How to use film to tackle bullying

Certain classroom activities can encourage young people, through the medium of film, to consider their own behaviour as well as that of others

Adwoa Oforiwa

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Bullying takes many forms, from violence, name-calling, and exclusion to cyberbullying and discrimination relating to race and sexual identity. Research from anti-bullying charity Ditch the Label shows that 1.5 million young people (50 per cent) have been bullied within the past year.

In a recent Tes poll, more than half of secondary teachers (51.6 per cent) and just over a fifth of primary teachers (22 per cent) said that bullying was a problem in their school. Despite its prevalence, this ongoing issue is a sensitive and complex one that many students are reluctant to talk about. For educators, dealing with it is never easy.  

For decades, film has led the way in challenging adversity and what makes us all unique, which is a key focus of next month’s Anti-Bullying Week (November 13-17) and its theme "All Different, All Equal". With its near-universal appeal, film is an excellent vehicle to explore, in a safe and impersonal way, the causes, consequences, and impact of bullying and ways to challenge and combat it. Recommended films and resources for primary and secondary that address the subject from a variety of angles can be found here.

The following classroom activities will encourage young people, through the medium of film, to consider their own behaviour as well as that of others and identify important qualities that everyone can develop in order to address the issue of bullying.    

Before viewing – anti-bullying discussion starters and activities

1.    Display this statement: “Watching characters on film can help us to understand our own behaviour and the behaviour of others.”

2.    Ask pupils to think about the statement, and put either agree and disagree on signs at opposite ends of the room. As they do this, ask them to think of at least one example in a film that supports their answer. As volunteers share these examples, invite pupils to see if they change their view.

3.    Can pupils recall examples of bullying in films that they have seen? How did the bullies, and the people being bullied, behave?

4.    Ask pupils to think about their recent behaviour on the playground. How would they have felt if a camera had been filming them? Proud? Happy? Worried? Why?

5.    Explain the idea of empathy to pupils. If they have access to a thesaurus, ask them to find as many synonyms as they can. Now invite them to write their own definition of empathy and a sentence that uses it, for example, “When I watched the film XX, I felt empathy for XX because …”

6.    Repeat this activity with the idea of bravery. 

7.    Ask pupils to discuss how being empathetic and brave can make you a better person. In what ways could both these qualities help put an end to bullying?

After viewing – anti-bullying activities:

1.    Ask students to describe their personal response to the film, and then discuss these with each other. Responses could be written on paper or recorded as vox pops on cameras or tablets. Students could consider questions like:

a)    Through whose eyes was the film told? Did you empathise with them and their situation?
b)    What types of issues did the young people in the film you watched struggle with?
c)    Who or what helped the characters in the film you watched feel better about themselves? How did they do this?
d)    What inspired you about the film you saw?

2.    As a class, discuss and define what bullying is. Model mind-mapping and use shared-writing techniques to come up with grammatically correct and succinct definition the class can work with. Is bullying always obvious? Are all kinds of bullying the same? Put children into pairs and use the collaborative “think, pair, share” method where pupils think about their response to the question, share their thoughts with the partner, then share their ideas jointly.

3.    Based on what they have watched and their own experiences, ask pupils to create a campaign video about what bullying is, how and why it happens and what we can do to help.

4.    Challenge pupils to spend one full day performing random acts of kindness that the class has suggested. At the end of the day, pupils use cameras or tablets to summarise the impact that this has had on themselves and others. How did this change people’s moods and relationships? Is this something they could do a little more of?

Adwoa Oforiwa is CPD/resources manager for Into Film with over a decade of teaching experience in both the secondary English and primary sectors.

Anti-Bullying is a key theme of the Into Film Festival 2017 with free screenings of films such as Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul (U), My Life as a Courgette (PG) and many more. For information about Into Film or to set up a free Into Film Club for access to thousands of films and resources – including new Anti-Bullying on Film resources created in collaboration with Anti-Bullying Alliance – visit The Festival taking place from November 8-24, is the world’s biggest, free youth film festival, with 3,000 screenings and events, supported by teaching resources, in venues throughout the UK. Tes is a media partner.

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Adwoa Oforiwa

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