How to Study a Film with High School Students

Studying a film is one of those things that the kids just love and look forward to during the school year. Keeping it enjoyable, while still covering all your bases and getting them to good depth of film knowledge for responding tasks, is imperative.


The most important thing of all is your choice of film. Don’t choose one YOU like, unless it is also relevant and enjoyable for the students. Choose one that THEY will love. Something snoozy with subtitles or grainy and sad from the dark ages is sure to lose you half your class before you get through the opening scenes. There are so many great films out there, and with a little preparation and research, you can find something you will all enjoy and stay engaged with until the end.


Next, look for help with the basics. There are SO many worksheets out there, if you’re willing to look. Just make sure you’re covering the items that they will be expected to know:


Basics of Film Study

  • Genre

  • Camera Shots

  • Camera Angles

  • Editing

  • Sound – Diegetic and Non-Diegetic

  • Lighting

  • Special effects

  • Characterisation, Setting, Costume, Dialogue

  • Mis-en-scene

  • Symbols or Motif

At the very least, you will want to delve right in and really pick apart least 5 things, shot by shot. You want your students to be able to write an essay on any of the following topics:

  • Analysis of a Character

  • Analysis of a Setting

  • Analysis of a Theme

  • Analysis of a particular scene (often using the opening or closing scene, but a dramatic one is good too)

  • Analysis of an Effect or Mood (ie suspense)

A great way to tackle each of these is to create a single page for each. Go through the film, analysing applicable chunks scene by scene, looking for film techniques and recording evidence along the way.

For example, if you are studying a character, begin at the beginning and look at each major scene containing that character. Pause the film after each scene and write notes. You may need to watch a single scene a few times to get the techniques picked out. Look for lighting, sound, shots, angles, dialogue – anything that helps you understand how the director was positioning that character and using them.


Make specific notes, such as ‘lighting is very dark, lots of shadows’. After each scene, think about why the director used those specific techniques, and what meaning he was trying to create by doing so. For example, ‘The director is using shadows and dim lighting to show that this character is not to be trusted, and that something ‘shady’ is going down.’ In this way, you will have a full page of evidence and specific references from the film, on each topic, ready to use for film essays or text response writing.


You will end up spending at least a full week, if not two, watching and re-watching scenes from the film. Every time you look, you will find more and more meaning, and the kids will come out of this time with a very conversant understanding of the ideas and techniques involved in the film.


If you’re anything like me, you might wish you could study 4-5 films in a year with the kids. There are so many great films and so little time. But doing justice to a film study isn’t difficult, and the skills learned can be applied by your students for years to come.


All the best with your next film study!!

Xx Anna from Tea4Teacher


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