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?

This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

Comments (14) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Elana Leoni's picture
Elana Leoni
Edcamper, Former @Edutopia, Founder of Social Media Marketing Consultancy aimed at helping educational orgs.

Speaking of green screens, we did a profile on a 11-year old who had a passion for video and he created his own green screen at his home and school very cheaply.

Here's a link to the video:

And here's more info on how he uses video (he mentions great tools like Garage Band and Final Cut Pro):

It's definitely inspiring to see when kids get immersed into a passion!

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

Hi Samer!

Green screens can be incredibly cheap, and the software takes care of the rest. Green screens can be as cheap as a can of paint on the wall, a few yards of green fabric, or one of these:

Prices from $10 and up- be careful and get something of decent quality though- some are made of the fabric often used for shopping bags- sort of a mesh, and these can pill pretty easily.

In fact, I bought a whole lighting kit for video- lights, backdrops, green screen for under $200, that comes in a portable case- well worth it to improve video quality.

Amy Erin Borovoy (aka VideoAmy)'s picture

Ahhh, my absolute favorite topic. Wonderful ideas and comments above!

I have a Pinterest board with links to lots of articles on using video in the classroom, you can check it out here...

Every time I see an article I think is useful, I pin it there -- and it includes resources both for production in the classroom and curating for & showing in the classroom.

I've also recently become enamored of a new free tool called Huzzaz ( that allows you to create and curate video playlists that include clips from both YouTube and Vimeo. I've been using YouTube's playlists to collect and organize videos around themes, but Huzzaz does this and so much more -- I can tag videos and collections, leave comments and notes for myself, follow other curators, embed my playlists, and more. It's worth checking out if you're a collector of educational videos like I am!

And stay tuned -- I'm working on a Five-Minute Film Fest that features tech tools to make videos you collect more usable/valuable/interactive for the classroom, coming at the end of the month. I will post here when I have a link, I've found some great tools!

Dan Sebring's picture

I have had great success with iMovie with student videos, and as a way to create videos that build our school culture. iMovie on the iPad is sufficient, but the full version on a Mac certainly offers more in depth options. Regardless of which app/software you use, well selected use of videos can change and support your school culture.

Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia

HI Whitney,
Thanks for sharing these resources - I hadn't seen them before. I agree completely about students learning the grammar of film - it's a fine line for a teacher to walk balancing between developing the students' knowledge of film techniques and allowing time to experiment, but it's a very important one.

Brick Maier's picture

This is a great topic. I recently finished training about 50 teachers in LA how to bring filmmaking into the classroom using iPad minis.

Here are a couple resources for using the new iMovie ios 7. The top link is a 5 page PDF of vocab for the interface. Below that are 15 tutorial videos I created to help the teachers with minutia of editing.

Eileen Mattingly's picture
Eileen Mattingly
Director of Education for Journeys in Film

Keith, I think the tips you pass on are very helpful in most classroom situations. Short clips are a great idea for social studies and science classes especially.. One of my favorite exercises when teaching Shakespeare is to take a short scene from Macbeth, such as when Macbeth first encounters the witches, and show the version filmed on the moors by Polanski, a very stagy version by the BBC, and Kurosawa's samurai version in Throne of Blood. It really opens kids' minds to the importance of interpretation.

But I have to disagree with Keith's idea that showing a full-length film in the classroom is a waste of time. The teachers who use films and curriculum from Journeys in Film show films that are thought-provoking works of art in themselves, well worth the investment of 85-90 minutes of classroom time to see. But most important is follow-up. One film can be used as a starter to teach lessons in English, social studies, math, science, art, music, and cultural literacy. Often, short clips are an integral part of these lessons, as Keith has suggested, but there is real value in seeing the film from start to end as well. Teachers can download free lessons at for our films or use the techniques in the lessons for other films of their own choosing.

Barbara's picture
Language Arts Teacher

I've tried film making with my middle school ELA students for the past three years. Each year, we get a little more successful, but we've still got a ways to go. This year, my students studied elements of film and elements of science fiction before writing science fiction scripts in groups. Some groups got very excited and have turned their movies into year-long projects.
I'd like input from teachers who've been successful in the following areas:
1) What software did you use? I have Final Cut on an old Mac, but my students find it too difficult to use and I've not been able to entice any community volunteers to help us with it.
2) How do you manage the time it takes to write a script and make a movie? Do you pick a few days a month to work on them, or just work straight through until they're done?
3) Did you make one movie per class or did you have several groups creating different movies? We only have three cameras, so this is a challenge.

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