Introducing Screen Education into the Classroom
Although there are a wide variety of easily accessible screen education materials within the Resources area of this site, teachers should also be aware that there are many activities that require no specialist knowledge of film language or filmmaking.
Appreciation exercises are about watching again, understanding and talking about how screen narratives are put together and what they mean. The good thing about this process of learning to read and discuss a screen text is that there is no right and wrong answer, but rather a discussion of what is seen and heard and what seems to work and why.
Talking about all these areas will help your class analyse and understand what they have watched (without it seeming like hard work). It will also help them learn how to design narratives of their own.
The typical activities we recommend to teachers who are new to screen education are as follows:
Hold a class discussion around a topic relevant to the film.
Prepare them for viewing by providing key vocabulary from or about the film.
Sound On/Vision Off involves playing the film, or part of the film, without showing the picture, so that only the sound can be heard. Ask the class to write down everything they hear, in the order they hear it.
Having listened to the film then ask them to suggest answers in the language of your choice, make a list on the whiteboard that records each sound in turn. Ask them to be specific about the sound. For instance, if someone were to say, “There’s the sound of a car,” ask how he or she knows it is a car, and let them explain their deduction.
Having noted down all the sounds, ask them to suggest: 1) what might be happening, 2) whom the film is about, 3) what genre of film they are going to see, 4) whether it is a drama or comedy, and 5) whether it is live action or animation. Once again, ask what makes them think so.
Ask the class to make predictions about the film based first on the title of the film, then having seen the credit sequence, and thirdly having viewed the opening sequence. Once again, you will want them to predict: 1) what is happening, 2) who the film is about, 3) what genre of film they are going to see, 4) whether it is a drama or comedy, 5) whether it is live action or animation. And, once again, ask what makes them think so.
Viewing and analysing activities
To begin with, gently introduce the idea that films can be read - just like books. This exercise - along with Comparing Books and Films - will help pupils get the most out of watching films, and encourage them to think about how narrative works. Both encourage exploration of what they already know about films and books, and allow pupils to share their knowledge regardless of their level of literacy. They will begin to identify different patterns and elements used in storytelling and gain confidence in using terms that they will become familiar with such as character, plot, structure and genre.
Stage One: A Story That Doesn’t Work
Start the discussion is with a simple set-up statement, such as ‘Joe goes to pay his gas bill’. Ask the class whether this is a story and, if not, why not. What would you need to make it into a story?
You may get all manner of responses at this stage, with everything from zombies attacking Joe to Joe marrying a princess. Use these initial responses as reference points for teasing out information. See if you can get your pupils to translate specific story suggestions into their purpose in the story (e.g. "all the money has disappeared from Joe’s bank account" becomes a problem that needs to be solved).
Stage Two: A Story That Does Work
You'll have now teased out that something has to happen to turn a set-up into a proper story. Find a text that the whole class has read or seen.
- Discuss the plot of the text. Start broadly – beginning, middle and end – and work in more detail as you go.
- What different narrative elements can the class identify in this story and others? Highlight words like mystery, climax, narrator, twists and cliffhangers. The What is a Story? exercise can help to focus on the elements that make up a good story.
- Discuss what kinds of stories there are. See how many kinds of stories and genres they can name. Discuss how the plots differ between genres as well as the conventions they share. See if pupils can identify more sophisticated patterns (for example, "after a scary bit there’s a funny bit").
- What types of character are to be found in all stories? Are there specific characters the class associates with different genres? (You may get a range of answers from the very broad - "goodies and baddies" - to more specific answers - "a person who helps the hero"). Are there different places in the plot that different characters might appear?
- How does the setting add to the story? What effect does it have on the action or the characters? How does it affect the mood?
Pause now and again to highlight words/terms that might be unfamiliar or will recur. Write them on the board and then you can recap on this at the end, making sure the class can remember these concepts. They could even make these words/terms into posters to pin up in the room as a reference.
When watching short films you will often find that there is a big twist at some point in the film. Stop the film just before the consequences of the twist are revealed and ask the class what they think will happen next. Their curiosity and engagement will be such that there are sure to engage in lively debate.
Having watched the film once or twice, do not ask the class what they thought immediately, but instead carry out a group 'Tell Me' Grid Analysis of the text. No specialist knowledge of film is required to complete this, but you will find that the process will make the class think much more deeply about the content of the film and help engage them in subsequent activities.
The grid analysis is likely to lead to a lively discussion about the true meaning of the film and the intentions of the filmmaker. It will also reveal to all what is uncertain or ambiguous about any aspect of the narrative in terms of back-stories, character motivation, how people outside the action might view the same event, and what is likely to happen next. This in turn will suggest a wide variety of follow-up and cross-curricular activities.
Post-viewing and cross-curricular activities
As you would expect, follow-up activities are often dependent on the film and what the particular class decided was most interesting. It therefore helps to be flexible about what you ask them to do at this stage. Typical follow-up activities that do not require any specialist knowledge of the language of film or the use of editing software might include:
- Writing about characters and back-stories, or writing sequels or similar stories featuring different characters.
- Writing or filming a newspaper or TV report of the incident.
- Debating issues raised in the film or connected to the subject matter of the film.
- Adapting or summarising the film narrative as a story, comic or graphic novel.
- Developing games or role-play similar to incidents or situations featured in the film, e.g. job interviews, making a phone call, or a chance meeting.
- Acting out scenes from the film in the language you are studying.
- Researching cultural similarities and differences that are highlighted in the film.
- Extended activities developed from topics featured in the film or subsequent class discussion, e.g. organising a dance competition, a festival or a birthday party.