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Preparing to Study a Film

Why are you showing the film?

There is a big difference between watching for pleasure and learning to read films. Make sure you know what you want to achieve in working with the chosen moving image text. Do you want the film to:

  • Support themed work?
  • Stimulate discussion?
  • Provide a stimulus for a creative project (writing, drama, music...?)
  • Be a source of information for History or Geography?
  • Demonstrate a technique in Science or P.E.?
  • Introduce the study of film language itself?

Whatever your reasons, don’t keep them to yourself. Ensure the class have a clear idea of why they are going to be watching the film and what they are going to be learning from it.

Choosing a film

Choose a film that has plenty of interest for you and your class – one that fits other things you are teaching, or whose story or subject matter is appealing. Short films are a good choice for studying moving image texts in class – pupil interest is less likely to wane and it leaves you more time to delve deeply into their reactions and understanding of the film. You will find a wide variety of short films (around or fewer than 10 minutes in length) available here on the Screening Shorts website. All are downloadable or can be streamed on the website.

still from little pig is flying

Know the film

Watch the film with a Preparation Sheet and note down timings of interesting moments and potential questions.

Make sure you watch the film all the way through before screening it in class so you don't get caught out by content you were not expecting.

Many of the films on Screening Shorts can be used across age groups but none are certificated. We have flagged up on the film summary page where we think the content is triggering, strong or contentious and added a warning screen at the start of the film. You should still watch your chosen film first though so you are aware of its content.

Prepare the lesson

Prepare yourself to use a moving image text in a lesson by analysing the film yourself. Work through the tutorials on Screening Shorts so you understand the core language of film and choose teaching techniques that best fit your aims. Try the technique for yourself to make sure it works for your chosen film.

Think about how you will introduce the film to your pupils and what learning activity you will follow it up with after the viewing. Many exercises require only part of the film to be shown on the first viewing. Be aware of this and how it relates to your lesson order.

Prepare the class

It's a good idea to offer the class some insight and background into the film they are about to watch. This is dependent on each film, your pupils’ age, ability and what technique you are going to use (remember the element of surprise is crucial to some films), but you might want to:

  • Display and discuss any new words or film language terms. Our Glossary section and Film Glossary PowerPoint will help you.
  • Differentiate concepts like live action and animation, documentaries and fiction, genre, cultural differences etc.
  • Familiarise pupils with the concept of a complete short film by drawing parallels with short stories or TV sketches.
  • Warm their interest with brainstorming activities (e.g. the skills a director needs, how to be successful in Hollywood, top ten scary movies, funniest TV shows etc).
  • Set the scene before the film with historical or societal context.
  • More adventurous teachers may want to get dressed up in a character that links with the film. (Younger children love this!)

Prepare the classroom

Watching films involves listening as well as watching so make sure you create the ideal space.

  • Make sure you won’t be disturbing the class next door.
  • Check all the equipment before and on the day you are planning to show a film.
  • Make sure your computer and interactive whiteboard are all connected and running properly.
  • Have you checked that your video files work on the computer you will be using for your presentation?
  • Good sound is important! Do you have reasonable speakers? Negotiate with your neighbouring teachers to do something quiet while you show your film!
  • Plan the seating so that everyone is comfortable and can see the screen.
  • Make sure the room is as dark as possible. Switch off the lights and, if possible, black out the windows.
  • Have all your materials ready for follow-up activities. (If you are seen scampering around the room during the screening, it can be very distracting for your audience!)

Even with the most careful preparation, gremlins can still get the better of us and nothing works! Have something else ready just in case it all goes pear-shaped.

Once is never enough

Let the class watch the film once just to become familiar with it. Subsequent viewings can be used to focus on the story or look at the film language and technique. You could go off into the subject matter, or use the film to spark some creative projects. Don't be afraid of repeated viewings. Each viewing will offer a new technique for pupils to analyse and increase their appreciation of the film.