making them - is often a heat motivator for students of all ages! There are teachers all over the world who are including YouTube or film clips in their lessons on a daily basis. Personally, I think there’s nothing better than starting off a lesson with a three minute video clip about the topic at hand. Flipped learning, too, relies heavily on the ability to make films and then post those films so that students can access them anywhere.

However, although the technical aspects have got easier, this doesn’t necessarily mean that films are being used as effectively as they could be. Let me give you an example of what I mean. In a history course that I was teaching a couple of years ago, there was a film that dealt with the topic at hand. One of my teachers thought that it would be advantageous to show a whole film loosely based on the topic - all three hours of it! The educational payoff in circumstances like this is limited - a much more successful approach would have been to use only short clips, interrogating the film as a secondary source for reliability and bias.

This year, I’m making a real commitment to using film better in class. To do that, I’ve come up with some tips - both for using films, and also for making films. Please, comment on my tips, and then share your own below.

3 Tips for Using Film in Class

1. YouTube is your friend, but CleanTube is better. Cleantube is an add-on that removes advertising and related videos.

2. Keep it short and upbeat. Generally, there’s a law of diminishing returns regarding the length of the film. If you can’t explain it in 5 minutes, a film might not be the best way to go about it.

3. Use it at the start or the end of the lesson. Audio-visual materials are more effective when used at the start and the end of a lesson - they increase engagement

3 Tips for Making Films in Class

This is where I think the real pedagogical strengths are!

1. When teaching students how to make films, start off with paper. Take students through the process of storyboarding. Let them know what different shots are. A little bit of vocabulary about the process goes a long way.

2. Build in play time. Let students muck around with the different titles and effects. This builds their confidence with the app as a whole.

3.Sometimes, it’s not about quality. No one in your class is making the next Scorsese epic. Instead, look at the films that are most watched on YouTube - they might not be perfect, but they tell a story. Focus on that storytelling aspect.

How about you? How have you used film and what advice would you give someone just starting out?

Comments (13 Replies)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal
Facilitator 2014

I love the ways the storyboarding and storytelling aspects of this can really help students understand literature!

Dan Callahan's picture
Dan Callahan
Professional Learning Specialist, Edcamper, Graduate Professor

I'm a big fan of making movies with students in the classroom. At the elementary level, Toontastic and iMovie on the iPad are outstanding tools that really help set kids up for the basics of digital storytelling.

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

I've taught several classes on movie making with ipads in an after school program with middle schoolers. We had kids storyboard, but we also had them set up interviews with other students in the program, talking about what they were doing, what they got out of the project, what they saw as long term benefits, etc. Formulating the questions and doing a bit of journalism worked well!

I also let them tell their own stories- many were very moving, and some were just downright creative and fun. In an after school activity, i could be a bit free-er than if it were in the classroom,

If you need guidance on helping kids understand the "grammar" of film, the AFI has great resources:



Understanding a couple of things about framing, eyelines, shot types, and lighting can drastically improve student 's film and make them much more satisfied with the project.

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