George Lucas Educational Foundation

Using Feature Films for Learning

Using Feature Films for Learning

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When I was in high school, as soon as the lights went down, it was time for zoning out. But I've also seen lots of great curriculum packages and lessons intended to engage students that accompany or complement documentaries and feature films. I really believe that the moving image can be a great tool for education in more ways than one. What kinds of lessons have you planned that used films well? For visual literacy? Critical thinking? History? Any resources to offer about how to integrate film into your classes? Here's a starter - a curriculum package called Story of Movies that uses "To Kill a Mockingbird" to teach an integrated unit about visual literacy and social studies - we've got a video about it here.

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Gina Prince's picture

I teach Marketing in high school. We talk about product placment, where products are used in movies as a form of "advertising." You can find websites that list movies and how many products are placed in the movie.
One of the original ones is "ET" promoting Reeses Pieces. I can show a movie and ask the students to list as many products as possible that they see. Then we discuss why these products may have been in the movie which leads to a discussion on target markets.

If your school allows it, "Risky Business" with Tom Cruise is great to use in Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

And my favorite for teaching ethics and doing the right thing, is the classic "Pay it Forward".

Kelly Faulkner's picture
Kelly Faulkner
Secondary English Teacher

visual text is part of the nz curriculum (english). every grade studies at least one film, as well as a variety of print media. some films i have successfully used (at a boys' school) are shaun of the dead (yr 11), boy (nz film, yr 9 & 10), whale rider (also a nz film Yr 9 & 11), ferris bueller's day off (yr 10), gran torino (yr 12/13), hot fuzz (yrs 9 & 10), district 9 (yr 12/13), and just this week, 127 hours (we went to the theatre for this one - it fits with our survival/face a challange thematic unit, Yr 10). right now my year 12/13 students are watching last of the mohicans, missippi burning, and an as-yet unchosen recent film for our 3-term theme study on inhumanity. when i taught at moorpark college, in california, i used to contrast the text les liaisons dangereuses with both (films) dangerous liaisons and cruel intentions. it certainly made for interesting essays! during lucky terms, we were able to include a visit to a local playhouse as well. last year i made a giant leap to contrast the comedy of shaun of the dead (theme: maturity) with the socio-political commentary of the original dawn of the dead (theme: humanity). unfortunately, i got called up for a total knee replacement before i got into the 2nd film, and so my accelerate students had to settle for just the 1! (the culture here is much more relaxed about things, though i did have all the kids under 16 get parental permission. [rated NZ R16])

film is studied as technique - director's production choices. exams are based on a combination of content and form - both are required for passing. it's fun and interesting, and very scaffolded for continuous learning. the reasoning behind teaching film beyond content (story) matter is to familiarise kids with how they are manipulated via visual text. it's easy to add in commercials and short films as well.

most of the resources i use i have made myself - matching cards, notes, shots & angles, workbooks on film technique per film (lighting, sound, special effects, etc), jeopardy, who wants to be a millionaire, and bingo games for revision. there's a lot out there for film technique, which i then tailor to the film of choice, since our exams usually focus on opening, climax, and 1 turning point. it's taken me a few years to get grounded, but i enjoy, now, letting the kids choose the film and putting together resources on the fly as we go. there are great resources for film at and i also use the text Film Analysis Handbook since i'm not a trained media teacher!

i, too, remember the days of quietly sitting with my head on a desk as some film from a huge canister rattled on! i hope that my film units are more interesting for the kids! it helps when you can go see something current and add popcorn ;-)

sorry for any typos. i just noticed it is not spell checking, and i've got to run to the dentist!

Jill Schafer's picture

I frequesntly use film in my junior and senior level English classes. Many of my students are special education or have 504s or have limited ability levels. I will use film before a unit as an introduction (Star Wars for the Hero's Journey), during a unit to allow my students to visualize a work (Macbeth)and/or after the conclusion of a work (O Brother Where Art Thou for The Odyssey, Mars Attacks for The War of the Worlds to show how this classic has inspired modern filmakers). Students must produce a written assignment comparing and contrasting the film (or an aspect of it)to the original work, or something along that line so while they are watching the film, they are watching with an educational purpose.
I also use film as part of a research project for seniors. We do a unit on tracing the vampire motif. Students research, create a Powerpoint, watch two films where they keep track of how their research is portrayed in the film, and then spend time in the computer lab typing the results of their research. I also use Pleasantville when teaching Anthem (utopia and dystopia).
I think film is a fantastic tool for the classroom. When films are thoughtfully chosen and connecting to the curriculum, they really help student understanding and open the floor for great conversation.

Janice Holter Kittok's picture
Janice Holter Kittok
World Language Education Specialist, Consultant, Speaker

As a high school Spanish teacher I frequently used film as the cornerstone of a culture-based thematic unit. Films tell the human side of history in a way that helps students begin to understand the effect of events and decisions that people make. As a graduate student, I wrote a unit for high school Spanish students that is now available as a free download from Center for Advanced Research in Langauge Acquisition (CARLA). With adapation, the plans could be used for social studies, langauge arts or any of several possible courses. The focus is to learn more about the Mayan culture and oppression of indigeneous peoples so that students can better understand the plight of the characters and why they make the decisions that they do. One part of the unit has students focus on how Americans, Guatemalans and Mexicans stereotype each other. It's a universal human theme.

Riazhaque's picture
Associate Professor (Emeritus)

I am new to this discussion and I do not understand the difference between comment and comment with quote. I am placing this as a comment.

Anyway, I believe that we are not just visual learners but respond to all external inputs whether they are visual, auditory or tactile and I design my teaching format around this reality. In order to implement this form of teaching, I0 have established a Science Skills Center see:

I also divide learning into three phases. Phase one is "what" it is. Phase two is "how" it is which the phase is where we learn how things work. Phase three is "why" things are the way they are. This is the analytical and philosophical part of learning and requires that the first two phases have been learned well.

I also believe in integrative teaching which is via overviews and story telling and I try to do this in a chronological order so the students have a sense of reference of the events being presented to them. Also in integrative teaching you do not take knowledge apart and put it into subjects and disciplines. In this system of teaching knowledge is knowledge and needs to be viewed as a continuous link from the beginning of our collective learning to now. I call this the collective human mind to which we are to introduce the newcomer in such a way that he or she eventually become a contributor and add to the growth of the collective human mind. See:

In this system of teaching, we also do not divide students into age groups either. . Since knowledge is knowledge, it is the same for a young person and for an older person. For instance, the story of Ali Baba and forty thieves is the same for everyone, young or old. You don't reduce the number of thieves for a younger person to ten or twenty, you keep them still at forty.

As humans want to know the whole story of our development and our evolution in a nutshell. In this regard we are like the eagles which fly high and have the vision to see a prey below and swoop to capture it. We do the same for knowledge. We capture it like the eagle and then take it apart to nurture ourselves. We turn off the learner if we do the interpretation and decipherment of the information for him or her.

Another advantage of this form of teaching is that as we integrate knowledge it shrinks. Science for instance gets reduced to mere 150 concepts and skills and when we combine its essence with the other parts of our knowledge such as the humanities, economics and sociology etc., we end up getting a holistic collage of the whole of our functional knowledge which is easy to learn and use.

This form of teaching is also less time consuming and is also very inexpensive to implement. It also yields versatile humans as oppose to the limited confused ones.

My goal now is to set up a teacher training center so we could produce versatile teachers because only this form of teachers can teach holistically and produce once again that vanishing renaissance human we now need so desperately.

Furthermore, while every one is pushing technology as the cure all, I am not against technology either except that I like to put it in prospective. To me techno logy is useful to a person who has a versatile background so he or she could use it in a logical and sensible manner getting the most out of it and all the information it is capable of bringing. But for that, he or she must also be capable of discerning the right from the wrong, the truth form the mere hype. Otherwise, giving technology to people who are not yet ready for it is like giving a pair of reading glasses to a person who never learned to read.

In order to fully understand and to embark on a path of reforming education, e need to first of all understand what is going on and has been going on for a while in education, I would like to point you to the following three links:
1.What ails education at
2. How science got reduced to mere 150 concepts and kills at:
and finally #3 but on a lighter side, education is suffering from the inverted funnel syndrome at:

The seriousness of education and what is happening to it can only be understood by listening to those in the trenches. Then and only then real reform can be brought about.

Also before we start teaching, we need to understand the trials and tribulations and the apprehensions of a beginning student who is nothing but a fearful child wondering what a strange place he is and what is going to happen to him. For this see the poem at:

Under these circumstances, if we ignore the child which is the raw material, can we ever shape him or give him hope especially when the child is gearing up to face the monumental task of becoming part of the world he or she is born into. Ignore that and you are dealing with a troubled child who we needlessly blame and fault instead of understand.

Time to act is now long overdue. We can discuss but also set a network of like minded people and a time frame so to be able to see some results. With the world population increasing by leaps and bounds, waiting just for the sake of discussing is the wrong thing to do.
The hope for a peaceful and trusting world resides in the ability of education to deliver on its promises, not to keep on making more unfulfilled promises. If we keep on doing that even dumb people will catch onto the deception even though we have no intention of deceiving anyone. But try telling that to the disappointed and the disillusioned ones.

Melissa's picture
MAT Credential Student- soon to be middle school language arts teacher

My first semester in highschool English was in a cinema as literature class. We had to write one five paragraph essay each week on the themes presented in the films we saw during class time. This writing practice was more intense than any other class that I had because we took notes during the film which began after a short lecture on Monday, we discussed possible themes on Wednesday, finished the film on Thursday, and wrote our papers in class on Friday. It went a long way in developing my writing skills, my understanding of theme, metaphor, and the arc of a story. It also forced me to be disciplined and take notes that I could use later.

Kathy Morlan's picture
Kathy Morlan
High School English Teacher

I use the opening of Chocolat to teach setting as metaphor and Indiana Jones as conflict.
I use Gattaca to teach dystopia
I use Edward Scissorhands to continue the dystopia theme. I also go into mise en scene.
I use And Then There Were None, followed by Mindhunters. I teach framing, media literacy, and storyboarding. The students create their own ATTWN story and share it in a storyboard.
That's just a few of the films I use.

Lincoln Marquis's picture
Lincoln Marquis
Culinary Arts grades 10-12 @Louisa County High School piedmont area of VA

I use movie snippets, usually without introduction so that they try to figure out why they are watching it. One of my favorites is the 'Red Hour' scene from the original Star Trek:
I use it as an example of how I felt when I allowed my students to move from assigned to open seating during my first semester of teaching. Then when things get a little too 'Red Hour' they know what I mean.

I also use the famous diner scene from "Five Easy Pieces" as an illustration of poor customer service.

Jamie Hill's picture
Jamie Hill
HS math teacher, interested in Tech and PBL

Don't be afraid to only show a clip from a movie. Dan Meyer recently posted to his blog examples of using movies in a math classroom. The clip shows a visual motion picture of a concept that it represented by a word problem in a math text book. Check out this blog post to see the clip art math problem from the text book ( Check out this link for the better math problem using movie clips instead of clip art (

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