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Using Films in Primary School

Using Films in Primary School

Main Subject: CPD


Author: Lloyd Burgess

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Ever put a film on in class to catch up on marking or pass the time on the last day of term? Cinema should be a creative and exciting tool that will have you directing the action in your classroom, says Lloyd Burgess...

We are all storytellers. From its beginning, the human race has made sense of the world by applying a narrative to everything, from huge natural wonders, to news reports, to recounting the story of our day to a friend.

But there are things that make for a good story, and things that don’t. Dreams, for instance, make for typically bad stories because they often have no logic or cause-and-effect, while novels, epic poems and films are structured specifically to say something – hopefully something resonant and meaningful. It’s why we care if Frodo gets the One Ring to Mount Doom, or if Dorothy can get home from Oz. No one is interested in that dream you had where Jean from accounts showed up riding a llama.

In the classroom, the strength of these narratives can be used to drive learning, and unpicking what takes place on screen can help pupils appreciate what’s at the heart of good storytelling – in any format. There are powerful themes to explore, too, as children’s films often deal with issues at the core of human experience – love, loss, and the full spectrum of morality.

If you’re interested in experimenting with film in your classroom, Adwoa Oforiwa, CPD and resources manager for education charity Into Film, has come up with activities for three popular titles to help you on your way. Asking pupils to review the films will boost their literacy and critical skills, and you can download tips from Into Film at Watch and learn.

The Lego Movie (2014, U, 100 minutes)

The Lego Movie was one of the smartest children’s films of all time. Not only is it funny, entertaining and gorgeous to look at, but it’s thematically rich with a bold ending. It’s also an incredible deconstruction of the hero’s journey (find out more at We’re introduced to all the usual tropes, only to have the rug pulled out from under our feet – there is no prophecy and Emmet (our ‘hero’) is not the ‘chosen one’. Instead we are shown what everday people can achieve when they believe in themselves.

Adwoa’s activities

Use ‘Think, Pair, Share’ to ask pupils who their top five favourite fictional heroes and villains are, giving reasons for their choices. Give pupils time to think about it individually, discuss their ideas with a partner and then feedback to the class.

After the film

1. Use the following labels to begin a discussion about Emmet, Wyldstyle, Vitruvious and Lord Business: age; hair and clothing; face and body features; special talents and abilities; frequently used words and phrases. Ask the pupils which character they like the best and why?
2. Using the labels in the previous activity, ask the pupils to draw, label and write a short paragraph about an exciting new Master Builder character for The Lego Movie.
3. Use drama and role-play to explore the personalities of these new characters. Hot seat a few of them by asking the pupils to adopt their newly made character and getting other pupils to quiz them.

The Wizard of Oz (1939, U, 101 minutes)

Use this timeless adaptation of the book by Frank L Baum to support English and literacy. Engage reluctant readers by encouraging discussion about characters and themes, and comparisons with the original text.

Adwoa’s activities

Ask pupils to think of a time when they did not feel confident? What did they do to overcome this?

After the film:

1. Watch from the beginning to 18mins 40secs, then read the first chapter of the book, The Cyclone, in class. How similar is it to the film? Ask pupils to list the differences and similarities, and say why they think these changes were made?
2. Baum wanted to create a “modernised American fairytale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heartaches and nightmares are left out.” Is this true of the film? Ask students which parts of the film they find joy in and which parts are scary, and whether Baum’s idea was realistic or if it will keep children too sheltered.
3. Ask pupils to create a storyboard for either The Tin Man’s, The Scarecrow’s or The Lion’s stories of their lives before they met Dorothy.

Frozen (2013, PG, 108 minutes)

Much like The Lego Movie, this film does a great job of undoing years of outdated story tropes such as the ‘damsel in distress’. In the past, princesses have been rescued by handsome princes or woken from evil spells with ‘true love’s kiss’, but here Anna is the hero, and the ‘true love’ on show is between her and her sister Elsa. It is this sisterly bond that melts the snow over Arendelle and helps Elsa overcome her self-imposed isolation. Pay attention to doors in this film, they’re used throughout as a metaphor for shutting people out and letting them in.

Adwoa’s activities

List the types of characters you expect to find in a fairytale.

After the film

1. Ask pupils if they liked the ending of the film. Did they expect it to have a different ending?
2. Which characters would they describe as good, and which as evil, giving reasons for their answers?
3. Let the children think up their own version of Frozen and create a storyboard of what will happen. Create a shadow puppet theatre and encourage them to perform their fairytales; use the activity sheets in the Into Film Fairy Tales resource to help you:

To download hundreds of film-based, curriculum-linked and enrichment resources, register for free access to over 4,000 films or find out about Into Film’s free Film Literacy CPD visit

Mike Leigh – Director’s chair

World famous filmmaker of movies such as Secrets & Lies, Vera Drake and Happy-Go-Lucky, Mike Leigh, discusses films in school…

What sort of involvement with films did you have in school?
It would have been great to have had a film club at school. We looked at films, we went to the pictures, we talked about them occasionally in the classroom, but it would have been great to have this kind of experience.

What can children get from watching films in school?
It’s very good for them to understand what movies are, and to think beyond the predictable diet of watching Hollywood movies and then not thinking about them afterwards. It’s a great way to open up their awareness – not only of what films are, but how they might look at them; to have the experience of making films and really understanding all aspects of film culture.

Why should film be part of the curriculum?
Maths is valid, English is valid, science is valid, languages are valid, art is important and film is part of all of those things. By understanding film, kids are going to learn as much as they are by understanding any other discipline or medium or any other subject. The main thing is that film is a major part of everybody’s life, and so to learn about it in school seems absolutely logical.

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