Using Movies for Effective Instruction

Teachers have always shown movies in the classroom, but most of the time we associate those movies with dead time, or non-instructional time. However, with the age of digital everything, the right movie can capture the attention of students and make a concept more concrete for student understanding. says that movies can enhance student learning but also be a poor use of time if not planned extremely well. The key is to choose the right movie.

Pros of using movies for learning:

  • Movies that tie in well with content can definitely enhance learning for students.
  • At times, a concept such as the Holocaust can be vague and unfamiliar. Showing a movie after reading a book on this event can really help students to understand the magnitude of this historical time.
  • Movies can motivate students by sparking conversations about deeper topics that would probably not have happened without this media.
  • They support the concept of Gardner’s multiple intelligences by blending words with sounds, pictures, and senses.

Cons of using movies for learning:

  • Some parents object to using movies for instructional purposes, so make sure to get permission first.
  • It can be a time waster even when we don’t intend for it to be.
  • Remember that movies are fanciful representations of reality, so be sure that the movie you plan to show is actually historically correct. If you decide to show one that is not because portions of it are helpful for understanding, point out the exaggerated parts to the students.

There are without a doubt many educational movies and documentaries that will expand the knowledge of events and concepts that students might have difficulty understanding. Mr. Needleman, writing for, says, “Movies from YouTube, Teacher Tube, iTunes podcasts, and commercial DVDs that I show in frequent short bursts in the classroom with adults and children to help make my points and show visual examples of what I’m talking about.”

There are specific ways to use movies and other media in the classroom:

  1. Watching a movie should be as challenging as reading a book. Using them for Friday fun day defeats the purpose of learning from them.
  2. Showing a movie at the beginning of a unit instead of at the end can give background information that is helpful as the students progress through the learning unit.
  3. Stay engaged during the movie. This is not the time for you to check your phone.
  4. Spell out clearly how the movie relates to what you are learning.
  5. Have students write down one thing they found interesting and one question they had. Afterward, use the questions to guide the research in the unit.
  6. Keep the remote handy because you should be stopping the movie to point out interesting facts or discuss something controversial. These stopping points can actually help students retain what they see and hear better.
  7. Students must recap and evaluate what they learned from the movie and how it helped in their understanding of the subject.

With movies on Netflix and many other streaming services, you can even download a movie to show for class if streaming is not possible during the school day. The common consensus is that movies can be strategic instructional tools if used wisely.


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