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  Weekly Feature (April 6, 2008)
 


 
Teaching Film
by Brad

 

This term I taught film in my senior English classes for the first time. In the past, like many teachers, I have used film as a kind of reward or "treat" for my students. After an intensive study of the novel, Nineteen Eighty Four, we watch Michael Radford's brilliant film version of George Orwell's dystopia.

Inevitably, students want to talk more about the differences from the novel that they see in the filmed version. But, since the film is seen in the final days of the unit, we often do not have the time to do the film justice.

This term, after extensive spring break research on teaching film (a benefit of our extra long break this year!), I decided to teach a short unit on film. While researching, I found a number of great resources, including many practical activities that make the study of a film possible in the classroom.

With film available on DVD, it is possible to easily move around the "text" of a film through the chapters. It is also easy to freeze a frame in order to see the rich visual detail and to discuss the effect the details have on the viewers.

With the guidance provided by activities I found, particularly those published by PBS online, my students were encouraged to discuss the story in detail and to pay attention to the way film presents a story. Class discussions were interesting, with lively debates about what we had seen and what it might mean.

Given the impending move towards a more oral culture in our classrooms mandated by the new English IRPs, teaching film offers a good opportunity to encourage conversation in our classrooms. Certainly, students feel comfortable with the medium and, although they may not know the technical side well, consider themselves experts.

Not that the study lacks reading, however. In my English 12 class, we had access to an online copy of the script. Students were interested to note how the film they viewed varied from the published script, a sure sign they had been reading it.

Another powerful tool was our access to a director's commentary for the filmed version of Of Mice and Men. One of our activities was a close look at the final scene where George kills Lennie.

Students discussed many aspects of the scene, including the blocking of the two men, how close the camera came, and then looked at the scene again with Sinise's comments. To our surprise, we found that the three to four minutes of screen time had taken two days to film and also how the director had come to decide to omit the arrival of the posse and instead go back to a view of the men, together, in a flashback at the end.

Overall, my first experience with teaching film has been positive. This weekend my students are writing short paragraphs about whether they would or would not recommend the film we've seen. Next week, they'll have a chance to respond in detail to ideas (and to film techniques) presented to them in an in-class writing exercise.

Resources:

PBS Masterpiece Theatre Guide to Literary Elements in Film
Includes many practical activities for use in a classroom study.

Teaching Film Study and Literature to Film
Michael Vetrie provides ready-to-use units for various popular films.

Using Film to Increase Literacy Skills
Michael Vetrie's 2004 Article in English Journal

 

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