Using Movies and Music to Inspire and Teach Through the Chaos

In full disclosure, I write this to you in my pajamas. I DO get out of them from time-to-time; yesterday marked a red-letter “real pants” day but this… this day is one of those “pale-blue-plaid-flannel-for-the-win” sort of moments that let me know I’m still winning at life. 

Work has felt much the same; days of ‘what on earth’ interspersed with ‘ok, ok, I’ve got this,’ and even an occasional ‘oh wait, THAT was actually awesome.’ 

I’ll spare you time, and delve straight into the awesome.

Teaching in the last couple of months has gotten turned completely on its head; the vast majority of schools are out for the rest of the year, many have put a moratorium on grading, yet we’re still expected to teach, and students are still expected to attend, learn, participate and contribute. 

It is an extremely challenging time, but I’ve found it to be a rather empowering one in a way, as I am finding a lot more freedom to color outside the lines because inside the lines just will not work right now.

In this (incredibly weird) era of distance learning, I’ve actually come a little closer to teaching the exact way that I always want to teach. In a moment of extreme frustration, fear, and limitations, I’ve been able to reach into exactly where the kids are and what they’re into, and teach based on things we all love and have access to. 

Both the students and I – and apparently the vast majority of humanity – have been spending much more time consuming art, primarily in the form of movies, music, and video games. As an artist-turned-teacher-turned-teaching-artist, it has always been my passion and goal to shove the arts into as many nooks and crannies of my instruction as possible. 

But this current situation is proving to be an unprecedented time in the realm of needing an educational approach that is NEXT LEVEL engaging, as well as the need to meet students precisely where they are… which for most is in front of their TVs/monitors.

How Binge-Watching Your Favorite Shows Might Make You a Better Teacher

Directly and intentionally teaching through movies, tv shows, and music can create a WHIRLWIND of engagement and excitement around ELA, story analysis, critique, writing, and character studies. 

Supplying students with the tools to watch, analyze, criticize, discuss, and respond to movies of their own choosing (as well as some assigned material) can prove to be golden, and may spark some of the most engaging discussions the kids have had all year. 

If you’re looking for a way to end the year strong, and/or bring in some low-stress artsy greatness here are some ideas that have proved the most successful, and some tips on getting started:

1. Assign pointed, engaging movie analysis

Films are a great way to engage in story and character analysis. Kids can use any TV show or movie that is narrative in format. In addition to standard story analysis, movies can be used to build their skills of observation (visual, i.e., discussing the colors of sets and costumes and why they feel those colors were chosen, or aural, i.e. discussing soundtrack and how music enhances the action). Students’ ability to create relevant, grounded predictions can be strengthened by having them engage in sequel planning/brainstorms (writing quick blurbs, or full outlines about what they feel could/should happen in a sequel). Deep character and personality analysis can be done through re-casting activities in which they ‘recast’ the film using people they know. 

You can likely repurpose your current story maps/graphic organizers (or log into your Bored Teachers account and shoot me a message if you’d like some free ones). All you have to do is email out a few pdfs, tell the kids to choose a movie (with appropriate ratings, of course), and get them going! 

2. Form movie clubs

Creating virtual partner or small group work can be a challenge, but worth it when it comes to helping the kids stay motivated and feel connected. Have students choose a partner and have mini-meetings – either with the teacher involved or on their own via a phone or video call. You can assign them weekly tasks such as reading the screenplay (there are hundreds available for free online in pdf format), collaborating on outlining a sequel, writing a new scene , turning a scene into a radio play, creating a new ending, etc. Groups can share out their plans and ideas during class meetings. If there’s a class/school website, having the scenes/sequels posted is a wonderful way to share their work!

3. Create an Integrated Movie Unit

Using a teacher-chosen movie works wonderfully as well! Choose a film, send out a pdf of the screenplay, read it as a class (or even aloud as reader’s theater!), watch the movie, and have students play detective to find the scenes/lines that had been edited out, and discuss why they feel the scenes were omitted. 

4. Song Analysis

Teacher-chosen or student-selected songs are incredible teaching tools! Being by engaging in the process as a class, if possible – or video yourself completing the process so that students can follow along at their own pace. Students can read the lyrics before listening, predict what the sound and feel of the song will be, make observations about what they hear, state what emotions they think the writer is expressing, and give specific lyrical evidence to back up their claims, and rewrite the lyrics in their own words. For class, each person can present one minute of the song they chose and discuss their findings. 

5. Soundtrack/Mixtape Creation

Have students create a soundtrack for the book that you’re currently reading – either set a number of songs needed or have them choose one song per chapter, etc.  For a final product have them submit a list of songs (with artists) and what part of the story each song would underscore.  Alternatively, they can create a mixtape that one character would make for another – if Romeo were to send 5 songs to Juliet, what would he send to her, and which moments of their story would he be speaking of? 

In these times of new challenges and uncertainty, we are still inspiring student curiosity, encouraging student growth, engaging student minds, and enhancing student learning. Right now, many of us are turning to the arts for comfort, solace, laughter, and entertainment. These same valuable parts of our culture can be used to inspire those in our charge; through the chaos, and beyond. 


If you’d like some free graphic organizers and an entire library of free movie scripts, feel free to log into your Bored Teachers account and shoot me a message – I’d be happy to get them to you! Happy Teaching!! You’re an inspiration!

Also Read:

Using Movies and Music to Inspire and Teach Through the Chaos

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Ebony A Mills


Hey! I am a tacher of ELA, Drama and History with a passion for getting kids to push their own limits through the realms of performance and public speaking. I'm always working on ways to help teachers incorporate the arts into any and every subject with reusable lesson ideas through my fledgling company,  Geniused Education. Native of sunny California; graduate of UCLA and Boston College; teacher of all things literary; performer of all things comedic; singer of all things jazzy (....secret lover of all things nerdy)

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