Film Adaptations in Teaching How often should film analysis be included in lesson plans for English teachers? As a prospective teacher, I relish the idea of using film clips in my classes to broaden perspective and understanding of a text. However, I feel like many teachers, school systems, frown on using movies in class. My opinion is that students respond better when they can make connections to new media. Also, films open more doors to teaching kids how to be analytical and critical of their world which is dominated by media.

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I think connecting the literature with any kind of media in today's world makes it relevant. When Gregory Peck gives his summation in the court room and walks out with the black people in the balcony standing up it makes a connection for the students. What a fabulous way to show the relevancy of "To Kill a Mockingbird" and the world we live in where people are not given the respect they are due and on the opposite side of the coin...the unfair way the black people were treated in the past.

One of my favorite film moments came when I taught the wonderful poem by A. E. Housman "To an Athlete Dying Young."  I discovered that Meryl Streep reads the poem over Robert Redford's grave in Out of Africa. I got the tape and played the before the poem, during the poem, and after the poem.  The students loved it.

Any relevant relationship between media smacks of success.  Music and poetry are a terrific combo.  I taught "Starry Night" by Anne Sexton. 

The Starry Night”

First  published: 1962 (collected in All My Pretty Ones, 1962)

Type of work: Poem

The speaker reflects on Vincent van Gogh’s well-known painting and on her desire to dissolve into the infinite.

We looked at the picture by Vincent Van Gogh and all the students had to find five relevant facts about Van Gogh and write them down and share with the class. Everyone that had a different fact that no one else had got a sucker.  In addition, we compared the poem to Van Gogh's painting to see if Sexton really captured it.

Then the "piece de resistance."  I played the song "Vincent"  by Don Mclean.  The students all wanted copies of the words, and we sang along. 

To show you the value of this assignment, one boy who rarely took an interest made a copy of the picture using colored duct tape on poster board with the poem out to the side.  It was beautiful.  All of the students gave him the strokes that he probably had never received before.  I have the picture 15 years later. 

http://www.enotes.com/anne-sexton-salem/anne-sexton-0270000277

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I love using movies when building background for novels or material that we are using in class.  The important thing is to make it relevant to the objectives and the curriculum. 

In the past when I have taught literary archetypes, I have shown the original Star Wars movie, and it amazes me how many students have never seen this film.  For my archetype project, Star Wars works perfectly--something about seeing the characters on the 'big screen' really makes this lesson click for the students (and they learn a new appreciation for a classic movie!)

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I also used film clips in my middle school English classes and found them to be a useful tool to teach or reflect on a particular skill or idea.  A Christmas Story, which is simply a collection of vignettes, was most useful for teaching how to prove a thesis statement or topic sentence.  I would use 3-4 clips, ask the students to choose a perspective such as the funniest scene, the most boring scene, and then prove it using examples.  When I could show the direct teaching the clips could provide, principals would accept the idea.  When I used the Simpson's version of The Tell-Tale Heart after reading the short story and then used them to compare or analyze,the principal thought it was a creative way to keep students focused on comparison or analysis.  I do think that the use of  film is now scrutinized in ways it wasn't before; the secret, I think, is to have direct proof of how the film is being used to teach, an alternative plan for students whose parents object to film, and a discussion with the principal ahead of time to show them the reasons for the use of a film clip. 

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I love using film clips in English classes, and I think students respond very positively toward them. But I, too, have been criticized by principals for using them. (One principal was a former math teacher who really didn't understand the connection between media, literature and composition. Alas, she thought showing film clips was a waste of time for both students and teacer.) I had great results with Francis Ford Coppola's The Outsiders in middle school classes, and have had success with Dead Poet's Society, To Kill a Mockingbird and Shakespeare in Love, among others.

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Many schools won't allow teachers to use films at all, which I think is too bad for the students... Using films versions of books can help to bring texts alive for students and using films that are thematically related to a unit of texts can do two things, at least, which are quite positive - 1) films can reinforce the need to interpret/do interpretive work while both reading and watching films and 2) relating the films to the texts and vice versa serves to demonstrate the notion that the ideas in the books are not isolated but actually have wide resonances. 

For a practical answer though, in an ideal situation, I would not want to use whole films more than once or twice per semester.

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Over the years I have been teaching, I've noticed student attention spans growing shorter and shorter. Consequently, it has become easy to undermine your own lesson by using too many movies, or even too much of a single movie.

Using short clips, on the other hand, is a great idea. I teach science, and I've found that a 2 to 5 minute clip to get a concept across is about right at the high school level. You should also try to engage students in the clip by asking a question, or by asking students to look for something specific in the clip. They can write an answer, or give a silent signal (thumbs up or similar) when they see it.

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I think English class is one of the easier classes in which to meaningfully incorporate film.  It is hard to say how often is too often.  I'm not sure there is such a thing as "too often" if your lesson plans are effective and students are actively engaged in learning.

I used to use "The Dead Poet's Society" in my 11th grade poetry unit.  We'd start by studying each of the poems mentioned in the film, then I had students watch the film with and complete viewing questions.  I had four discussion follow-up questions that framed a Paideia Seminar at the end.  All of my students loved it.

On the other hand, I know what you mean by schools "frowning" on showing too many movies.  Some teachers tend to rely on them as a weekly crutch.  I think you can get away with almost anything in the classroom, however, if it is meaningful, students are actively participating, and you can demonstrate that learning is taking place. 

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