Multimedia Moment: Analyzing Film in the Classroom

This post was written by Tom Bober, the Library of Congress 2015-16 Audio-Visual Teacher in Residence. Over the course of his year at Teacher in Residence, Tom will be writing regular posts exploring different aspects of audio-visual materials in the Library’s collection and their use in the classroom.

Viewing a film in class is a commitment of time and technology. Teachers want students to be active viewers, but most are more familiar with passively viewing film and video. How can teachers present film in a way that makes students more likely to analyze its content?

When previewing a film, consider the purpose behind viewing the film within the broader context of a unit or lesson, then determine whether students will view the entire film, or part of the film. Think of the film as consisting of moments — distinct events within the film. What moments do you want your students to look at more closely? In the 1903 film Princeton and Yale Football Game, there are three distinct moments or sequences: the players entering the field (0:15), a pan of the field and stadium (0:30), and highlights of the game (2:13).

Princeton and Yale football game / Thomas Edison, 1903

Princeton and Yale football game / Thomas Edison, 1903 (2:47)

If students are viewing the film to understand football equipment of the time and styles of play to connect to a larger unit on sports injuries, the final sequence, starting at 2:13, provides a starting point for student analysis. The sequence on the field is made up of several shots, units of unbroken film. In each shot, students can see the movement of the players within the play of the game. Sharing bibliographic data can give students context to answer where and when so that they can focus on other facets of the film.

Teachers can use or modify questions from the Teacher’s Guide for Analyzing Motion Pictures to guide student observations.

  • What details about the movement of the players do you notice?
  • Does anything about it seem unusual or unexpected?

Other questions can help connect their reflections to their own background knowledge: If someone created this film today, what would be different? Being able to view the film after the questions are asked can allow students to interact with the primary source while observing and reflecting.

Also consider technology needs. Watching the film in small groups or individually on computers or tablets allows students to analyze the film at their own pace and watch the film multiple times. Many may also want to rewatch a small part of the film several times, freeze the film on one frame, or “scrub” the film, moving the film back and forth using the control panel at the bottom of the player. If viewing a film as a whole class, show the film multiple times as students fill out the Primary Source Analysis Tool and rewatch shots of the film as time allows.

Annotated Screenshot: Princeton and Yale football game / (2:47)

Annotated Sketch: Princeton and Yale football game / (2:47)

Describing movement, transitions, and interactions in film, especially when interpreting those through reflection, can be challenging for students. During analysis, students may want to reference the time marker in minutes and seconds to talk about a specific frame or beginning of a sequence or shot.

Quick sketches or screenshots combined with text may be a more natural way to document what they see at points within the film. When sharing with the class, reenacting movement from the film may help a student show motion and interaction. Much like students may write on a printed primary source, video editing software allows students to add text or voice-over narration over a film to document their observations, reflections, and questions.

What films in the Library of Congress online collections could provide a rich analysis opportunity for your students?


Reminding Students that Events in History Do Not Happen in Isolation through a Letter Written by Thomas Jefferson in 1815

In the October 2015 issue of Social Education, the journal of the National Council for the Social Studies, our “Sources and Strategies” article featured a letter written by Thomas Jefferson a little more than 200 years ago. We suggested that Jefferson’s single page letter to his friend Samuel Harrison Smith, founder of the National Intelligencer, might serve to remind students that events in history often overlap one another.

Images of Native Americans: Exploring Changing Visual Representations

One benefit of my job at the Library of Congress is that I get to learn some history and read critical analysis while also locating resources and finding ways to support teachers in the classroom. One topic that I continue to learn more about is the history of the ways in which the lives of Native Americans in the United States have been documented.

Primary Sources in Science Classrooms: Paint, Poisoning, Proportions, and Public Health and Policy

Throughout history, humans have sought out substances to color, coat, and cover dwellings, objects, and bodies. Modern inorganic pigments and dyes joined natural and organic substances used by the ancients. The properties of one substance, lead white, once made it the pigment of choice in white paint. However, the toxicity of lead contributed to a public health crisis.

Primary Sources in Science Classrooms: Mapping the Ocean Floor, Marie Tharp, and Making Arguments from Evidence (Part 2)

Textbooks and teachers often tell students about German scientist Alfred Wegener who went public in 1912 with his theory of continental drift. The scientific community did not widely accept Wegener’s ideas during his lifetime and often derided colleagues who entertained the theory. Wegener passed away in 1930. Even as Marie Tharp was creating maps in the 1950s, scientists were actively constructing ideas and compiling evidence related to seafloor spreading and magnetic striping.

Primary Sources in Science Classrooms: Mapping the Ocean Floor, Marie Tharp, and Making Arguments from Evidence (Part 1)

What might a map from 1977, a poster from 1944, and a newspaper article from 1915 have in common with three twentieth century wars and the theory of plate tectonics? These three digitized artifacts in the Library of Congress’s collection have quite a bit in common when it comes to the emergence of evidence supporting a key theory in Earth science.