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Teaching Literature and Science with Videos

By Ron Person

Movies and video documentaries can be indispensable for motivating learners, engaging their curiosity, and embedding concepts that might otherwise slip away. Even reading and literature can be enhanced and strengthened through the use of videos.

Children may have inertia getting started in a book, but a movie or video can motivate them to learn more and entice early readers to dig into a book. If they have basic reading skills that need exercise and motivation, then use a movie to get their momentum up to speed. For example, the Chronicles of Narnia, a children's classic, are available in both VHS and DVD. Play the first of the trilogy, "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe", to get a child intrigued. Then let them know there are two more books in the series, "Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" and "The Silver Chair." You might even troll for readers by leaving the next book in the series lying where they will see it.

A number of great children's authors have had only a single movie made from their large collection of written works. Use the movie to entice your young reader, then show them the other books by the author. Some excellent examples of movies that lead to additional books are "The Little Princess" or "The Secret Garden" by Frances Hodgson Burnett, "The Black Stallion" by the prolific Walter Farley, and "James and the Giant Peach" or "Matilda" by the prolific and wacky Roald Dahl.

Reading or watching a movie with children shouldn't be passive. Make it thought provoking and inquisitive. Stop at major points and ask your child what they would do if they were in the character's position, then continue the movie to see what the character does.

You might create interactive checklists that keep your kids thinking as the movie progresses. For example, in "Prince Caspian and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader" the characters change their behavior and personality as the story progresses. Have your children create a Character Report Card that helps them learn about character traits, character depth, and character analysis.

Your graders should assign an A through F grade to each character's trait. You might even want two charts, one for the character's trait at the beginning of the movie and one for the end. Discussing how they graded each character and why the grade changed gives you an excellent chance to discuss personality, ethics, and personal growth.

Teaching Classic Literature with Video
Movies based on classic literature can be used to entice readers as well as act as a structure for discussion. In the same way that videos can entice a young reader into a book, teenage readers can be enticed via video into classic literature such as David Copperfield, Moby Dick, and Romeo and Juliet.

A number of literary works have been turned into movies that will captivate teens of either sex. Movies enable them to see the clothes, hear the music, and listen to the dialect of the time period. Here are a few movies based on classics that might entice teen readers into reading the full book or other books by the same author:

  • Romeo and Juliet, By William Shakespeare (Paramount)
  • Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte (A&E)
  • Emma, by Jane Austen (A&E)
  • Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott (Columbia Tristar)
  • David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens (WGBH or Brentwood)
  • Moby Dick, by Hermann Melville (Artisan or MGM)
  • Three Musketeers, The Count of Monte Cristo by Andres Dumas (Disney Touchstone)

Some movies, especially those by Disney and their adult movie producer Touchstone, are loosely based on the book. In those cases use the movie as a base to discuss why the producers made changes and how the book provides more detail, more character insight, and is more faithful to the real historical events.

Teens may feel that the book topic is old fashioned and hard to relate to. However, I know a number of cases where teens were sucked into the books because their feelings were the same as those felt by the characters in the classics. The heartaches felt in Little Women and the feelings of revenge in The Count of Monte Cristo haven't changed through time.

If it's been a long time since you've read some of these classic books a movie can give you a structure for discussion. You can both sit and watch the movie and pause it for discussion when you or your teen feel there is something important to discuss. Try to pause and discuss at least every 20 minutes. Some research shows that this helps us remember.



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