Spotlight on storytelling: how I use film to engage pupils with literature

Adwoa Oforiwa, a schools support co-ordinator for Filmclub with more than a decade of teaching experience in both the secondary English and primary sectors, says films should be more than an end of term treat. This is from the Guardian…

So we all know how it goes in the secondary English teaching world; read the book and then watch the film adaptation. This tried and tested method has been used by teachers since time in memoriam (or at least since the birth of the VHS tape).

After spending a particularly frustrating evening reading a set of narratives written by my year 8 class of which the majority ended with the immortal words: “And then I woke up,” I realised two things. Firstly, my comprehensive lesson on creating an interesting and cohesive narrative had been unsuccessful and secondly, something else had to be done. During the same academic year I was also teaching AS and A2 film studies and realised that the storytelling element of films could be applied to improving my students’ narrative writing.

The following week each English lesson was spent analysing the opening 20 minutes of Edward Scissorhands with pauses to write dialogue between the characters, create vivid descriptions of Edward’s garden and discuss the impact of the film’s non-chronological structure. At the end of the week, I gave my class a timed assessment and I was pleased to see that their narratives had improved greatly with non-linear structures, improved character descriptions and settings; although some students still stuck to their favoured “and then I woke up” ending.

Since then I have always tried to use film in my teaching in order to engage and incite interest in my students rather than just a progression after reading a book or as an end of term treat. Students can benefit greatly from analysing the film adaptation of a novel; whether they are considering the director’s choice of camera angles and soundtrack, analysing how effectively the narrative elements such as structure, setting and symbolism are adapted for film, discussing the suitability of actors to portray particular characters, or gaining new insight into the plot.

At both secondary and primary level the universal appeal of film makes it an excellent tool to inspire students who find certain texts challenging or are simply reluctant readers. To help teachers and their pupils fully explore the possibilities the education charity I now work for, Filmclub has developed two new teaching resources. The first designed to enhance the teaching of GCSE novels and the second to engage more primary aged children with reading. Both contain discussion questions, teacher’s notes and suggested activities for each recommended title and following the post screening discussion students are encouraged to review the films for the Filmclub website.

More at:  Spotlight on storytelling: how I use film to engage pupils with literature

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