Film as Literature

film as literatureMovies are a popular type of entertainment, but some parents and teachers fear that their students’ affinity for visual media comes at the expense of their reading and critical thinking abilities. And yet “cineliteracy” is often neglected in education, which doesn’t make sense. “Film as Literature” is one English class that everyone will love to take!

As an elective course, “Film as Literature” will develop students’ skills in reading, thinking, writing, listening, and speaking through in-depth study of films in a variety of genres. Students will be taught to analyze film in the same way that they study a literary text, by viewing and discussing classic movies.

In “Film as Literature,” students learn to view films as an art form and as a means of communication beyond their entertainment purpose. They are taught to “read” a film, analyzing its narrative structure, genre conventions, subtext, technical and artistic factors, and purpose. In addition, students examine how films often reflect the culture and times in which they are made, and conversely, how motion pictures sometimes help shape attitudes and values in society.

“Film as Literature” will enhance and broaden a student’s knowledge and understanding of film terms and techniques, the adaptation of literature to screenplays, genres of films, elements of symbolism, literary themes in films, and film production in general.

Academically, students will develop and reinforce: 1) oral and written communication skills; 2) critical thinking skills; 3) an ability to write analytical essays and film critiques; 4) an ability to compare and contrast novels and stories to their film adaptations; and 6) the habit of viewing moving images critically rather than passively.

Recommended Resources (choose at least one of these books as the foundation of your course):

Movies as Literature, by Kathryn and Richard Stout. This complete, one-year high school English course was designed specifically with homeschoolers in mind. It uses classic movies to introduce and study the elements of literary analysis. Student discussion and composition questions are provided for each lesson. In addition to the 10 days spent studying each movie, honor students can complete other projects and activities for extended study. This book contains an extensive teacher’s guide/answer key, plot summaries, glossary of literary terms, and final exam. It will not only give students the tools to appreciate good movies more fully, but will equip them with the ability to discern the underlying messages. Here is a list of the 17 movies to be studied: Shane, Friendly Persuasion, The Quiet Man, Arsenic and Old Lace, The Music Man, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, The Maltese Falcon, Rear Window, Emma, The Philadelphia Story, The Journey of August King, To Kill A Mockingbird, A Raisin in the Sun, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Henry V, A Man For All Seasons, and Chariots of Fire. Grade 7-12. Christian. 335 pages. ©2002.

READING IN THE DARK: Using Film as a Tool in the English Classroom, by John Golden. Can your students “read” a movie? This practical handbook gives teachers the tools to transform students into sophisticated movie critics who analyze movies using skills directly transferable to literary analysis. As students develop reading strategies (predicting, responding, questioning, and storyboarding), they will learn to discuss movies in terms of textual analysis (characterization, point of view, symbolism, and irony). To this end, the book defines film techniques, analyzes how those techniques are used in certain scenes (selected from 36 well-known movies), and provides model lesson plans for analyzing 11 particular movies. Appendixes: an index of films discussed, suggested readings, glossary of film terms, and sample forms designed to facilitate film and story analysis. View the table of contents, an excerpt from “Chapter 2: Film and Reading Strategies,” and index of films discussed. Note: Six of the movies are rated R, but you can just skip those. The rest are rated G, PG, and PG-13. Grade 8-12. Secular. 173 pages. ©2001.

Literature into Film: Theory And Practical Approaches, by Linda Costanzo Cahir. For most people, film adaptation of literature can be summed up in one sentence: “The movie wasn’t as good as the book.” This volume undertakes to show that not only is this evaluation not always true but sometimes it’s intrinsically unfair. Depending on the form of the original text and the chosen method of translation, certain inherent difficulties and pitfalls are associated with the change of medium. For students who specifically want to study the adaptation of literature to screenplays, this work is a comprehensive guide to literature-based films be it a novel, novella, short story, play, or Shakespearean drama. Individual chapters deal with each of these genres, providing an overview backed up by case studies of specific film versions. Interspersed throughout the text are suggestions for activities the student can use to enhance his or her appreciation and understanding of the films. It also includes a glossary of film and literary terms. Check the index in the book preview on Amazon to see the wide range of titles that are discussed (some are rated R). This in-depth study is designed for college classes but it can be used by advanced, self-motivated high school students. Grade 11-12. Secular. 315 pages. ©2006.

Media Literacy: Thinking Critically About Movies, by Peyton Paxson. This book encourages students to use critical-thinking skills to analyze movies as well as the movie industry. It could count as either an English or Social Studies elective. The units provide students with information about movies as an art form, as a business, and as a source of social and cultural transmission. The activities require students to evaluate and apply this information in varied exercises. Each lesson contains activities, quizzes, a glossary of terms and ‘Teacher Buzz’ sections to prepare for classroom discussions. Topics in this volume include: History of Movies, Movies and Society, Movie as Narrative, Common Themes, Mechanics of Movies, Business of Movies. Download the table of contents and sample pages. Grade 7-10. Secular. 99 pages. ©2003.

Additional Resources (optional but helpful supplements):

Movies as Literature Student Workbook, by Kathryn and Richard Stout. The Student Workbook contains instructions, questions (with room for notes or answers), a glossary, and bits of movie trivia for added interest. It’s made to go with the complete, one-year high school English course Movies as Literature, which contains both the student portion (without room for responses) and teacher’s guide. The student workbook is a nice addition but it’s not required. As long as you have the main book, a notebook and verbal discussion will serve just as well. Grade 7-12. Christian. 191 pages. ©2004.

Learning with the Movies, by Beth Holland. Want to incorporate movies into your history curriculum? This book by a homeschooler is a comprehensive guide to using movies as an educational tool for leaning about the following historical periods: Bible Times, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Mayans, Vikings, Middle Ages, Renaissance, Reformation, 1600s, 1700s, 1800s, Civil War, 1900s, World War I, World War II, Other Theatres of War, The Home Front, Korean War, Vietnam. She also includes movies in several other subjects: Music/Arts, Science/Nature, Medicine, Biography, Literature, Sports, and Holidays. The annotations are brief and descriptive, with insight into the integration of music, dance, costuming, and visual effects that enhance the movie’s quality and value. The author also notes historical movies that she does not recommend viewing. It’s a trustworthy resource for selecting movies that teach and inspire. This spiral-bound book is out of print, but used copies are available on Amazon. Grade 7-12. Christian. 174 pages. ©2004.

Movie Nights: 25 Movies to Spark Spiritual Discussions With Your Teen, by Bob Smithouser. Ninety-two percent of teens say watching films is their number one pastime. So talking about movies is a great way for parents to connect and have meaningful discussions with their teens while teaching discernment. Movie Nights from Focus on the Family includes devotional discussions on 25 broadly varied films, including practical ideas, story points, and follow-up activities that will enable parents to have fun talking with their teens about spiritual truths using movies. The movies: Apollo 13, Chariots of Fire, The Count of Monte Cristo, Ever After, Fiddler on the Roof, Galaxy Quest, Groundhog Day, Hoosiers, It’s a Wonderful Life, A Knight’s Tale, Life Is Beautiful, Little Women, The Mission, Mr. Holland’s Opus, October Sky, The Princess Bride, Quiz Show, Remember the Titans, Searching for Bobby Fischer, Sense and Sensibility, Sergeant York, Shadowlands, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Truman Show, and Unbreakable. Grade 7-12. Christian. 192 pages. ©2002. is the premiere site on the internet giving teachers and homeschoolers access to FREE lesson plans based on movies and film clips. The site has over 425 learning guides for both classic and modern feature films. Since 1998, thousands of teachers have used these movie guides in their classes to teach English, Social Studies, Science, Health, and the Arts. The guides also encourage parents to engage their children in discussions about the important concepts of the movie. The idea is to stimulate critical thinking and create stronger family bonds through deeper conversations. The movies are categorized by subject matter and age appropriateness, as well as a social-emotional learning index and an alphabetical index. Preschool-College. Secular. ©1998-present.

Customize Your Course (study your favorite movies!):

Put together your own list of favorite movies and create your own lesson plan! Be sure to keep track of the number of hours spent doing the coursework. For example: 2 hours watching the movie, 1 hour for discussion, and 1 hour to complete a written assignment (i.e. writing a movie review or answering comprehension questions). See Discussion Questions for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.

To make “Film as Literature” a half-credit elective, log approximately 60 hours (study 15 movies; one per week). To make “Film as Literature” a year-long elective, log approximately 120 hours (study 30 movies; one per week). Save a copy of your time sheet and assignments in a file on your computer or in a binder.

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Please Note: The products on this page were NOT provided for free or at a discount in exchange for a review. These items were purchased by a homeschooling family at their own expense. Clicking through the Amazon links to buy them will give us a small commission for our efforts, at no extra cost to you.

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