The Writing Center • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Film Analysis

What this handout is about.

This handout introduces film analysis and and offers strategies and resources for approaching film analysis assignments.

Writing the film analysis essay

Writing a film analysis requires you to consider the composition of the film—the individual parts and choices made that come together to create the finished piece. Film analysis goes beyond the analysis of the film as literature to include camera angles, lighting, set design, sound elements, costume choices, editing, etc. in making an argument. The first step to analyzing the film is to watch it with a plan.

Watching the film

First it’s important to watch the film carefully with a critical eye. Consider why you’ve been assigned to watch a film and write an analysis. How does this activity fit into the course? Why have you been assigned this particular film? What are you looking for in connection to the course content? Let’s practice with this clip from Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958). Here are some tips on how to watch the clip critically, just as you would an entire film:

For more information on watching a film, check out the Learning Center’s handout on watching film analytically . For more resources on researching film, including glossaries of film terms, see UNC Library’s research guide on film & cinema .

Brainstorming ideas

Once you’ve watched the film twice, it’s time to brainstorm some ideas based on your notes. Brainstorming is a major step that helps develop and explore ideas. As you brainstorm, you may want to cluster your ideas around central topics or themes that emerge as you review your notes. Did you ask several questions about color? Were you curious about repeated images? Perhaps these are directions you can pursue.

If you’re writing an argumentative essay, you can use the connections that you develop while brainstorming to draft a thesis statement . Consider the assignment and prompt when formulating a thesis, as well as what kind of evidence you will present to support your claims. Your evidence could be dialogue, sound edits, cinematography decisions, etc. Much of how you make these decisions will depend on the type of film analysis you are conducting, an important decision covered in the next section.

After brainstorming, you can draft an outline of your film analysis using the same strategies that you would for other writing assignments. Here are a few more tips to keep in mind as you prepare for this stage of the assignment:

Also be sure to avoid confusing the terms shot, scene, and sequence. Remember, a shot ends every time the camera cuts; a scene can be composed of several related shots; and a sequence is a set of related scenes.

Different types of film analysis

As you consider your notes, outline, and general thesis about a film, the majority of your assignment will depend on what type of film analysis you are conducting. This section explores some of the different types of film analyses you may have been assigned to write.

Semiotic analysis

Semiotic analysis is the interpretation of signs and symbols, typically involving metaphors and analogies to both inanimate objects and characters within a film. Because symbols have several meanings, writers often need to determine what a particular symbol means in the film and in a broader cultural or historical context.

For instance, a writer could explore the symbolism of the flowers in Vertigo by connecting the images of them falling apart to the vulnerability of the heroine.

Here are a few other questions to consider for this type of analysis:

Many films are rich with symbolism, and it can be easy to get lost in the details. Remember to bring a semiotic analysis back around to answering the question “So what?” in your thesis.

Narrative analysis

Narrative analysis is an examination of the story elements, including narrative structure, character, and plot. This type of analysis considers the entirety of the film and the story it seeks to tell.

For example, you could take the same object from the previous example—the flowers—which meant one thing in a semiotic analysis, and ask instead about their narrative role. That is, you might analyze how Hitchcock introduces the flowers at the beginning of the film in order to return to them later to draw out the completion of the heroine’s character arc.

To create this type of analysis, you could consider questions like:

When writing a narrative analysis, take care not to spend too time on summarizing at the expense of your argument. See our handout on summarizing for more tips on making summary serve analysis.

Cultural/historical analysis

One of the most common types of analysis is the examination of a film’s relationship to its broader cultural, historical, or theoretical contexts. Whether films intentionally comment on their context or not, they are always a product of the culture or period in which they were created. By placing the film in a particular context, this type of analysis asks how the film models, challenges, or subverts different types of relations, whether historical, social, or even theoretical.

For example, the clip from Vertigo depicts a man observing a woman without her knowing it. You could examine how this aspect of the film addresses a midcentury social concern about observation, such as the sexual policing of women, or a political one, such as Cold War-era McCarthyism.

A few of the many questions you could ask in this vein include:

Take advantage of class resources to explore possible approaches to cultural/historical film analyses, and find out whether you will be expected to do additional research into the film’s context.

Mise-en-scène analysis

A mise-en-scène analysis attends to how the filmmakers have arranged compositional elements in a film and specifically within a scene or even a single shot. This type of analysis organizes the individual elements of a scene to explore how they come together to produce meaning. You may focus on anything that adds meaning to the formal effect produced by a given scene, including: blocking, lighting, design, color, costume, as well as how these attributes work in conjunction with decisions related to sound, cinematography, and editing. For example, in the clip from Vertigo , a mise-en-scène analysis might ask how numerous elements, from lighting to camera angles, work together to present the viewer with the perspective of Jimmy Stewart’s character.

To conduct this type of analysis, you could ask:

This detailed approach to analyzing the formal elements of film can help you come up with concrete evidence for more general film analysis assignments.

Reviewing your draft

Once you have a draft, it’s helpful to get feedback on what you’ve written to see if your analysis holds together and you’ve conveyed your point. You may not necessarily need to find someone who has seen the film! Ask a writing coach, roommate, or family member to read over your draft and share key takeaways from what you have written so far.

Works consulted

We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.

Aumont, Jacques, and Michel Marie. 1988. L’analyse Des Films . Paris: Nathan.

Media & Design Center. n.d. “Film and Cinema Research.” UNC University Libraries. Last updated February 10, 2021. .

Oxford Royale Academy. n.d. “7 Ways to Watch Film.” Oxford Royale Academy. Accessed April 2021. .

University of Pennsylvania. “How to ‘Read’ a Film.” English Department. .

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44 Film Analysis

Film analysis, what this handout is about.

This handout provides a brief definition of film analysis compared to literary analysis, provides an introduction to common types of film analysis, and offers strategies and resources for approaching assignments.

What is film analysis, and how does it differ from literary analysis?

Film analysis is the process in which film is analyzed in terms of semiotics, narrative structure, cultural context, and mise-en-scene, among other approaches. If these terms are new to you, don’t worry—they’ll be explained in the next section.

Analyzing film, like  analyzing literature (fiction texts, etc.) , is a form of rhetorical analysis—critically analyzing and evaluating discourse, including words, phrases, and images. Having a clear argument and supporting evidence is every bit as critical to film analysis as to other forms of academic writing.

Unlike literature, film incorporates audiovisual elements and therefore introduces a new dimension to analysis. Ultimately, however, analysis of film is not too different. Think of all the things that make up a scene in a film: the actors, the lighting, the angles, the colors. All of these things may be absent in literature, but they are deliberate choices on the part of the director, producer, or screenwriter—as are the words chosen by the author of a work of literature. Furthermore, literature and film incorporate similar elements. They both have plots, characters, dialogue, settings, symbolism, and, just as the elements of literature can be analyzed for their intent and effect, these elements can be analyzed the same way in film.

Different types of film analysis

Listed here are common approaches to film analysis, but this is by no means an exhaustive list, and you may have discussed other approaches in class. As with any other assignment, make sure you understand your professor’s expectations. This guide is best used to understand prompts or, in the case of more open-ended assignments, consider the different ways to analyze film.

Keep in mind that any of the elements of film can be analyzed, oftentimes in tandem. A single film analysis essay may simultaneously include all of the following approaches and more. As Jacques Aumont and Michel Marie propose in Analysis of Film, there is no correct, universal way to write film analysis.

Semiotic analysis

Semiotic analysis is the analysis of meaning behind signs and symbols, typically involving metaphors, analogies, and symbolism.

This doesn’t necessarily need to be something dramatic; think about how you extrapolate information from the smallest signs in your day to day life. For instance, what characteristics can tell you about someone’s personality? Something as simple as someone’s appearance can reveal information about them. Mismatched shoes and bedhead might be a sign of carelessness (or something crazy happened that morning!), while an immaculate dress shirt and tie would suggest that the person is prim and proper. Continuing in that vein:

Symbols denote concepts (liberty, peace, etc.) and feelings (hate, love, etc.) that they often have nothing to do with. They are used liberally in both literature and film, and finding them uses a similar process. Ask yourself:

Again, the method of semiotic analysis in film is similar to that of literature. Think about the deeper meaning behind objects or actions.

Narrative structure analysis

Narrative structure analysis is the analysis of the story elements, including plot structure, character motivations, and theme. Like the dramatic structure of literature (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution), film has what is known as the Three-Act Structure: “Act One: Setup, Act Two: Confrontation, and Act Three: Resolution.” Narrative structure analysis breaks the story of the film into these three elements and might consider questions like:

Consider again the example of Frozen. You can use symbolism and narrative structure in conjunction by placing the symbolic objects/events in the context of the narrative structure. For instance, the first appearance of the gloves is in Act One, while their abandoning takes place in Act Two; thus, the story progresses in such a way that demonstrates Elsa’s personal growth. By the time of Act Three, the Resolution, her aversion to touch (a product of fearing her own magic) is gone, reflecting a theme of self-acceptance.

Contextual analysis

Contextual analysis is analysis of the film as part of a broader context. Think about the culture, time, and place of the film’s creation. What might the film say about the culture that created it? What were/are the social and political concerns of the time period? Or, like researching the author of a novel, you might consider the director, producer, and other people vital to the making of the film. What is the place of this film in the director’s career? Does it align with his usual style of directing, or does it move in a new direction? Other examples of contextual approaches might be analyzing the film in terms of a civil rights or feminist movement.

For example, Frozen is often linked to the LGBTQ social movement. You might agree or disagree with this interpretation, and, using evidence from the film, support your argument.

Some other questions to consider:

Mise-en-scene analysis

Mise-en-scene analysis is analysis of the arrangement of compositional elements in film—essentially, the analysis of audiovisual elements that most distinctly separate film analysis from literary analysis. Remember that the important part of a mise-en-scene analysis is not just identifying the elements of a scene, but explaining the significance behind them.

Audiovisual elements that can be analyzed include (but are not limited to): props and costumes, setting, lighting, camera angles, frames, special effects, choreography, music, color values, depth, placement of characters, etc. Mise-en-scene is typically the most foreign part of writing film analysis because the other components discussed are common to literary analysis, while mise-en-scene deals with elements unique to film. Using specific film terminology bolsters credibility, but you should also consider your audience. If your essay is meant to be accessible to non-specialist readers, explain what terms mean. The Resources section of this handout has links to sites that describe mise-en-scene elements in detail.

Rewatching the film and creating screen captures (still images) of certain scenes can help with detailed analysis of colors, positioning of actors, placement of objects, etc. Listening to the soundtrack can also be helpful, especially when placed in the context of particular scenes.

Some example questions:

Writing the film analysis essay

Writing film analysis is similar to writing literary analysis or any argumentative essay in other disciplines: Consider the assignment and prompts, formulate a thesis (see the  Brainstorming Handout  and  Thesis Statement Handout  for help crafting a nuanced argument), compile evidence to prove your thesis, and lay out your argument in the essay. Your evidence may be different from what you are used to. Whereas in the English essay you use textual evidence and quotes, in a film analysis essay, you might also include audiovisual elements to bolster your argument.

When describing a sequence in a film, use the present tense, like you would write in the literary present when describing events of a novel, i.e. not “Elsa took off her gloves,” but “Elsa takes off her gloves.” When quoting dialogue from a film, if between multiple characters, use block quotes: Start the quotation on a new line, with the entire quote indented one inch from the left margin. However, conventions are flexible, so ask your professor if you are unsure. It may also help to follow the formatting of the script, if you can find it. For example:

ELSA: But she won’t remember I have powers? KING: It’s for the best.

You do not need to use quotation marks for blocked-off dialogue, but for shorter quotations in the main text, quotation marks should be double quotes (“…”).

Here are some tips for approaching film analysis:

New York Film Academy Glossary Movie Outline Glossary Movie Script Database Citation Practices: Film and Television

Works Consulted

We consulted these works while writing the original version of this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find the latest publications on this topic. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the  UNC Libraries citation tutorial .

Aumont, Jacques, and Michel Marie. L’analyse Des Films. Paris: Nathan, 1988. Print. Pruter, Robin Franson. “Writing About Film.” Writing About Film. DePaul University, 08 Mar. 2004. Web. 01 May 2016.

Film Analysis by Liza Long; Amy Minervini; and Joel Gladd is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Teach with Movies

Hero’s Journey Worksheet Explaining the Monomyth

NOTE TO TEACHERS: Click here to download TWM’s Hero’s Journey Worksheet for movies that are works of fiction . Adapt this movie worksheet for the needs and abilities of the class.

This worksheet will help students trace the stages and identify the archetypes of the Hero’s Journey/Monomyth. It is based on the ideas of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, as developed and applied to film by Chris Vogler. The stages and archetypes of the Hero’s Journey set out below have been adapted from Vogler’s book The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition .

There are several formulations of the stages of the Hero’s Journey. One way to approach teaching the Hero’s Journey is to have students find at least two of the methods on the Internet, one suggested by Campbell and the other by Vogler. Alow students to choose and apply the system of analysis that they prefer. This can be done in groups or individually. TWM has used Vogler’s stages and his description of the archetypes, however, the section on the stages can be easily adapted to Campbell’s configuration.

This worksheet is designed to be used in conjunction with TWM’s Stages and Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey — Introducing the Monomyth. TWM lesson plans on the story of the quest are listed at Literature Subject Index. Each contains notes on responses to the questions set out below and assignments relating to the use of the Journey/Monomyth in the form it takes in the movie. Teachers will observe that TWM focuses on finding the story of the quest in films other than action/adventures to demonstrate that the Monomyth can be found in many different types of stories.

Many of the suggested questions have no single correct answer. For these, an acceptable response will be one which is supported by facts and reveals that the student is thinking about the story.

Modify the worksheet as necessary for the grade and ability level of the class. A form of the worksheet in Microsoft Word suitable to be modified and distributed to students can be found at Word Processing Version of the Worksheet . Depending on the sophistication of the class and its prior exposure to the Hero’s Journey, teachers may want to distribute the worksheet and review it with the class before showing the film. This will allow students to refer to prompts or make notes while watching. Teachers may want to conduct a short class discussion relating to how the Journey applies to the movie before the class watches the film, leaving a full explication for discussion after the movie has been shown. After the movie and the full discussion, allow students, individually or in groups, to respond to the questions in the worksheet. Alternatively, at the end of a unit on the Hero’s Journey, students can be asked to fill out the worksheet before any discussion and the responses can be used as a summative assessment to evaluate students’ understanding of the Hero’s Journey and its archetypes.


Answer the questions below on a separate sheet of paper. Each answer should consist of one properly constructed paragraph that is free standing and which explains the reasons for the answer. Each response should cite evidence from the story to support its conclusion. For example, a paragraph on the stage of the Ordinary World for the movie “The Wizard of Oz” might be: “In the ‘Wizard of Oz’ the Ordinary World is a farm in Kansas inhabited by a young and untested Dorothy Gale who dreams of an exciting colorful life in the world beyond the gray drudgery of the life she sees around her. Despite the fact that Dorothy loves her guardians, Auntie Em and Uncle Henry, the farm is a world that is unsuitable for Dorothy because it does not match Dorothy’s dreams. The Ordinary World becomes unbearable when Miss Gulch takes Toto, Dorothy’s beloved dog. This is the world to which a changed and self-assured Dorothy returns with the elixir of self-confidence.”

I. Write a short single-paragraph description of the Hero’s Journey described in this story. As you think about the story by responding to the other questions on this worksheet, you should feel free to revise your description of the journey.

II. For each stage of the Hero’s Journey describe the action of the film, if any, which manifests the stage. Specify the attributes of the stage to which these actions relate.

For any skipped stages, simply state that the stage is not contained in the quest shown in the film. Some stories of the Hero’s Journey appear to combine some of the stages. When that happens write one paragraph and indicate the stages to which it applies. The stages of the Hero’s Journey are briefly described below:

SECTION ONE — Introduction to Setting, Characters & Conflict

1. The Ordinary World;

2. The Call to Adventure;

3. Refusing the Call;

4. Meeting with the Mentor: and

5. Crossing the First Threshold.

SECTION TWO — Action, Climax, Triumph

6. Tests, Allies, and Enemies;

7. Approach to the Inmost Cave;

8. Ordeal; and

SECTION THREE — Resolution and Denouement

10. The Road Back;

11. Resurrection; and

12. Return with the Elixir.

III. Identify the archetypes of the Hero’s Journey that appear in the movie and, for each, describe the function it performs in telling the film’s story.

The following are the archetypes associated with the story of a quest.

1. The Hero;

2. The Mentor;

3. Threshold Guardians;

4. The Herald;

5. Shapeshifter;

6. The Shadow; and

7. The Trickster.

IV. Describe any other archetypes that appear in the story and the functions they perform.

1. The father;

2. The mother;

3. The Child; and

4. The Maiden.

How to Analyze a Movie

Last Updated: September 15, 2021 References Approved

This article was co-authored by Lucy V. Hay . Lucy V. Hay is a Professional Writer based in London, England. With over 20 years of industry experience, Lucy is an author, script editor, and award-winning blogger who helps other writers through writing workshops, courses, and her blog Bang2Write. Lucy is the producer of two British thrillers, and Bang2Write has appeared in the Top 100 round-ups for Writer’s Digest & The Write Life and is a UK Blog Awards Finalist and Feedspot’s #1 Screenwriting blog in the UK. She received a B.A. in Scriptwriting for Film & Television from Bournemouth University. There are 19 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. In this case, 91% of readers who voted found the article helpful, earning it our reader-approved status. This article has been viewed 263,917 times.

Movies are a wonderful medium for both entertainment and art, and examining them closely only enhances their magic. If you're writing a review for a newspaper or a paper for class, you’ll have to break down the elements of a film and explain what they mean to you. By watching carefully, probing all the aspects, and focusing on the themes that resonate with you, you will produce a thoughtful and sophisticated analysis.

Watching the Movie

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Lucy V. Hay

Our Expert Agrees: After you've taken notes on the movie, leave it for a few days, then revisit them. Any strong emotions that you felt right after the movie have probably dissipated, and you might even feel the opposite from how you did right after the movie. Then, look over your notes and think about things like the craft of the film—things like how they brought different concepts, characters, and plots together, for instance. You can also look at the theme, the target audience, and whether the writing is good or bad—and why.

Breaking Down the Movie

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Putting the Analysis Together

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About This Article

Lucy V. Hay

To analyze a movie, start by introducing its background, along with any ideas you had about the film before you saw it. Then, briefly describe the movie’s major conflict, and summarize its plot. Next, talk about the themes you found interesting, and explain how the film supported those themes. You should also speak to what you didn’t like, or what wasn’t well done in the movie. Finally, give your overall assessment, backing up your opinion with the previous analysis, and providing any suggestions to others who might want to watch the film. For tips on how to analyze a movie’s cinematography, soundtrack, or acting, keep reading! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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  1. Film Analysis

    What this handout is about. This handout introduces film analysis and and offers strategies and resources for approaching film analysis assignments. Writing the film analysis essay. Writing a film analysis requires you to consider the composition of the film—the individual parts and choices made that come together to create the finished piece.

  2. Film Analysis

    Writing film analysis is similar to writing literary analysis or any argumentative essay in other disciplines: Consider the assignment and prompts, formulate a thesis (see the Brainstorming Handout and Thesis Statement Handout for help crafting a nuanced argument), compile evidence to prove your thesis, and lay out your argument in the essay.


    movie worksheets. adaptation of a novel. documentaries. hero's journey. science fiction. work of fiction. work of historical fiction. television worksheets. persuasive documentary. fiction (soaps, dramas, and reality/survival show) historical fiction. informational documentary. news and current events.

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    Movie Analysis Worksheets, Printable and Digital. Created by. Julie Faulkner. These 10, no-prep movie analysis and comprehension worksheets in printable and digital format are an excellent modern and engaging activity to have students take ownership of their learning and dig deeper and closely read a film as a text.

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    Motion Picture Analysis Worksheet B. What do you think you will see in this motion picture? List Three concepts or ideas that you might expect to see based on the title of the film. List some people you might expect to see based on the title of the film. Title of Film: Record Group Source: A. Type of motion picture (check where applicable): Step 1.

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    Film Analysis Worksheet Name: Date: Title of Film: Release Date: Type of Film (Drama, Comedy, Documentary): Thesis of the Film: Important moments or turning points in the film (use specific examples):: Context (use specific examples):: What does the film tell us about the historical period with which it deals? ...

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  10. Movie Activities Film Analysis Worksheet Teaching Resources

    Stop feeling guilty about movie days. When paired with creative movie guides, films make excellent teaching tools and help you take a stress-free sub day or get some much-needed grading time. With these editable Movie Guide Templates, you can hit play and bit on your way!You will get 25 editable Movie worksheets that include:⭐Angle Analysis - Helps students consider how camera angles add ...

  11. Hero's Journey Worksheet Explaining the Monomyth

    Adapt this movie worksheet for the needs and abilities of the class. This worksheet will help students trace the stages and identify the archetypes of the Hero's Journey/Monomyth. It is based on the ideas of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, as developed and applied to film by Chris Vogler. The stages and archetypes of the Hero's Journey set ...


    FEATURES OF THE FILM. 1.1. Complete the following informative table, in order to precise the main features of the film you have just seen. ... MOTION PICTURE ANALYSIS WORKSHEET Author: Christina Aiello Last modified by: Halla Marbani Created Date: 3/21/2014 3:58:00 AM Other titles:

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    Scaffold literary analysis with film analysis using these student handouts for the 2013 film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. These guides are NOT mere comprehension questions; instead, these guides contain analysis questions to prompt students to analyze characterizations, author's choices, purpose, plot devices, and more.I use these film analysis worksheets alongside the ...

  15. Movie Analysis Worksheets

    Movie Analysis. Displaying all worksheets related to - Movie Analysis. Worksheets are Motion picture analysis work, Film study work, Resource materials on the learning and teaching of film, Student activity, Useful phrases film analysis, Activity, Notes for teachers, Trailer analysis work fi m. *Click on Open button to open and print to worksheet.

  16. Film Analysis Questions

    Topic: Developmental. Questions for The Squid and the Whale. Discuss the parenting style used by each parent. Discuss the Identity Development Stage for the older son, Walt. Discuss the boundaries between each parent and each of the children. Discuss the self-differentiation of Walt, his father, and his mother.

  17. Movie Analysis worksheet

    ID: 1313195 Language: English School subject: English language Grade/level: Grade 6 Age: 10-13 Main content: Elements of the Story Other contents: Add to my workbooks (6) Download file pdf Embed in my website or blog Add to Google Classroom

  18. Analyzing A Film Teaching Resources

    These 10, no-prep movie analysis and comprehension worksheets in printable and digital format are an excellent modern and engaging activity to have students take ownership of their learning and dig deeper and closely read a film as a text. Make the most out of your movie-viewing experience with these standards-based options for analysis and ...

  19. Showing a Movie in Class? Help Your Students Develop Active Viewing

    Prep for teachers. Objective: Students will be able to build active viewing skills and write a movie review. First and foremost, preview any movie before you show it in class. It might sound obvious, but this is such an important step! You'll be able to see if the movie's appropriate, but also whether it's a good fit for your students' learning ...


    The following framework has been designed to help you analyze films. After you watch the movie segment, try to answer the following questions: Setting • Is the setting authentic or constructed? Support your answers. • When and where does the scene take place? • How does the director use color in the scene? Are there any colors that stand out?