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    A Cross-Curricular Activity

    Today's students usually become acquainted with events from the past through movies that are works of historical fiction. This film-based learning will continue when they are adults. Some feature films give an accurate portrayal of history, but often they contain major factual errors. TWM contends that an important part of social studies and English Language Arts education is to give students the analytical tools to recognize historical fiction in film, to analyze it, and then to compare the movie version to what actually occurred. These are skills that will benefit students throughout their lives.

    The 2010 Common Core Standards support this view but only for grades 6 & 7. See Historical Fiction in the Common Core State Standards. Because historical fiction will be the primary way that most students learn about historical events as adults, TWM strongly suggests that historical fiction be part of the history/social studies curriculum through grade 12.

    In addition, most social studies teachers agree that well-researched and well-crafted feature films dealing with historical events are excellent ways to supplement curriculum and vary the classroom experience. An educational presentation of such a movie requires that showing the film be accompanied by a process of at least some literary analysis and a comparison with the historical record. Not only does this approach prepare students for a process that will be useful through their adult years, it has obvious cross-curricular benefits.

    TWM Users can download the Film Study Worksheet for a Work of Historical Fiction. This movie worksheet demonstrates that works of historical fiction are stories, with protagonists, antagonists, conflicts, resolution, characters with various personality traits, and other literary elements and devices. It then directs students to compare the film to the historical record and to evaluate the movie as a source of historical information.

    There are various definitions of the term, "historical fiction" or "historical novel". The most general is a novel or other story "set among actual events or a specific period of history." Other definitions require the story to deal with a specific historical person or event that occurred before the author's lifetime. The requirement that a story relate to events before the lifetime of the author is meaningless for teaching purposes. Thus, for TWM any movie dealing with an historical figure, historical event or time period in the past constitutes historical fiction.

    SELECTING THE FILM: TWM recommends selecting movies for both artistic merit and relative historical accuracy. Teachers should be seen as role models who insist upon quality in the media they present. For some students, watching films in class or as homework will be their first exposure to movies of excellence. TWM provides historical fiction film lists for American History and World History.


    USING THE WORKSHEET IN CLASS: It is sometimes best to give the class an introduction to the actual events portrayed in the film through a lecture, reading assignments, class exercises, research project, or some other type of instruction. Information with which to evaluate the accuracy of the movie can also be provided after the film has been shown. Most TWM Learning Guides for works of historical fiction contain an analysis of the accuracy of the film. Questions 7 — 10 on the Worksheet are directed to this issue. Students who are shown a movie in class can be assigned to research the historical accuracy of the movie as homework.

    TWM Users can obtain a form of the Worksheet in word processing format that can be printed and distributed to students. Before printing, review the Worksheet and make any changes appropriate for the abilities of the class, the idiosyncrasies of the movie, and the goals for the unit. The Worksheet can also be easily adapted for written works of historical fiction or for use in English Language Arts classes studying the genre of historical fiction. For works of historical fiction that follow the paradigm of the hero's journey, see TWM's Hero's Journey Worksheet — Explaining the Monomyth; modify that Worksheet as appropriate and add questions 7 - 10 from the Film Study Worksheet for Historical Fiction.

    If necessary, remind students that the antagonist in a story is not only a person. It can also be nature, an institution, a condition of society, a personality trait of the protagonist, or a problem in the relationship between the protagonist and another person. The antagonist is whoever or whatever the protagonist must overcome in the conflict described in the story. Their description of each should include their role in the story and some of their important character traits.

    When showing a film in class, TWM suggests that students review all of the questions in the movie worksheet before they watch the film. Several three to five minute breaks during the movie will allow students to review the questions again and make notes without missing any of the action. Provide a longer period of five to ten minutes after the movie has been completed for student to finalize their notes and then sufficient time to write full answers to the questions. Teachers may want to assign this last step as homework.

    There are many different ways that the Worksheet can be employed in class. For example, instead of having each student provide a written response to the Worksheet, the questions can serve as the basis for a class discussion. Students can also be separated into groups of four or fewer, with each group being asked to give an oral presentation in response to a question on the Worksheet. For middle school or junior high school classes, the Worksheet can be simplified by eliminating some of the questions or by only requiring a single device of fiction to be discussed (Question #4) and only one striking image to be described (Question #6). In addition, when there are no reasonable ways for students to research the accuracy of the movie, delete question #7 or substitute another question for it. In these instances, the accuracy of the movie should be described in a lecture.
    An example of a worksheet adapted for the film Music Within with suggested responses is available at the Music Within Film Study Worksheet with Suggested Responses. This film is about the life of Richard Pimentel who has advocated for the rights of the disabled and was one of the people responsible for the passage in 1990 of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The acceptance of the disabled as full-fledged human beings and the removal of barriers to their participation in the general society was one of the five great advances in human rights in the United States that began during the 20th century (see the Learning Guide to Music Within). TWM suggests using the film to teach students about one of those advances. In the case of this movie, there is not a lot of research material available that students can access in order to verify the accuracy of the film. Therefore, question #7 from the Worksheet has been changed to ask a specific question about the movie. Information provided in the Learning Guide about the accuracy of the film will need to be given to students in the form of a lecture.
    HISTORICAL FICTION IN FILM CROSS-CURRICULAR HOMEWORK PROJECT: Having students watch movies outside of class conserves instructional time. Because viewing works of historical fiction will usually be the main way that students experience history in their adult lives, TWM suggests that each semester, students in high school social studies or ELA courses be given a homework assignment to watch two — four filmed works of historical fiction. This can also be done in higher functioning middle school or junior high classes. Students should be required to analyze the film by responding to the questions presented in this Worksheet. This can be done alone or in groups. See TWM's Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project.

    HISTORICAL FICTION IN THE COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS: Published in 2010, the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects include historical fiction as a genre of literature covered by the Standards. p. 57. In addition, historical fiction is specifically mentioned in the Reading Literature standards for CCR 9 for grades 6 & 7 on page 37 and in the writing standards under CCR 9, page 44. The fact that historical fiction is fiction means that all of the Standards that relate to fiction as a whole relate to historical fiction as well.

    TWM has developed generic movie worksheets designed to cover most types of fictional presentations. These worksheets stress the literary elements and devices of the story and engage higher level thinking skills. There are worksheets for:

    These movie worksheets are designed to be modified for the abilities of the class, the curriculum goals of the teacher, the idiosyncrasies of the film, and specific literary, dramatic, or cinematic elements that the class has studied that may be evident from the movie.

    Revised January 9, 2014. Written by James Frieden, TWM, and inspired by a project contributed by Suzanne Paulazzo, Social Studies Teacher, Leland High School, San Jose, Ca.

    For a film study worksheet for ELA classes, click here.

    For TWM's film study worksheet for Cinematic and Theatrical Elements and Their Effects click here.

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