There is no day more exciting in school than movie day. A break from the traditional education practiced on a normal day, movies grab the attention of students and will garner a more positive response than any other activity. This spike in excitement and attentiveness is also a chance to explore educational topics without it feeling like a chore. Thus, the choice of movie a teacher shows is important to prompt discussion of important topics and themes.
For middle school classes, Newsies, based on the popular musical of the same name, can be a good way to teach about immigration and industrialization. Going along the lines of musicals, West Side Story is a contemporary adaptation of the Shakespearean work Romeo and Juliet, and students will get the chance to see the same plot, conflicts and themes played out in a fast paced, colorful musical montage.
A classic, The Princess Bride is a movie appealing to all ages. It is also a subtle lesson on the hero’s journey, excellent use of dialogue, humor and dramatic irony. It can foster discussions on medieval cultures, character development in literature, and spark an interest in genres such as fantasy. Because it is based on a book of the same name, it could be a starting point for an exploration of the text.
High school students can handle slightly more mature content, and it is good to watch movies that touch on sensitive subjects in a safe space such as the classroom. Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing would be an excellent choice for learning about race relations in this country and thinking about ethics in general. March of the Penguins, while a documentary, is a wonderful and much adored journey of an exotic species that teaches students about Antarctic life, predators, animal habits and life cycles.
Finally, the classic high school movie, The Breakfast Club, is a must see for students. Not only is it relatable, but it opens up a dialogue about bullying, physical and emotional abuse, and finding your place among the unlikeliest people. These are important topics for students about to enter a new chapter of their life.
Movies present an opportunity for teachers to connect and educate student in a non-traditional way. Bearing in mind that not all movies are appropriate for the classroom or for younger students, showing classic, influential films can bring lessons into a different medium. The right movie may be able to teach better than any other textbook could.