Movies and the Common Core State Standards in the ELA Classroom

Given today’s digital landscape in which the attention of young people is held captive through the perpetual use of smart phones, tablets, and other digital media, constructing an ELA lesson plan that keeps the interest of students and meets curriculum standards can be a daunting task. Teachers who attempt to reach this tech savvy generation through traditional means often find their lessons plans coming up short. So, how can teachers create lessons that connect with today’s media-hungry students? Millions of teachers turn to movies, in and out of the classroom.

Interestingly enough, 28 of the Common Core State Standards refer directly to the use of movies or other media in the classroom. These standards target important skills including the interpretation of screened stories, focusing on main idea and theme, as well as comparing films to the written texts from which they are derived.

The fact that 28 of the CCS standards refer to film, “media,” or “diverse media formats,” which includes film, has important implications for the use of movies in the classroom. It means that the creators of the Standards recognize the importance of film-based media in education. This does not mean that educational emphasis should shift from learning to read and interpret written texts to learning how to understand and analyze a film. It only demonstrates that movies and film are finding their place as a modern supplement to instruction in written texts.

Why have the Common Core State Standards allowed the use of film and alternative media to get a foot-in-the-door of the modern classroom? The reason is that students today obtain the vast majority of their exposure to stories via screened performances, whether through a movie screen, television screen, computer screen or mobile device.

Educators and parents throughout the country deplore the lack of motivation of today’s students. One of the reasons for this is that much of the curriculum material is presented in a format that seems archaic to today’s students. For example, requiring students to analyze a written text from a time period vastly different from the one in which they live, can cause the student to simply “shut-off,” because they cannot relate to the stories being told.

The Solution: use movies as the catalyst to spark interest. In turn, this interest will provoke the motivation required for the student to gain a deeper understanding of the lesson being taught in the story. At this point, you have the student in the optimal learning situation. They are interested because they prefer the format of screened-delivery and they are entranced by the magic of Hollywood. Also, they are now motivated because the message is presented in a context generally relevant to their own lives. From here, it is your job as a teacher to take advantage of this opportunity by engaging the student before, during and after the film. This can be accomplished through the use of discussion questions, film study worksheets and homework assignments based on the movie.

Through the limited and careful use of movies in your lesson plans, you will help students meet the Common Core State Standards because you will help them retain interest in their studies and give them lessons that will stay with them long after they leave the classroom.

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