Screens show the literature of today’s students whether it’s a movie, a television program, or even a video game. Today’s English Language Arts curriculum originated in past centuries to teach people about the popular culture of their time, written stories. But today’s literature no longer relies on print alone; instead it has expanded to include stories told on screens. Most of the reasons to teach the structure and devices of fiction apply with equal force to screened stories. In fact, the need to teach about screened fiction becomes more urgent every day as today’s youth increasingly shift their attention toward screens and away from the written word. For these reasons, TWM contends that ELA teachers who desire to impart lifetime lessons about the wonder of stories will give students the tools to analyze screened fiction. Since the best filmed stories use many of the elements and devices of written fiction, ELA educators are well qualified to provide instruction on how the elements and devices of fiction are used in screened stories.
However, there are obstacles to teaching film as literature in ELA classes. The Common Core Curriculum Standards give minimal attention to the need to teach screened fiction and teachers are bound by their contracts to teach to the standards. In addition, class time is extremely limited.
Some teachers have pointed out that today’s students are often so unused to reading that teaching the elements and devices of written literature by showing appropriate film clips assists students in applying those concepts to written texts. Reading in the Dark: Using Film As a Tool in the English Classroom (2001) written by John Golden, published by the National Council of Teachers of English Publications. While this is a valuable insight, it doesn’t teach students that the entirety of a filmed work of fiction can be subjected to literary analysis. Moreover, just as reading an entire book in class is by necessity an infrequent occurrence, showing a movie and leading the class through an in-depth literary analysis of the film is something that can be done only once or twice a semester.
Part of the solution to this conundrum is TWM’s Movies as Literature Homework Project which requires students to watch movies at home and prepare an analysis of the film based on TWM’s Film Study Worksheet.
INSTRUCTIONS FOR USING THE ASSIGNMENT
The assignment consists of the following documents: (1) The Movies as Literature Homework Project and (2) a list of films. Click here for TWM’s suggested list. Keep a large number of TWM’s Film Study Worksheets for students to take them home when necessary.
Make sure that students understand each term used in TWM’s Film Study Worksheet. For classes below the tenth grade, go through the questions and demonstrate how they can be answered. In the alternative, have students respond to the prompts in the worksheet (or a shortened worksheet) after seeing a movie in class. After students have had time to write short responses to the prompts, discuss the responses in class.
This project can be used directly as presented by TeachWithMovies or it can be adapted to enhance its benefits. For example, teachers can have students make presentations to the class about literary elements or devices that they have seen in the movies they have watched for the assignment. If the class has been focusing on a group of literary devices, question #10 of the Film Study Worksheet can be modified to refer to them. Teachers can, over the semester, require students to view a popular and easily accessible movie outside of class that can then be analyzed during school. In this case, teachers should also show the movie once or twice after school for those who can’t get access to the film.
Other variations include the following: Students can be required to watch three or four movies. Students can also be separated into groups of four or fewer with each group being asked to give an oral presentation in response to a question on the Worksheet. For middle school or junior high school classes, the Worksheet can be simplified by eliminating some of the questions or by requiring that fewer examples be given. For students who are not familiar with archetypes, delete question #10 or substitute another question. For example, the following question can replace #10 “Describe three images or scenes that stand out in your mind when you think about this movie.” Questions relating to topics that have been studied in class can be substituted for some of the questions in the Worksheet. Students can be given time in class to peer review each other’s Worksheets. The possibilities are endless.
TWM has developed a list of films to attach to the assignment. This list is based on movies for which a Learning Guide or Lesson Plan is available on TWM. Teachers should add movies that they feel would be appropriate.
Review the instructions on the assignment with students after handing out the project.