For More Than Popcorn: 10 Language Based Activities You Can Do on Movie Day

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activities for students while watching a movie

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activities for students while watching a movie

Showing a Movie in Class? Help Your Students Develop Active Viewing Skills

Topics:   Instruction & Assessment News & Media Literacy

Have students write their own movie review with this fun lesson plan and worksheet.

A teacher and students discussing in a classroom.

The words "movie day" probably evoke fond memories from our own childhoods: Teachers rolling out the TV/VCR cart; the classroom lights flickering out; everyone scooting their desks to get a better view or a seat near a friend; and, if we were lucky, maybe even the smell of freshly microwaved popcorn. Today, when it comes to watching movies in school, the technology has changed (no more squinting to see a tiny TV in the corner!), but our students love movie days just the same -- if not more.

There's magic in the shared experience of seeing a great story unfold on the screen, together, in the same room.

Sometimes showing a movie in class is just the right call. Some movies can help illustrate big, complex ideas. Others help us explore detailed topics in ways that just aren't possible otherwise. And the best movies help us enrich students' learning about the much wider world outside of our classroom's walls.

And to top it off, classroom movies are a great way to help students practice their media literacy skills. Active viewing is a skill that doesn't always come naturally, but it's something all students can practice and learn. And in today's media-saturated world, kids need all the help they can get when it comes to different ways of thinking about what they're seeing on screens of all sizes.

Movie Review Lesson Plan: Help Your Students Become Active Viewers

activities for students while watching a movie

Use this lesson plan and worksheet to help your students practice their active viewing skills, no matter what movie they're watching! We've designed this lesson and activity for middle school, but it could also be great for upper elementary or even in a high school class. Feel free to adapt this lesson (and the included Google Doc movie guide) to suit your specific needs.

Prep for teachers

Objective:  Students will be able to build active viewing skills and write a movie review.

In the classroom

Essential question:  How can active viewing help me write a movie review?

Hook (5-10 minutes)

Before you start the movie, ask students if they've ever seen or read a movie review -- if so, where did they see it? Was the review from an expert, a journalist, or professional movie reviewer? Or maybe was it written and posted online by an everyday viewer sharing their opinion? Some students may have already written their own movie review somewhere!

Then ask students: What makes an expert's movie review different? Are they just going on a "gut feeling"? Or are they doing something that makes their reviews better or more informed?

After entertaining students' ideas, explain that, when professional movie critics rate and review a movie, they usually go on a lot more than just a gut feeling. They're doing something called active viewing . They're not just saying if they thought the movie was good or bad. Professional movie reviewers also explain -- in detail --  why they thought it was good or bad (or somewhere in-between).

Hand out the Write a Movie Review! graphic organizer

Give students copies of the Write a Movie Review!  handout (or if you're using the digital version, copy and distribute them online). Explain to students that they'll be watching a movie in class, but also practicing their active viewing skills at the same time. By the end, they'll have everything they'll need to write their own review of the movie.

activities for students while watching a movie

Active viewing, defined:

Ask your students: What do you think "active viewing" means? As a class, review the elements that help define active viewing that appear at the top of the graphic organizer.

Active viewing means:

And it also means doing these things before, during, and after you watch.

Before you watch:

Help students jot down some key information about the movie before you start watching. Ask them to think about why these things might be important in thinking more deeply about the movie.

You can also preview the rest of the handout with students before you start the movie -- mainly the "While You Watch" section, so they know what to look for while watching.

While you watch:

Start the movie and enjoy!  Be ready to pause at key scenes so students have a bit of time to process, or even discuss, what they're seeing. During these pauses, you might even encourage students to think about whether they'd like to choose the scene as something to write about (or draw!) on their handout.

As you pause, reflect, and discuss, you might even consider rewinding and rewatching a particular scene. Some scenes in movies are truly worthy of a second look for students, especially in light of something that comes up in discussion that some students may have missed or want to see again.

After you watch:

Give students some time to process and think about what they've just seen before diving into any discussion or reactions. The "After You Watch" questions on the handout are a great start, but feel free to bring up any other relevant questions specific to the movie you're using. Be sure to give students plenty of time to look back at their notes and reflect.

Encourage students to wait before giving the movie their star rating. Remember: Active viewing takes place before, during, and after the movie. Ask them to resist the urge to judge the movie before they've considered all of the active viewing questions, saving the star rating for last. This way -- just like a professional movie reviewer! -- they'll have fully considered the movie before giving it their official star rating.

Writing Extension!

Students can revise the notes they've taken on their handout, turning it into an actual, written movie review! Better yet, encourage students to share their reviews with an authentic audience -- classmates, families, or even online!

Image courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action.

Jeff Knutson

As Senior Producer and Content Strategist for Common Sense Education, Jeff helps creates and publish content for teachers aimed at helping them learn new, innovative, and effective ways to use edtech in the classroom. Prior to his work at Common Sense, Jeff was an editor and classroom teacher. He's an advocate for the creative, thoughtful, and responsible use of technology, and he thrives on sharing his knowledge, experience, and perspectives with others.

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6 Ways to Make the Most of Classroom Movies

A Twitter thread on how to elicit real learning from movies draws over 150 teachers—and produces some fantastic ideas.

An illustration of a figure reading a book that is also a movie

When I was a young high school English teacher, I always concluded our reading of Romeo and Juliet with a viewing of Franco Zeffirelli’s film version of the play.

I would stop every 15 or 20 minutes to ask questions about the director’s choices. “Why might a scene or a few lines of text have been edited out? Did this or that character look or sound like you imagined?” That stop-and-start approach is a widely used strategy, according to a recent Twitter thread among teachers on best practices for integrating movies into the classroom.

But like many of the 150-plus teachers who participated in the discussion, I came to feel that the constant disruptions were robbing my students of a good viewing experience, and the pauses didn’t seem to drive a lot of productive dialogue. No it wasn’t until, in a misguided effort to speed through a brief bit of nudity in Zeffirelli’s film, I fumbled and hit the pause button—and then couldn’t get the film started again—that I finally landed upon the right strategy to drive real engagement.

Unfortunately, that’s not a very replicable piece of advice. And it’s very, very difficult to get the class to settle down again.

Many experienced teachers in the thread did feel that students should be able to just watch the film: “Do they have to ‘do something’?” asked Maire from New Jersey . “Sometimes we think we have to fill everything with work, but watching the movie and enjoying it is OK too.” Let them eat popcorn and enjoy themselves, a few others chimed in.

While periodic interruptions to invite discussion might well meet your objectives—one technique even allows for continuous dialogue in real time—teachers suggested a much broader range of powerful before- and after-viewing strategies for learning from classroom movies. We’ve selected a few of the best.

1. Prep Work and Predictions

If you’re thinking of letting students watch a movie without a lot of interruptions, some prep work makes sense. Ask students what they’re eager to see in the movie version, suggested Laura Bradley , garnering 30 likes from other teachers, or have them offer “predictions about how certain characters or scenes might be portrayed—that way they’ll be anticipating and watching for them.”

Asking students to predict how the movie version of a book will handle critical scenes or characters gets them to think about the mechanics of compelling plots—the gears that make stories fascinating.

Be sure to cross-examine their reasons, says Kirsten Dirks , because “having students explain how/why they think the way they do stretches their thinking” and pushes them to consider alternatives.

2. Better Ways to Compare and Contrast

For students who read the book and subsequently watch the movie version, dozens of teachers suggested compare and contrast activities—asking students to confront challenging questions of format (visual versus written), narrative arc (how changes in plot affect the other elements of the story), and duration (what scenes can be sacrificed to satisfy time constraints).

A winning tactic for compare and contrast exercises: Dozens of teachers use Venn diagrams, often paired with Post-its: “For The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe ,” said Cynthia Blanco , “I put up a giant Venn diagram on the wall and gave kids sticky notes to write their similarities and differences. They enjoyed this. Plus, it got them moving.”

Follow-on activities like group discussions about why the director made the adjustments—and how they changed the story—were popular. Several teachers said that the “which is better, the book or the movie?” prompt provided good, enriching fodder for debates and group or pair discussions.

3. Make Connections to Life

Inevitably kids, like adults, project themselves into the movies they watch. Teachers can drive deeper engagement, reflection, and comprehension by tapping into this natural tendency: “I love using connection prompts (text, self, world) with movies,” said Aaron Tarbell , drawing strong agreement from other teachers. Doing so “always starts good discussions that are led by what the students pick up on, not what I tell them is important.” Discussions can come at intervals during the movie, or in after-viewing activities like Socratic circles or fishbowls.

A one-pager example from Jill Yamasawa Fletcher

Dozens of educators also suggested sketchnotes as a way for students to create fun, multimedia reflections that capture scenes, quotes, or characters that inspired them. A few others offered  one-pagers —a multimedia format that’s similar to sketchnotes and allows students to express their insights in a creative, free-flowing medium.

4. Use Interactive Tech

If you’re teaching in a 1:1 school or your students are allowed to bring in devices, tools like Google Classroom, Padlet, and Edpuzzle can enable interactive, whole-class discussions in real time, or allow teachers to pose questions and probe for comprehension in the classroom as the story unfolds.

“Edpuzzle now has a ‘Live’ feature where you watch video as a class and questions can be placed in the video and students answer on their own device,” wrote Sarah Simon , and a quick cross-check on Edpuzzle’s website confirms that.

5. Assign Characters

Delving into complex questions of a character’s motivations, needs, and traits is a critical dimension of literacy—and movies are a great way to explore how characters are developed in fiction. Teachers in the Twitter thread suggested assigning students to watch one character closely while “noting aspects of [their] development,” as Mrs. Love put it, or trying to untangle the thinking behind a cascade of difficult decisions.

After tracing the arc of the assigned character, Teach2Think suggested, students can attempt to “express the character’s personality in sketches,” which can be short paragraphs or artworks annotated to explain the students’ artistic decisions. High school teacher Pete Senger added an unexpected twist to character analysis, suggesting that students might “write an obituary about the main character summarizing their life.”

6. Have Students Construct an ‘Anatomy of a Scene’

Using the New York Times format as a model, said Susan Barber , have students create their own “anatomy of a scene”—and 18 other teachers quickly approved of the idea. Looking closely at the elements of a single scene, from voice-over to lighting, camera angles, and character development, pushes students to examine the finer points of visual storytelling.

You can have students mimic The New York Times faithfully using video-making tools popular among teachers, like Screencastify,  Adobe Spark, or Screencast-O-Matic, or ask students to create paper-and-pencil storyboards of a movie sequence, annotating their thinking as they go. If you’re looking for a tech tool to create storyboards, we’ve heard good things about Storyboard That.  

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BLOG: Functional activities for when you watch movies in class or on a CBI

Functional Activities For When You Watch A Movie [In Class]

September 25, 2021 by Fiona

Teacher truth: Sometimes we watch movies on #FunFridays (whether it is in class or in the community) and I know most people’s thought when they think about movies being played in class – the teachr is lazy and it’s not educational.  I beg to differ though.  There are some important skills that can be taught for those few times you do decide to show a movie in class (or if you go on a CBI to the movie theater).  Here are a few things I do to make it functional & educational.

Obviously watching a movie is a highly preferred activity for most, so for students that are having a great week and not breaking any rules, I allow them to give me a movie of their choice (from what is in theaters or Disney+ if in class) that the class can vote on.  Now if you have students that were able to choose a movie to vote on and their choice doesn’t get picked, it’s also another skill to work on accepting loss (and hopefully a motivator for the student to continue to have good behavior so they can continue to put in their choice to vote for).  If that doesn’t like it would work for your class, you can always do a point system where the student with the highest points get to choose the movie to watch.

As I just mentioned, students express their opinions and vote for a movie they’d like to watch. This is a great way to work on expressing preferences, advocating for your opinion, giving an opinion, and so on.  I usually use the Kami extension app to draw tallies on the movie choice board digitally, but this can easily be done on the whiteboard if you aren’t tech fancy.  We count the tallies, then determine which movie had the most votes (sneak a little math in there).

BLOG: Functional activities for when you watch movies in class or on a CBI

The slide you see above – I created in a few minutes but quickly Google Image searching the students’ movie choices and pasting them onto a Google Slide.

Heres a fun community schedule functional reading activity you can practie before hand!

activities for students while watching a movie

To attend the movie (whether in class or community), students practice purchasing the correct ticket, counting money, next dollar up strategy, and waiting for change.  This is a great opportunity to have students split up in groups where one group can practice vocational skills by being ticket booth employees, and the other group can purchase tickets.  Once again, I use a Google Slide to quickly create a ticket with the movie that was chosen (and I can change the price so that students practice different amounts each time we watch a movie).

BLOG: Functional activities for when you watch movies in class or on a CBI

In class we use play money that looks pretty realistic (affiliate link)

activities for students while watching a movie

If we are in class, students can practice microwave skills to make popcorn and work on their social skills to request different toppings. In the past, we have also had a popcorn machine students could practice filling and making popcorn with. Check out this variety pack of popcorn seasoning shakers (affiliate link).  Add in more fun and serve diffrent drinks with the popcorn!

BLOG: Functional activities for when you watch movies in class or on a CBI

Check out this Movie Theater Concession Stand digital activity to practice vocational skills!

activities for students while watching a movie


Before the movie/trip, we will review a social story on what to expect at the movie theather and what not to do while in the theater (putting feet up on the seat, talking loudly, texting on your phone…etc). During the movie, students practice sitting quietly and not disturbing others around them. 

BLOG: Functional activities for when you watch movies in class or on a CBI

Check out this Movie Theater Virtual Field Trip Social Narrative that comes with comprehension questions.

After the movie is finished, we review and reflect on the movie. The worksheet pictured has students answer the genre, setting/location, setting/time period, main characters, what they thought of the movie, what their rating was (out of 5 stars) and if they would recommend the movie to a friend. 

BLOG: Functional activities for when you watch movies in class or on a CBI

Thanks for reading!

activities for students while watching a movie

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This was awesome to use with both my at-home learners and my in-person learners. I could use specific ones with our weekly theme during my vocational skills class. It was especially great at keeping my at-home kids engaged when I wasn't there to watch them.

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activities for students while watching a movie

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