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Teaching Activities

Introducing Film into the Classroom

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

A good way to 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?

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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.