Welcome to my series on teaching literature in the second-language classroom: using film to teach literature, part 1.


In today’s episode, I will review the why and what of teaching literature.

Then, I will look at how to teach literature using film. I’ll give an overview of three activities using a film based on a novel.

Next, I’ll describe the first activity in this three-part series: literary analysis – a group activity divided into 4 steps.

An excellent tool for teaching literary analysis in the blended classroom is my online course, Introduction to Academic Writing, the AWC.

In the first episode of the series, I pointed out the seven benefits of teaching literature.

  • Authentic
  • Culturally enriching
  • Language focused
  • Engaging
  • “Real” world centered
  • Universal
  • Motivating

In the second episode, part 1, I talked about the four genres I teach. In part 2, I looked at the different writers I use.

  • Short story, poems, novels, plays
  • American, British, Irish, Canadian writers

The focus today is on how to use a film based on a novel for literary and visual analysis. I’ll use the film and novel Forrest Gump as a case study for this first activity.

Screen Shot 2017-08-02 at 4.13.20 PM.pngUseful online resources I will refer to are:

In this first activity, students working in an expert group analyze the literary and visual elements of a film based on a novel.

For example, in a group of 25 students, they will form five expert groups – each having five students–with each group watching a different film. So, five groups, five different films. Each expert group will have a team captain who will take charge of organization.

Students prepare a 4-5 minute literary/visual analysis. They create a video to share with other members of the expert group. I will talk about the other two activities in future videos.

  • Activity 2: students share their analysis in their expert group, then in a mixed group.
  • Activity 3: students write a literary analysis of the film.

Step 1

Students prepare the activity in the AWC. They begin by studying the meaning of a thesis statement. They then look at the definition of character, plot and point of view.

For example, we look at how plot or dramatic structure works using the classic pattern beginning with exposition and finishing with a denouement or resolution to the story. In the AWC, students have questions about the plot of story that they can try to answer.

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Other literary elements students can analyze are setting, style, and theme as well visual aspects. In their expert group, students choose one or two different elements to analyze under the direction of the team captain.

Since we are working with film, students can also analyze its visual elements. These include features like structure, theme, camera movement, and music.

Can you think of any other visual elements to analyze?

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Step 2

Students read the first 30 pages or so of the book in Google books to add to their appreciation of the story.

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Students focus on the literary element or elements they chose to analyze, such as character or setting. They take notes, writing quotes from the book for example, to support their analysis.

Step 3

Students also read two external film reviews from the IMDB, the Internet Movie Database. These reviews may give students additional support for their literary analysis.

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Under the direction of the team captain, each student in the expert group chooses and reads two different film reviews. Students should pay attention to the outstanding literary and visual qualities of the film that the reviewer may mention.

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The team captain of the expert group should make sure that team members are reading two different external film reviews. The team captain may decide to read the first two reviews on the list, for example.

Step 4

In the last step, students create a PowerPoint presentation explaining their literary or visual analysis beginning with a thesis statement.

They use the free tool, Screen-cast-O-Matic, to record their 4-5 minute analysis. This tool allows students to record their computer screen with the PowerPoint presentation. Students also have the option of recording themselves if they have a WebCam.

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I use, in fact, this tool to create these video clips.

Finally, students share their video in their expert group in preparation for the next activity.

See you for the next post explaining activity two, a group activity using expert and mixed groups.

See the video version of this post.