Utilizing Film as a Text in the High School English Classroom

Utilizing Film as a Text in a High School English Classroom

Incorporating film more frequently and seamlessly in order to foster critical thinking skills through a relevant medium

Image result for film


Rational: Why Choose Film?

Film is an incredibly important medium in today’s society. Young people all over the world are producing their own film, as well as watching it on a daily basis. Film is a fantastic medium that should be used more frequently to teach analysis skills and concepts that are present in an English classroom. By utilizing film, students will be able to make the content taught in English relatable to their lives.

Typical Uses of Film in an English Classroom:

It is not a new concept to use film in the classroom. However, teachers don't tend to use film as a tool for furthering student understanding and learning. More often than not teachers will...

  1. Finish off a unit by watching the movie version of the book they read

  2. Have students fill out a worksheet about plot to make sure that the students are "watching" the movie

  3. Have students construct a paper in which they identify differences between the movie and the book

  4. Designate a separate unit to the study of film

The last bullet point is very common in schools today. Some schools are even lucky enough to design a course around the study of film. However, the aim of this page is to show how film should be utilized more frequently and seamlessly throughout the ELA curriculum along with the written texts that are taught.

Benefits of Using Film:

  1. Film complies with various Common Core Standards

  2. Film can subscribe to both visual and auditory learners more effectively than just looking at text

  3. Film allows for students to develop their critical thinking and analysis skills

  4. Film allows students to work with a medium that is familiar and relevant to them

  5. Film frequently compliments the written content that the teacher works with

1. Film Complies with Various Common Core Standards


Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.


Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.


Analyze how an author's choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks) create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise.


Analyze a particular point of view or cultural experience reflected in a work of literature from outside the United States, drawing on a wide reading of world literature.


Analyze the representation of a subject or a key scene in two different artistic mediums, including what is emphasized or absent in each treatment (e.g., Auden's "Musée des Beaux Arts" and Breughel's Landscape with the Fall of Icarus).


Why is This Important?

Just like any written text, film offers many opportunities to analyze, identify key concepts and figurative language (mood, theme, tone, imagery sensory detail etc.) and determine author-or in this case director- purpose. Written text is not the only medium that can teach and reinforce these standards. In some cases, film can do an even better job teaching these standards because it is already visually represented.  Film can not only add more depth to instruction, it can teach and develop the critical thinking skills as shown through its accordance to the Common Core.

2. Film Can Subscribe to Both Visual and Auditory Learners

What makes a Visual Learner?

  • Visual learners prefer using pictures, images and spatial understanding. They like to see when they learn.               

What makes one an Auditory Learner?

  • Auditory learners prefer using sound and music. They like to hear when they learn.

Determine your preferred learning style HERE:http://www.educationplanner.org/students/self-assessments/learning-styles-quiz.shtml

Why is This Important?

Film by itself is an innately visual and auditory medium. When one watches a film, they can see how the characters are portrayed, the setting, how the film is cut and segmented etc. Instead of reading imagery and descriptions in the text, students will be able to see it automatically. Film also allows for sound to add to the overall meaning of the story. Not only are sound effects a part of the film, but the soundtrack and musical themes can add to the tone of the film and character analysis. These qualities will allow students who are auditory and visual learners to understand and learn the content more effectively because the medium subscribes to their preferred learning style.

3. Film Allows for Students to Develop their Critical Thinking and Analysis Skills

Just like written text, film is a medium that will allow students to develop their critical thinking and analysis skills. In fact, there are numerous ways in which teachers can encourage students to analyze film just like they would a text. In order to begin this process however, students need to be taught the LANGUAGE OF FILM.


The Language of Film

Camera Angles- How the camera is positioned can tell the viewer a lot about the character and mood of the scene. For example, a low-camera angle (when the camera is pointing up) can show that the character is powerful, confident, or sometimes even scary/dangerous. It can also show point of view. For example, maybe the camera is a character that is shorter or laying on the ground.  A high-camera angle (when the camera is pointing down)  can show that a character is weak  and small. Like the low camera angle, it can also show character point of view.                   Image result for famous low camera angles




Image result for famous high camera angles




  • Framing- Simply put, framing is how the images in the frame are laid out. This allows the viewer to determine what the director thinks is most important. Framing can also signify mood in a scene. For example, if the director is using a "wide shot" with a lot of people in the scene the viewer might get a sense that the scene is supposed to be chaotic. Framing can also show composition and how the elements in the scene are placed. For example, a director may want to put everything horizontally in the scene to show balance.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Image result for famous examples of framing in movies

  • Lighting- Lighting is a very important feature in film. It allows the director to draw the viewer's eye to specific points in the scene. For example, if the rest of the scene is dark, but a spotlight shines on the protagonist, we know that we should be focusing on them. Lighting can also create a mood as well as determine setting a film. For example, if the director chose to use more of a brown or yellow light, we might guess that the film is a "western". If the director was using a blue light, we might think that the movie is a part of the "thriller" or "sci fi" genre.      

Image result for best lighting in movies                                                                                                                                                                                     

  • Sequencing- Sequencing is how the film is cut and put together. It is order in which the story is told. The way a movie is cut and sequenced can inform the viewer on the mood of the scene. For example, if there is a fight scene, then the scene is most likely consisting of short image bursts to demonstrate action and chaos. When a viewer analysis a movies sequencing, they can also analyze the character, the character's state of mind, as well as draw connections between characters.

  • Actors- This may seem obvious, but actors play a very important role in how the viewer of the film interprets the character and the story itself. This way, the viewer can analyze dialogue, body language, as well as the tone of the actors voice. Viewers can also look at micro expressions to further analyze the character.  

                         Image result for last scene in the graduate


  • Sound Effects/Soundtrack-Sound in a film is almost as important as the images themselves. The soundtrack can also inform the viewer about the mood of the film. For example, if the characters are in a forest and there is scary music playing, one can assume that something scary will happen in the forest. Some movies also include themes for certain characters. By analyzing these themes, we are also analyzing the character. One classic example is Darth Vader's theme. We can tell by the music that he is a menacing force of nature that shouldn't be messed with.

4. Film allows students to work with a medium that is familiar and relevant to them



noun: the quality or state of being closely connected or appropriate.


Now more than ever it is important that we create relevant assignments and assessments for students in our classroom. What better way to do that than utilize a medium that they view on a daily basis? By using a relevant medium like film, we are able to teach students tools that they can use inside and outside of the classroom. For example, by using film to teach close reading strategies, we are improving their critical thinking and analysis skills that are necessary for success in school, as well as giving them the tools to see movies through a more critical lense. Including relevant assignments and assessments in the classroom will also increase student motivation to complete assignments are participate in class.

When I was in high school, I had the privilege of taking a film analysis class as an elective. After just one semester of being taught how to read film, I was able to understand directorial choices and their effects immediately. Because I was taught with a relevant medium, my motivation to learn about film and how to use that knowledge on a daily basis increased 10 fold.  I was hungry for richer film experiences and I wanted to share them with everyone I knew.  I was able to take what I had learned and applied it to my everyday life when I watched various movies and tv shows.

Relevance is not something that should stay limited to incorporating film into the classroom, however it is incredibly important to note how a relevant curriculum, means of assessment, and the types of assignments you give influences the students. For more about the topic of relevance in the classroom, view the peer-reviewed research articles below.

5. Film frequently compliments the written content that the teacher works with


Lesson Plan Ideas


There are many ways that we can use film in the classroom effectively. One of the ways that I have used film in the past is by teaching character analysis by using a brief film clip from the movie Of Mice and Men. In the lesson the students read the fight scene between Curly and Lennie in the text, and then viewed the scene in the film. After doing this, they were able to analyze various aspects of the scene in order to construct a fuller understanding of the characters and the overall story. The lesson lead to some great discussions and overall analysis of the text. This lesson is geared towards Sophomores but it can be modified for any text and any grade level.



Lesson 4: Analyzing Film as a Text (Of Mice and Men Unit)


Rhetorical Situation: The students have read up to page 88 in Of Mice and Men. The notes that they have taken are based on the idea of conflict shown in the text.

Professional Preparation

Skill to be taught: To analyze film stills and connect it to the text.


Learning Objective: Students will close read and analyze various film stills focusing on lighting, camera angles, audio/sound, set design and post production. They will also be critical viewers of the film and compare and contrast it to the text.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy R 9-10 5. Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks) create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy R 9-10 6. Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how an author uses rhetoric to advance that point of view or purpose.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy R 9-10 7. Analyze various accounts of a subject told in different mediums (e.g., a person’s life story in both print and multimedia), determining which details are emphasized in each account.

Logistics of Lesson:

Academic Language Required: English: lighting, angles, audio, set design, editing

General: compare, contrast, connect


Anticipatory Set (Attention Getter/Motivation/Relevance): The teacher will read aloud the fight scene in Of Mice and Men. This will get them thinking about the scene that they will be analyzing.

Instructional Strategies:

Direct Instruction


Full-class discussion/ thinking

Independent work/thinking


Learning Tasks:

  1. The class will begin by the students watching a brief clip of a scene from Of Mice and Men directed by Gary Sinise, This will serve as an introduction to the clip that they will later analyze at the end of class.

  2. The teacher will then verbally ask the students what their initial response to the clip was. Some follow-up questions can be, “What did you think of this scene?”, “Do the characters/setting look like you pictured they would?”.

  3. After talking about the clip, the teacher will introduce that they will be analyzing the elements of film.

  4. In a teacher-created powerpoint, the teacher will break down the various elements of film (camera angles, lighting, audio/sound, set design, post production, and the actors). For each of these elements the teacher will provide an example from the film Of Mice and Men by utilizing film stills.

  5. Throughout the presentation, the students will be asked questions regarding how the specific element changes/affects their perception of the characters and the story as a whole. These student responses will be recorded on a teacher-created worksheet.

  6. The students will watch the”fight scene” from the 1992 versions of the film. On a teacher-created worksheet the students will take note of the effects that the various elements of film have on the overall meaning of the scene.

  7. In a full-class discussion, the teacher will discuss what the students found/wrote down on their worksheet.

  8. The teacher will also ask the students for feedback on the activity as a whole.

  9. To end class, on the back of their worksheets, the students will respond to the prompt, “How has critically viewing the film changed your perceptions of the text? How was the scene similar and/or different? Use evidence from the film as well as the text”.


Resources and Materials: pens/pencil, paper, Of Mice and Men Film (Sinise,1992), Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck(all students should have a copy), teacher-created handout, teacher-created powerpoint


Accommodation/Differentiated Instruction:

There are no students with IEPs in Honors English II

There are no ELL students in Honors English II

Student(s) with 504s

Student 2 : Student A requires limited screen time. For this lesson, there is no accommodation necessary because a computer screen is not used.

For students with an auditory disability, the subtitles will be turned on during the film clip, and a transcript of teacher directions/ class discussion will be provided to them.

Visual learners: watching the clips from the film and working with film stills when discussing the various elements of film will help them to learn the content and better see the similarities and differences between the film.

Auditory learners: They will benefit from full class discussions, as well as having the audio from the film to listen to while they

Interpersonal learners: Interpersonal learners will benefit from talking as a whole class and bouncing ideas off of their classmates

Intrapersonal learners: Intrapersonal learners will benefit from working and thinking independently.



For students that complete the worksheet early, they will be asked to compare the scene that they watched in class to the scene from the 1939 version of the film. They will be asked, “How does this scene compare/contrast? How is the characterization different/similar?”


Informal/Formal Assessment:

Formal assessment will occur later in the unit when they complete their reading quiz and their active reading notes. Informal assessment will occur through teacher observation of student participation and the completion of the worksheets from class. The worksheets will be reviewed by the teacher to see depth of analysis and understanding of the film elements.







There are many other ways that we can use film in the classroom. For example, we can use film to teach:


1. Inference

Film is a great tool to teach the skill of making inferences. When we teach inference making in the English classroom, more often than not we are working with written text. By using a film, we are able to make the medium visual, thus making it easier for students to make inferences. One way that you can use film to teach how to make inferences in the classroom is to use the famous opening scene from Citizen Kane. In this opening scene, it mostly shows images of the setting, and then the image of a snow globe breaking and a man whispering the famous words, "rosebud". By having students view the first part of this film without any other context, they have the chance to make inferences and predictions of what this movie is actually going to be about. By using film, students can also pull information from the setting, characters, and overall mood that is being portrayed to create these inferences.


2. Mood

Mood can also be effectively taught  by using film. Mood can be determined through many aspects of film such as lighting, camera angles, sound and the editing that the director chooses to use. By using a visual medium like film, students will be able to pick up on the mood of the scene much easier and more effectively than they would by just using a paragraph from a story. This is because the students have so much more information to pull from. Because of the amount of information that they students could be using, I recommend a video clip that is 5 minutes or less. This will narrow down the amount of information the students are working with and therefore will create a more sound and complete analysis of the mood.


3. Critical Analysis (Close Reading)

Critical thinking and analysis is something that all students must master by the time that they leave high school. Film is a great tool to use in order to teach this. Like the lesson above, film can be used to teach character analysis and development. Also, due to the amount of variables in film, students will be analyzing more and more frequently. For example, in order to analyze a character, they may need to look more closely at the costuming, acting, camera angles, lighting, and sound that is used when that character enters the screen. One great film that can be used to teach character analysis and development is the famous film The Graduate. In this film the viewer can physically see the changes of Mrs. Robinson and Ben Braddock based on their costuming and the camera angles that the director chooses to use when the characters are on screen. Overall, there are many ways that you can use film to teach analysis. In fact, the possibilities are endless because even when you are teaching something specific like "theme" the student  will have to analyse various aspects of the film to get to a conclusion about the theme itself.


4. Motif

Motif is a literary term that can be easily taught with the use of film. A motif is something that is repeated over and over again. In a text, it is normally a phrase, object etc. In film it can be so much more. This will allow students the chance to visually see and sometimes hear the motif throughout the duration of the film/film clip. By using film, the students will be able to see motif represented in different ways, thus enriching their understanding of the concept and their overall analysis of the text.


Why is This Important:

Why should we care about the different ways film can be used in the classroom? Because it further proves that film can be used as a text in the classroom just like a textbook, novel or newspaper article. It is important to not that by showing the various things we can teach while using film proves that it should be used more frequently and seamlessly in the classroom. There should be no excuse for not teaching film as a text due to its relevance to students and the ways that it can aid students in understanding concepts and skills that may be difficult for them if it was strictly text based.

Student Feedback: How Did You Feel About the Use of Film in Your Classroom?

After completing a lesson in which film was utilized to enhance character analysis skills, students in a 10th grade honors class had this to say...


“We should do more film analysis because it was different than what we usually do and it helped expand my thinking in a different way.  




“I enjoyed the film lesson, and felt it created a great visual as the book doesn’t always create an idea for everyone”



“It was a cool way of learning. It was new and refreshing trying something new.”




“I liked the film lesson, and would like to do it again because I feel like watching the film furthered my knowledge of the book, and situations in the book.”

Why is This Important?

It is important to see the students reactions to using film in the classroom. Sometimes teachers can be really excited about something, but if the students are not engaged and do not like the activity, then the activity is not worth doing. As demonstrated in the students' responses to the lesson where film was utilized, they really enjoyed it. More often than not, students said that they wished they did it more frequently in their classroom because "it created a great visual" and "furthered my knowledge of the book". This shows that we should be doing this more often in the classroom and the students actually enjoy learning about and using this medium! It also demonstrates that students are eager to learn in this way and that they also believe that they benefit from utilizing this type of medium in the classroom.


Resources for Utilizing Film in YOUR Classroom



Reading in the Dark: Using Film as a Tool in the English Classroom by: John Golden 


"Golden provides a lively, practical guide enabling teachers to feel comfortable and confident about using film in new and different ways. The book makes direct links between film and literary study by addressing reading strategies (e.g., predicting, responding, questioning, and storyboarding) and key aspects of textual analysis (e.g., characterization, point of view, irony, and connections between directorial and authorial choices). More than 30 films are used as examples to explain key terminology and cinematic effects. Teachers are encouraged to harness students’ interest in film in order to help them engage critically with a range of media, including visual and printed texts. Appendixes include a glossary of film terms, blank activity charts, and an annotated resource list. 175 pp. 2001. Grades 9-12. ISBN 10: 0-8141-3872-1; ISBN 13: 978-0-8141-3872-4."  

-Description from the NCTE website 


Reading the Silver Screen by: Thomas C. Foster 

From the author of How to Read Literature like a Professor comes a text that examines the elements of film and how to interpret them. This would be a great text to review before you start using film in the classroom to brush up on the subject yourself and further understand the various elements of film. This text is easily accessible and will allow you to learn more about the topics that are discussed on this page. 


Professional Presentations: 

The following powerpoint presentation is by a current high school teacher in the Chicago-Land area named Sandy Toczylowski . She presented on the importance of using film in the classroom at the Wheaton Institute. This presentation further outlines the various ways that you can use film in the classroom, and the effectiveness of these practices. 



Scholarly Articles:

Aiex, N. K. (1988). Using Film, Video, and TV in the Classroom. ERIC Digest Number 11.

Cutchins, D. (2003). Adaptations in the classroom: Using film to" read" The Great    

          Gatsby. Literature/Film Quarterly, 31(4), 295. 


D'Angelo, D. A. (2010). Lights, Camera, Action: Using Film and Graphic Novels to Explore Themes of


          Power and Social Control in the High School English Classroom. Journal of Media Literacy

           Education, 1(2), 137-140

Michael Vetrie. (2004). Using Film to Increase Literacy Skills. The English Journal, 93(3), 39-45.  


Muller, V. (2006). Film as Film: Using Movies to Help Students Visualize Literary Theory. The English

           Journal, 95(3), 32-38.