Teaching Tools

Tips for Watching Media Across Grade Levels

Tips for Watching Media Across Grade Levels

Posted by: San Francisco Film Society

Young people are exposed to a variety of media in their lives, both in and outside of the classroom. Any of those media mesages (films, TV shows, advertisements, video games, etc.) have the potential to be used as a teaching tool through analysis and discussion. Watching media in the classroom can encourage critical thinking that extends beyond school hours. Below are a few considerations to keep in mind when choosing media to discuss in the classroom:

• Length. Class periods are typically not long enough to screen an entire feature-length film, and younger students might have a hard time retaining 90 minutes to two hours' worth of information. Consider screening short films or scenes and sections of feature-length films instead of full features. Documentaries sometimes have education-length versions that are specifically designed to work within school hours. Television, commercials, and Internet content are typically more succinct and well-suited for classroom viewing. It may be appropriate to stop a longer piece at various points for a discussion and then resume.

• Context. The classroom is rarely the intended context for viewing media. Make sure to provide students with background information (historic, social, technological) before a screening. This is especially important if screening a scene from a longer piece. Make sure students understand the importance of contextualizing media—while it may not immediately affect their understanding or responses, it’s a good habit to form as they develop their critical thinking skills.

• Content. Even high school students are still minors. Especially with older students, dark or controversial works may lead to enriching discussions, but as a general rule, anything with a rating over PG should be pre-screened and discussed with all teaching staff. It is also important to prepare students for any off-color or controversial material in the films they will be watching—if they are expecting controversial content, they are less likely to lose focus when it appears onscreen.

• Clarity & Comprehension. Before beginning a discussion, be sure to clarify the basic story/message/idea for students; never assume students completely understood what they watched. Asking them to rephrase or summarize the story for someone who hasn’t seen it yet can be an easy way to do this.

• Credits. Whenever possible, students should also watch the credits. Again, this builds good habits around their critical viewing skills and has the potential to lead to conversations about the various roles involved in media making.

• Set expectations in advance. With all grade levels, it can be helpful to set viewing expectations in advance. What should students watch for? What should they be prepared to talk about? Should they take notes? What form do these notes take (free form, bullet points, etc.)? Even advanced learners can benefit from an assignment or worksheet that guides their viewing and serves as a reference. Remember to push students to be specific with their examples, especially if their responses are subjective critiques.

• Why? Sometimes the best jumping-off question when discussing media with students is “why do you think we watched this?” Remember that, since you expect students to critically consider a media work in the context of their classroom work, you should always have a clear rationale for your selection. If you are not able to articulate exactly why this piece is important to the classroom and provide specific examples that demonstrate this, your students will have difficulty doing the same.


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