How to harness the power of film in the classroom

In this podcast, teachers explain why films are a great way to engage pupils and promote dialogue and listening skills

Chloe Albasini

How teachers can use films in the school classroom

“Stick a film on!”

It’s so often the quick fix for the final lesson of the year. Or a reward when a class has been good. But rather than being an easy go-to for a cover lesson, or the "carrot after the stick" when you have been ploughing through a text, film in class is a powerful tool.

In this podcast, sponsored by Into Film, you can hear teachers explain how embedding film into everyday activities in the classroom can bring a whole host of benefits.

Michael Daly, an English and media teacher at John Paul Academy in Glasgow, and Sharon Walker, a Primary 1 teacher at The Drelincourt School, an infants' school in Armagh, Northern Ireland, talk about how film has helped them to boost literacy skills and confidence among students in their schools, and how they are seeing this translate across the curriculum.

How to use film in the classroom

When Daly first introduced film as an educational tool in his school, he was taken aback. Film, he noticed, had the power to promote positive dialogue and enhance active listening skills among his students in a way that other mediums didn’t.

“Socially, it's helped them massively because films provide that hook to open up the opportunities for all this positive dialogue to happen,” says Daly. “It’s given students the ability to actively listen to their peers and understand that, just because they feel something differently, that's not necessarily wrong.”

Using film has not only helped to foster a strong sense of community, but it has also reaped myriad academic benefits, says Daly – he is able to nurture the students’ growing confidence as they become more comfortable and skilled at articulating their opinions and, in turn, can apply this to other subjects.

Similarly, Walker also noticed this boost in confidence. At The Drelincourt, 99 per cent of pupils speak English as another language and Walker says film has removed many barriers to learning: “We find that film has been very instrumental in helping to develop their spoken language, their literacy, numeracy and social skills,” she says.

And why is that? Walker says it's the universality of film that allows this magic to happen. 

“We’ve tried many different routes with our movies. We’ve even introduced black and white slapstick movies, like Laurel and Hardy, which they thoroughly enjoyed,” she explains.

These films work with EAL children because the language barrier has been lifted. “You don't have to be able to speak English to enjoy the humour,” Walker says.

But the lessons don’t stop when the credits roll. “We have planned activities afterwards, which extend the learning. So it's not just sitting down and watching a movie, and it's not just older children either. Our children are 4 to 7 and they are able to appreciate this and we can see how beneficial it is for them,” she says.

How to use films in the classroom

This way of using moving images to build the foundations of a new topic is something that these teachers say can be used across the curriculum. Film can be extended as an educational resource in numerous ways, from using it to convey concepts or provide context, to using it as a scaffold linking activities spanning the curriculum.

At The Drelincourt, P3 pupils have ownership of most aspects of their weekly film club, including creating posters about upcoming films, making popcorn cones, managing the box office and selling tickets, and taking a register of attendees. This develops a variety of skills such as numeracy, literacy and fine-motor skills, as well as boosting communication and social skills.  

Daly agrees that film lends itself particularly well to interdisciplinary learning. He and a colleague recently developed a unit on the film The Martian for a media class, which involved students drawing on their knowledge of maths, physics and chemistry to save the main protagonist, and students’ focus and enthusiasm was remarkable.

“These are students that would tell you themselves that they're disengaged in those subjects, but because we had used film as the anchor to hold the learning in place, then they were able to,” says Daly.

“It’s just about creatively thinking, ‘How can we manage different subjects?’ We think it's a really important educational observation, as there is certainly room for more to be done, and it’s quite an exciting prospect that we can do more there.”

The conversation goes on to explore how discussing film in the classroom can create a unique bond between students and teachers, the value of using curriculum-linked resources from platforms such as Into Film and how utilising film as an educational resource can also reinvigorate teaching practice, encouraging educators to be creative and collaborate.

Listen here or on Apple, Spotify, Amazon and Google podcasts. 


Chloe Albasini

Chloe is special projects manager at Tes

Find me on Twitter @Chloe_D_C

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