There are lots of teachers who use movies as an instructional tool. I remember getting parental permission to show Glory during the Realism Unit in my junior American Literature English class because the movie was rated R. The story of Colonel Robert Shaw, who led the 54th Massachusetts Voluntary Infantry Unit during the American Civil War, complemented “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce, as both depicted the American Civil War realistically with tragic endings. For teachers interested in using multimedia in their classrooms, I would like to share a few things that I have tried over the years.
Using audiobooks over full-length movies
As a second-language learner, I listened to many audiobooks while learning to speak English. Once I became a teacher, I realized my students needed lots of help in improving their reading skills. Watching movies often did not accomplish this goal because their focus was on the pictures and the background music and not the texts.
To help my students to improve their reading skills, I recommended Lit2Go. The site features recordings of classics such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain and Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. In the past, I had also used The Complete Arkangel Shakespeare CDs I borrowed from a local library, but now I suggest using Free Shakespeare Plays on Audio by LearnOutLoud.com while reading a Shakespearean play.
Using song files and music videos
In a lesson about irony, I used two songs: “Short People” by Randy Newman and “Best Song Everrr” by Wallpaper. First, I had my students listen to “Short People” with their eyes closed. Then I played the song again. This time, I asked my students to write down a sentence or two from the song. Afterward, I facilitated a short discussion about the songwriter’s true intent. I played the song one more time and asked the students to create a visual that encapsulated the true meaning of the song. I repeated the process with “Best Song Everrr.” Eventually, I helped my students to understand the different types of irony by asking whether the first songwriter really hated short people and the second songwriter thought his song was the best song ever. I also explained how the use of a certain literary device such as hyperbole contributed to creating a verbal irony.
I also used the music video of The Band Perry’s “If I Die Young” prior to teaching the Romanticism Unit. The music video illustrates the Romantics’ love of nature, their obsession of death by drowning, and their adoration of poetry. It even has a green-covered book of Tennyson’s poems drowning in a lake! First, I played the music video for the students to enjoy. Then I played it again. This time, I asked my students to write down items they noticed. Afterward, I showed several paintings from the Romantic era and asked students to list what they noticed in the paintings. Then we discussed the common items and how those represent the Romantic ideal. I asked my students to find examples that illustrate the Romantic ideals as we read “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe or Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley.
Using student-recommended materials
In addition to my own selections, I also asked my students to find great videos that they think we should use in class. This particular assignment has helped me find several useful videos, including Amy Cuddy’s TED talk, “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are,” which was recommended by a student as we discussed characterization. While reading Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, I used this video to discuss why the author had Jane physically assisting Mr. Rochester, who had fallen off his horse when they first met, and how Jane’s physical act contributed to her strong character. I also used the same video to talk about the importance of nonverbal communication.
Showing short clips instead of the entire movie
Living in today’s media-enriched environment, our students have access to lots and lots of multimedia. That is why I avoid showing a movie in its entirety in class. I remember my students telling me that they got together on the weekend to watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail after I shared a few clips in class as a way to discuss archetypes.
Today’s students need help in developing a critical lens when it comes to selecting and consuming quality multimedia. Teachers can help their students develop their media literacy by carefully selecting and using multimedia purposefully in the classroom.
Kip Glazer is a native of Seoul, South Korea, and immigrated to the United States in 1993 as a college student. She holds California Single Subject Teaching Credentials in Social Studies, English, Health, Foundational Mathematics, and School Administration. In 2014, she was named the Kern County Teacher of the Year. She earned her doctorate of education in learning technologies at Pepperdine University in October 2015. She has presented and keynoted at many state and national conferences on game-based learning and educational technologies. She has also consulted for Center for Innovative Research in Cyberlearning and the Kennedy Center ArtsEdge Program.