MET:Online Film Study in Secondary English

From UBC Wiki

Why Use Film?

As we adjust our pedagogical process more and more to support as many different learning styles as possible, we must also realize that traditional content must be folded into our classroom. Many educators use film at the end of a novel study to allow the students time to process the story and ensure comprehension. However we must begin to look at film as the main source of study rather than a supplement to something else.
This does not mean that students would become less traditionally literate, but that they would instead be engaged in a new kind of literacy that may better connect to their own interests and experiences. By utilizing different sources for analysis "Students read and write as much as they would in typical English classes, but do so in the process of analyzing and producing media text" (Dockter, Haug & Lewis, 2010, pp.418). The use of film will allow us to teach to the modern learner in their own language and explain difficult concepts in new and more meaningful ways.
Moving forward the question should be: Why not use film in the classroom?

How To Use Film

Film offers many of the same elements as literature to teach students literary devices. We can teach theme, symbolism, allegory, metaphor, and many other theoretical ideas in an often more effective way because students can connect with the image, character, plot and relationships in a personal way in which many of them have never felt about literature. If we use 'Star Wars', 'Shrek', 'The Wizard of Oz', 'Lord of the Rings' or 'The Matrix' to teach the hero's journey rather than 'The Odyssey' we are more likely to engage our students and coax them into comprehension.

Film can be used in small pieces to demonstrate a point, or the entire film can be used much the same way as a book. A film should be shown in sections to ensure comprehension and attention. Unlike the current use where many teachers play a film at the end of a unit in its entirety to 'reward' their class for their hard work in reading, the concept of viewing should be reframed to make viewing a task. The idea of either reading or viewing being a chore is a dangerous perception that can colour a student's opinion on that media for the rest of their lives. Both should be presented as enjoyable activities to try to encourage students to take up the practice in their free time.
The teacher should front load the activity by presenting information about the era, production and sources before viewing. Each film is relevant for different reasons and each teacher will determine their individual reading of what should be told to the students. It is important to try to link the film to its moment in history and by educating students on the filmmaker it can open up a discussion on bias, propaganda, and differing perspectives that can cross over into other classes like History and the Sciences.
During the process of viewing the film the teacher can pause during act breaks or after key moments. This can give the class a chance to digest what has happened and allow for different perspectives on motivation and morality within the film. The viewing of a film can be stretched over several classes depending on how these discussions continue. Students could be assigned tasks of prediction and rewriting storylines to their own preference as well.
The end of the film, much the same as the end of a literature unit, allows for the teacher to assign comprehension and usage tasks. Such final assignments could include essays, alternate endings, movie trailers, satires, graphic novelizations and many more based on the tone and talent of the class.

Online Resources

Many schools are financially unable to provide educators with all the resources they would require to instruct a class using film as an alternative to books. Thankfully, our modern age of technology does allow us to access many films through the internet. Here are some suggestions of where to look and what to find there.


What was once a resource for cat videos and parodies has now become a viable resource for all kinds of films. Many new releases and classics are available here to rent for as low as $3.99 and up to about $20.00 depending on the film. To search for paid rentals, look Paid YouTube Films where you can also find collections of works from great filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick.
YouTube is also a great resource for free films, though one must be cautious when searching through them. There are many low budgets comedies and such that disappeared quickly into the ether, however there are many notable and useful films like the documentary 'Life in a Day', the dramedy 'Stranger Than Fiction' starring Will Ferrell, and the Cary Grant-Audrey Hepburn classic 'Charade'. These films can be found Free YouTube Film List The true treasure trove of free YouTube videos, however, are the early classics. There is a wonderful variety of silent films from the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton. These films can be used to engage students in the appreciation of the visual image as a key tool to storytelling. For a complete list of cassic films on YouTube, look Classics on YouTube.

This site claims to have 500 classic films free to view online and though many of these films are forgotten failures there are certainly a number of great hidden gems available. Such classics as Tod Browning's controversial and groundbreaking 1932 film 'Freaks', Alfred Hitchcock's early classic 'The 39 Steps', Fritz Lang's 'M', Frank Capra's morality tale 'Meet John Doe' and more modern films like Richard Linklater's generational exploration film 'Slacker'. This site offers a massive list of available films, however it would take a lot of time and energy to find the right film for each particular class.


The best option for viewing current and older films is certainly Netflix. The cost of a subscription is about $8/month which is a great deal depending on the frequency of your use. The great thing about the service is how it recommends new films and series based on your past viewing which can allow educators to keep their curriculum fresh for both the teacher and the student. The app can be mirrored onto a television with a simple cord or if the school's television is connected to the internet, you can subscribe directly. There are far too many films to list here but everything is offered from documentaries by Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock, films like 'The Hunger Games', 'The Social Network' and 'The Descendants'.

The ultimate resource for Canadian content in the classroom. This app features streaming video of hundreds of short and feature length films from the past and present. This site is an education-based resource already and the functionality of it is easy to navigate for educational purposes. The films are not well known to the general public, but have all been produced by the National Film Board.


One of the biggest obstacles teachers have in utilizing film in the classroom is their own lack of knowledge of films. Here are some suggestions to improve your film vocabulary and apply films to different functions in the classroom.

  • ESL

The challenge in ESL is to find films that students can understand while also learning new vocabulary and correct pronunciation.

The Proposal (2009): Romantic comedies are often successful because the cliches translate to films in every country. This film surrounding a boss and employee who must get married so the boss can maintain a work visa has physical comedy coupled with common expressions and awkward situations that can open up the class to questions.

Catfish (2010): Documentaries are very useful for allowing students to understand realistic English. This documentary about a man searching to find the truth behind his online romance not only allows for good listening practice, but can also ignite a conversation about online privacy and trust.

The Blind Side (2009): A drama surrounding a family that adopts a poor teenage football player, this film tests the students' comprehension of accents as they must attempt to comprehend the Southern United States dialect. It is also a great film to engage both genders and all nationalities because sports are often a great unifier and this is a sports movie with heart.

  • Film as Literature

There are an almost endless number of films that could be used to teach different literary elements in the classroom. Here are two very different suggestions of films and how they could be related to teaching different concepts and literary devices.

Citizen Kane (1941): This film is often named the greatest of all time and it is so respected due to the artistry both in front of and behind the camera. From the symbol of Rosebud as a representation of Charles Foster Kane's lost childhood to the mansion Xanadu as a metaphor for his lost dreams and ambitions to Susan Alexander's life of jigsaw puzzles representing her complex relationship with Kane. There are dozens of books and websites devoted to analyzing this brilliant film and it is a great addition to the curriculum.

The Social Network (2010): One of the best and most timely films in recent years this film could be used for a debate about intellectual property rights in a more theme based class. Alternately the film could be used to explore motive, character and betrayal. The Oscar-winning script could be analyzed in conjunction with the film where students could be assigned different scenes to analyze the parts of speech and devices used within the writing.

Stop Motion Animation


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