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Creating Meaningful Viewing Experiences to Enhance Learning

With before, during, and after activities and tips, films as educational tools become more than the pressing of a play button.

By Lani Aquino

The days when students entered the classroom to find a television and VCR on a cart and immediately knew that a “free day” was on the agenda have hopefully fallen to the wayside. Updates to equipment components aren’t the only changes that needed to occur within this antiquated scenario. When bringing films into the educational repertoire, teachers must ensure that the viewing experiences and takeaways have a positive impact on learning. By planning meaningful lessons and activities before, during, and after viewing, students will be able to glean the value of incorporating this media medium into the curriculum.


  • Anticipation Guides- a great way to get students thinking about the big ideas that will be found within a film. Utilizing guides and templates from sites like The Teacher Toolkit make creation a breeze.
  • Frontloading- Even if a film or excerpt is being used to introduce a concept or historical occurrence, some prior knowledge base should be provided before viewing. Whether it’s a lesson on the key characters, events, or dynamics that will unfold, students need to have a preparatory lens in place.
  • Graphic Organizers- introduce a T-chart, venn diagram, or other simple information organizing tool and have students input their current fact base on the film’s topic for non-fiction or historically accurate films. For films based on literature, key events, character qualities, and/or themes could be the pre-viewing bullet points recorded.


  • Pause it- if viewing the entire film will prove to be beneficial, determine stopping points to clarify information, highlight key components, and/or hold discussions. Make the viewing process meaningful by ensuring students are grasping the important concepts and making connections to the curricular content being covered.
  • Keep it simple- a worksheet with 40 questions to be answered in chronological order while watching a film will have students learning how to look for singular answers rather than the big picture. Not to mention the panic attacks that result when they realize they didn’t catch an answer and scramble to figure out where on the worksheet they should actually be.
  • Chunk it- don’t show the entire film unless the entirety of the film is needed to illustrate the concept. There are plenty of excellent takeaways from films that don’t require viewing them from the roar of the lion to the closing credits. With time being of the essence, a shortened viewing window can have more of an impact and cover the necessary information effectively. A battle scene, living/working conditions, emotional impacts, etc. may be all that’s needed to illustrate a point.


  • Revisit- never let a viewing experience end without revisiting and reviewing any activities or discussion points from before or during the film. It’s important to bring fluidity and/or closure to the entire viewing experience.
  • Connect- be sure that students make the connection and see the purpose behind the viewing experience. Whether it was a five-minute excerpt or a film in its entirety, no time should be spent on viewing if students can’t see the connection between the film’s content and classroom content. Connections should be made throughout the viewing process, but the final discussions and connections of the big ideas hold the key to long-term takeaways.
  • Re-view- If a film or excerpt was worth viewing, it’s worth re-viewing small portions if students did not grasp a concept or misinterpreted a key point. If a post-viewing discussion reveals a gap in understanding, discussion and possible re-viewing of the pivotal scenes is warranted.

Turning Let’s go to the movies! into a quality learning experience can be a valuable strategy to keep in the toolkit. When films are viewed with the proper lens and purpose, they can have lasting impacts on how students connect with the curriculum. Switching the views on viewing from time filling to learning fueling all comes down to how teachers approach a film before, during, and after sharing it with students.

If you enjoyed the thoughts and ideas shared here, check out the trainings and tools (for teachers and for families) that we offer.

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