Teaching with Movies


Everyone loves to relax with a good movie, including teachers, and watching them doesn’t have to be a mindless activity. In fact, there’s so much to learn from many great films, which makes teaching with movies a great option. From history to science, there are plenty of lessons that can be strengthened with the addition of a movie.

Teaching Black History with Movies

Black history is a complex, sensitive, and important topic. These movies will help you guide your students through lessons.

  • Hidden Figures: This portrayal of a team of female African American mathematicians who served a vital role in the early years of the United States space program is an excellent way to introduce your students to lesser known but important African American change-makers. After watching the movie, ask students to research to find their own “hidden figures” in history.
  • Selma: This film chronicles Martin Luther King Jr.’s quest to secure equal voting rights with the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. Allow your students to identify with the challenges the people who marched were up against. Start a discussion of the difference this moment made in the arc of civil rights history.
  • Queen of Katwe: This biographical film follows the struggle of a family in Uganda. When the 10-year-old main character becomes a top chess player, her world changes. This movie is a great way to teach black history and struggles outside of the United States. After watching, assist students in researching the situations of people of color outside of the U.S. and share their findings with the class.

Teaching Science with Movies

Science might not be the first thing you think of when it comes to teaching with films, but there are many great movies based on scientific breakthroughs and movements. In fact, your students would probably be missing out if you didn’t share these movies.

  • October Sky: The true story of Homer Hickman Jr., who was motivated by the launch of Sputnik 1 to build his own rockets, this movie tells the story of how science brought a whole town together. In real life, Hickman went on to be a NASA engineer who helped train the first Japanese astronauts, and he wrote a memoir called “Rocket Boys” that inspired the film. After watching, ask your students what everyday events made possible by science inspire them. Encourage experimentation in the areas they’re interested in.
  • Temple Grandin: This biopic tells the story of Mary Temple Grandin, an American professor and top livestock scientist who is on the autism spectrum. While encouraging students to overcome their own obstacles, the film also gives them a look at humane livestock handling.
  • An Inconvenient Truth: This documentary follows Al Gore on a lecture circuit as he attempts to raise pubic awareness about the dangers of climate change. This close look at a mix of science and public service is a great way to inspire students to consider what environmental or political issues they care about and become more involved.

Teaching Women’s History with Movies

Like black history, women’s history is complex. Many of the topics are still evolving and raw. Movies offer an excellent option for presenting difficult and inspiring women’s history topics to students.

  • The Passion of Joan of Arc: This is a silent French film based on the actual record of the trial of Joan of Arc, in which she faced heresy charges. The film is brutal and sad, but an accurate of depiction of the choices that women have made throughout history because of their values and faith. Encourage your class to think of modern-day women who stand up for what they believe in despite the consequences.
  • La fée aux choux: The movie itself doesn’t focus on women’s history, but this 1896 film was the first film directed by a female. This is a great launching point into a lesson about women who paved the way for other females in various industries.
  • 9 to 5: This comedy is about three women who find a way to get back at their sexist, bigoted boss. While humorous, it’s a good look at the sort of discrimination women have faced in the workplace throughout the years. Challenge your students to discuss discrimination that still takes place in institutions and how both genders can help fight against it.

Teaching with War Movies

War is a tough topic to teach in a way that captures all that it means. Movies can help. Here are a few films that can support your lessons about war.

  • The Patriot: This movie follows a family during the American Revolution. It’s an excellent peek at the impossible choices that common people must make when war arrives at their doorstep. After your students have researched the American Revolution, challenge them to catch some of the historical inaccuracies in the drama.
  • Glory: This film focuses on Robert Gould Shaw, an American soldier in the Union Army during the Civil War. He commanded the first all-black regiment. He was killed while leading his men, but his leadership became legendary, inspiring many more African Americans to enlist. Use this movie to teach your students about the challenges and sacrifices that war demands and how other leaders have risen to meet them.
  • Tora! Tora! Tora!: A Japanese American biographical film, this movie depicts the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. This movie can be helpful in teaching students to consider both sides of conflicts and the losses endured by all during wartime.

Interested in more ideas about how to creatively teach your students? Consider these courses:

  • Forgotten Moments in History: Examine the often-forgotten history of the United States by examining the finer details of who made early America and how the nation developed and expanded prior to the Civil War.

Advancement Courses, a Wiley brand, offers K-12 educators more than 200 online, self-paced professional development courses covering both foundational topics and emerging trends.

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