- Snippets of various movies geared for students
- Equipment for viewing movies (TV and DVD player, computer and projector, etc.)
- "I'm Noticing..." Graphic Organizer printable
- Movie Notes Graphic Organizer printable
- Movie Review Rubric printable
- Optional: Sample Student-Friendly Movie Reviews printable
- Optional: Popcorn
- Optional: Movie camera, green screen, and a free trial of ULead Video program for a class production
- Use the site Rotten Tomatoes to compile a few reviews of movies that meet your students' interests. Make a handout of these reviews that you can print and hand out to students. You can also use my Sample Student-Friendly Movie Reviews printable.
- Once you have your collection of movie reviews, select one or two movies to watch in class. If you don't already own the movie, rent it from your local library. You will watch the movie (while referring back to the review) in Part 2.
- Make class sets of the "I'm Noticing..." Graphic Organizer, the Movie Notes Graphic Organizer, and the Movie Review Rubric printables.
Important Disclaimer: Legally, you are not allowed to show entire movies in school without a license. My school, like many others, does not have a license. A legal alternative is to show short clips (10–15 seconds) for stated learning purposes.
Part 1: Lights — Setting Up the Scene
Assessment Note: This unit progresses in difficulty, building on writing food reviews to help students write movie reviews. You may find that less time is needed for modeling movie reviews vs. food reviews. Use formative assessment, body language, and level of interest as an indicator for time needed.
Also, know that the work you are displaying and discussing to your students serves as a model for what you will be assessing. Pick reviews that will inspire your students, but also be attainable when it comes to assessment!
Step 1: Review what makes a good food review by having students turn to a partner and discuss. Take a moment to record your thoughts and ideas as a class. Informally, you can assess what was retained from the last lesson.
Step 2: Set the stage by telling students that they will be venturing into the world of movie reviews. Ask students to raise their hand if they have ever read a movie review before. Have those students share their experience with the class.
Step 3: Introduce the popular site Rotten Tomatoes. If you are not familiar with this site, it combines many national reviews of a movie onto one page. Each review has an option for visitor comments, making this a wonderful resource for reviews. As with any site, I recommend looking for specific content beforehand.
Note: You may use my printable of Sample Student-Friendly Movie Reviews or take some time to find movies that meet your students' interests. You will want a handful of example reviews that will interest your students.
Step 4: Ask students to read and record their observations on the Sample Student-Friendly Movie Reviews (or your version), on post-it notes, or on the back of the handout. If you are completing the full unit, consider Review Unit folders for your students to store the Sample Student-Friendly Movie Reviews printable.
Step 5: Hold a discussion on what elements are present in this type of writing. Your students will notice setting, character development, and plot in most movie reviews.
Step 6: Create a chart with the class to record and organize this information. You may want to use the Movie Notes Graphic Organizer printable to organize your ideas. You can also create a Venn Diagram for comparison.
Step 7: Use this time to re-read the review and model your observations of the movie review. Use the language that you would like your students to be using for discussion.
Part 2: Camera — Narrowing the Lenses
Assessment Note: This step will vary greatly depending on your students' level of success with the food reviews. You may find that your students are ready for independent review writing quickly, so be ready to modify that based on your observations and student recordings. In addition, your expectations should be building from the food review writings. Individual conference notes will help document the growth through the unit study.
Step 1: Share your observations from the previous lesson by reading through some of the notes students recorded the day before. Emphasize the qualities they exude.
Step 2: Share a movie review that students are familiar with. Ask students to work in pairs to use their "lenses" for a discussion on what the author includes and does not include in their writing review. Students can record their findings on the "I'm Noticing..." Graphic Organizer. Use this time to informally assess your students' understandings. Their conversations should show growth from their work on food reviews.
Step 3: Because you have read the review beforehand, have the actual movie available for viewing. Due to license laws, start and stop portions of the movie to support the reviewer's writing. For example, if the movie reviewer points out a scene that is particularly well written (or poorly written), you can show this scene for discussion. If the author says a character is not believable, demonstrate a scene where the actor has important lines. Ask students whether they agree with the reviewer or not.
Step 4: Read through students' "I'm Noticing..." Graphic Organizers to gage where you need to go next. If you are happy with the responses, your students are ready for some independent writing. If not, try writing a movie review together, or in a small group, focusing on the elements of setting, character development, and plot.
Step 5: Ask students to start thinking about a movie they would like to write a review for.
Optional: If students need more time and exposure to writing, build that time in and share peer reviews for examples.
Part 3: Publish! — Ready for an Audience
Assessment Note: Traditional worksheets are not present in this unit of study. Instead, a focus on higher order thinking skills and assessment through application has been made. The premise being that some students can complete a skill in isolation but not carry it into application. Writing rubrics assess the application of learned skills through authentic pieces of writing.
Step 1: Ask students to share what movies they are interested in writing a review for. Set guidelines on appropriate movies, such as having a "G" rating. Decide, as a class, if there should be a limit to reviews per movie.
Step 2: Ask students to write freely for five minutes on their movie of choice. After five minutes are up, ask students to make sure setting, character development, and plot are included in their writing. Allow a few more minutes for students to build on what they have or include an element that is missing. Inform students that this is a form of prewriting and that it will be used for gathering and organizing their ideas for a published review.
Step 3: Pass out the Movie Review Rubric printable or create a rubric together. If you are creating your own as a class, narrow your conventions guidelines to 2–3 items that you have taught and students have had time to improve on. See the Movie Review Rubric printable for examples.
Step 4: Provide time for students to write a quality movie review. Use your writing conference time to meet with students individually, one on one.
Step 5: Include some time for peer review. Have students try the two stars, one wish method (two things they like, one thing to work on).
Step 6: Share your reviews in class with some popcorn. In the process, categorize movies by their genre during presentations.
Step 7: Assess the reviews with the Movie Review Rubric or the rubric you created as a class.
Step 8: Print and publish the movie reviews in your next classroom newsletter.
I hold individual conferences with my students as a resource to support differentiation for each student. Taking the information gathered from these conferences, as well as personal observations and student work/reflection, assessment is modified to meet individual needs.
- Allow students to create a movie poster with their review and post them around school.
- Video tape movie reviews with a blue screen and incorporate the setting into the background of an oral movie review.
- Have students with the same reviewed movie hold a debate in the style of Thomas and Ebert and Roeper. Give the winner of the debate (of course voted by a thumbs up or thumbs down vote) a bag of popcorn.
- Work with your local video store to see if movie reviews can be put on display.
We have a weekly newsletter and updated web site that contains all of our class happenings. A majority of my students have internet access at home, so I provide some of the online resources we view in class as an at home activity. Reviews will also be printed up for each student to take home to their family.
- Using the gradual release of responsibility model, allow your students to show growth throughout the unit of study. Heavier consideration of learned skills will be placed on final versions after time has been given to experiment with conventions, style, and layouts.
- Provide flexibility in your schedule. If your students take the interest somewhere not planned, be open to shifting reviews. For example, students may prefer to write about another form of entertainment.
- Observation of language used at the beginning and end of the unit: Has it improved?
- Various responses on post-it notes, self-reflection sheet, and tips learned in class
- Small-group instruction and one-on-one conferences
- Peer review
- Review rubric with an option for student and teacher rating, as well as an area for written feedback
- Oral reading of reviews: Does the student read with confidence?
- Students read a wide range of print to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world.
- Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
- Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print.
Short Writing Assignments
Journal Entries, Ruminations, Quickwrites, Single Paragraphs
- Topics for short writing assignments can include the contribution to the film's story made by one of the following: (1) a cinematic element, such as music; (2) a theatrical element, such as lighting; or (3) a literary element of the film's story, such as expository phase, theme, plot, conflict, symbol, or characterization. Topics for short writing assignments can also include:
Journal Entries: Students can be assigned to write a journal entry, either in class or as homework, responding to the events or episodes in the movie as it progresses. The journal may or may not be focused on one topic; topics can change each day.1. What was the strongest emotion that you felt when watching the film?
2. What did you learn from this movie?
3. Which character did you [admire, hate, love, pity] the most?
Sample Assignment: We are going to be watching the movie, "Remember the Titans," for part of the class period each day this week. As homework, every day after a class in which we watch the film, I'd like you to write a short journal entry about your reactions to the movie so far. [Describe the length of the entry desired or the amount of time students should spend writing the entry.]Ruminations: Students can be required to write ruminations in which they respond to the motivations, values, or attributes of characters in the film.
Sample assignment: We are going to be watching the movie "Cyrano de Bergerac." After you have seen the movie, please write a page or two of your thoughts about whether Cyranno was a bully. Include a comparison of his actions in the play to those of a bully you know or have heard about.Single Paragraphs: Students can be asked to write a single paragraph about an element of a film and how that element contributes to the story or to the artistic presentation.
Sample Assignment: Write a paragraph about the use of camera angle in the scene in which Dorothy first meets the Wizard of Oz. The topic of your paragraph is: "What does the camera angle add to the scene?" The paragraph should have a topic sentence, citations to evidence to support the point being made, and a conclusion.Quickwrites: Students can be asked to write without preparation and in a set period of time, their thoughts or observations on a topic selected by the teacher. Quickwrites often become a ritual at the beginning of each class.
Sample Assignment: "To Kill a Mockingbird" ends with two ironic twists. Name one of them, describe why it is ironic and what theme of the story is highlighted by the ironic events.
Essays - Formal and Persuasive
Topics for Formal or Persuasive Essays with Research Outside the Confines of the StoryHistorical Accuracy: Students can research and evaluate the historical accuracy of the film or of a scene in the film and, where inaccuracies are found, students can theorize about the filmmakers' reasons for making the change from the facts.Topics for Essays Based on an Analysis of the Film
Historical, Cultural, or Literary Allusions: In many films, historical, cultural, or literary allusions are important in conveying ideas. Students can be assigned to investigate one or more of these references.
Differences Between the Book and the Movie: When a movie is based on a book, students can be asked to describe those differences, ascertain whether the movie is true to the story told by the book, and make a judgment about whether the changes made by the movie improved the story.
Themes and Messages: Students can be asked to identify and evaluate, using research from sources other than the film, the wisdom of any theme or message which the filmmakters are trying to convey.
Issues of Interest Relating to the Subject Matter of the Story: All films present issues of interest to the audience aside from the story itself. For example, the concept of attachment disorder is important in the film "Good Will Hunting" even though the film can be appreciated without knowing much about the disorder. However, the film may motivate students to research and write an essay about attachment disorder. The movie "October Sky" refers to the early U.S. and Russian space programs. Students who have seen this movie can be assigned to write an essay about what has occurred in space exploration in the last twenty years and how it differs from what occurred in the 1950s and 1960s.Literary Elements and Devices in the Story Presented by the Film: These include plot, subplot, theme, irony, foreshadowing, flash-forward, flashback, characterization, and symbol. Students should be required to describe the use of one element or device and its contribution to the overall message of the film. TWM offers a Film Study Worksheet to assist students in organizing their thoughts for this assignment.
Cinematic Elements in the Film: Cinematic elements include: shot (framing, angle, and camera movement), sound (including music), lighting, and editing. Students can be asked to identify and discuss the cinematic elements in an entire film or to focus their analysis on a particular scene. The analysis can be limited to the use of one cinematic element or it can include several. Students should be required to describe the use of the cinematic element as well as its contribution to the overall message and artistic presentation of the movie or the scene. See the TWM student handout: Introducing Cinematic and Theatrical Elements in Film. TWM also offers a worksheet to help students identify theatrical elements in a film. See TWM's worksheet entitled Cinematic and Theatrical Elements and Their Effects.
Theatrical Elements in the Film: Theatrical elements found in movies include: costumes, props, set design, and acting choice. Students can be asked to identify and discuss the theatrical elements in an entire film or to focus their analysis on a particular scene. The analysis can be limited to the use of one theatrical element or it can include several. Students should be required to describe the use of the theatrical element as well as its contribution to the overall message and artistic presentation of the movie or the scene. See the TWM student handout: Introducing Cinematic and Theatrical Elements in Film. TWM also offers a worksheet to help students ""identify theatrical elements in a film. See TWM's worksheet entitled Cinematic and Theatrical Elements and Their Effects.
Creative Writing Assingments and Film Critiques
Creative Writing Assignments: Tasks which will stimulate students' creativity include: (1) write a new ending to the story; (2) add new characters or new events to an existing scene and show how the story changes as a result; (3) write an additional scene or incident, with its own setting, action, and dialogue; (4) expand the back-story of one of the characters and make it into a separate story; (5) write a letter from a character in the story to the student, or from a character in the story to the class, or from one character in the story to another character in the story, or from the student to a character in the story; (6) outline, story board, or write a sequel.
Sample Assignment: Imagine that Jean Valjean is still mayor of his adopted town of Montreuil-sur-mer. You are Bishiop Myriel, the man who had faith in Jean even though Jean stole his candle sticks and other silver. Jean has requested that you write a letter to Javert asking Javert to leave Jean Valjean alone. What would you say in that letter? Think about the nature of the man the Bishop is trying to convince, the tone he would take, and the arguments he would present. [Describe the length of the letter.]Film Critiques: Some students will enjoy writing a review of the movie, possibly for publication in the student newspaper. Students should be instructed to make sure that they cite evidence to support their views.
Sample Assignment: Imagine that you are a film critic for a major newspaper. Write a critique of the film, "The Outsiders." Be sure to support your conclusions with evidence and logical arguments. [Describe the length of the critique.]
Other Assignments, Projects and Activities
- Mock Interviews: Students can work together in groups of two to write and perform a mock interview in which one plays a character in the film and the other takes on the role of the interviewer. The answers should reveal the values of the character.
Debates: Many films offer controversial social or political ideas which can easily become the topic of vigorous debate. Students can be divided into teams to support or oppose an idea presented by the film.
The Great Divide Separate the class into two groups representing sides taken on a particular issue. Students in support of the point should sit together facing those opposed to the point. Students should use the rules of Accountable Talk to argue their positions. Accountable Talk requires that students listen carefully and adhere to a code for responses to one another's words. Each respondent must begin his or her point with phrases such as:
Students may not resort to name calling or any other insults and must back up their points with reference to the work being discussed. When students hear points that cause them to change their minds, they must get up and take a seat on the other side. Often, an entire class will become convinced of one position and all seats will be moved to one side of the room. Pro-con T-Chart organizers or any other form of note taking can be beneficial so that students can refer to points they felt were important when it comes time to write their essays.
I hear what you are saying, but . . .
Your point is good; however I want to say . . .
I'm unclear about what you mean . . .
Granted, your point has validity; however, consider . . .
I understand what you are saying; however, the facts are . . .
Socratic Chairs: Place a number of chairs at the front of the room and select appropriate students to fill them. These students will serve as a panel to discuss the issue that must be resolved or at least clarified so that the students can write their essays. Students remaining in their desks should take notes using a graphic organizer, such as a pro-con T-Chart, and can ask questions either during or at the end of the panel's discussion. Sometimes students may want to relinquish a chair to a member of the audience in order to further the point he or she is making. Vary the rules to fit the goals of the discussion but keep to the rules of Accountable Talk.
Creative Projects: Students can be given the opportunity to compose poetry, music, song, or dance relating to an idea in a film. They can also produce a film or create a painting or a poster.