How to Teach History with Classic Movies
Films Can Bring History to Life
Learning history form a textbook can be a dry, and uninspiring experience. You can use classic, historically accurate movies in your homeschool to spice up your history lessons and give your students deeper understanding of history. As they learn to identify with the characters in the movies they will have a new understanding that the people in history books were not just names on a page but real people, with real fears, triumphs and emotions.
Once you have chosen your movie, you will want to preview it and make notes about possible comprehension questions, reports, projects, and other enrichment activities. Allow your students to suggest films that they would like to see as well.
Some Films to Consider
There are thousands of films that are appropriate for the study of history. When choosing a movie keep in mind the age of the child, and the subject matter of the film. War movies are violent, as is war, but the classic films from the mid 1900s will be generally less violent and bloody than modern ones, and yet are still able to get the point across that war is violent.
- Ben Hur-ancient history
- Paint Your Wagon- California Gold Rush
- Fort Apache- Native American/American wars
- Broken Arrow- Watch this after Fort Apache and contrast the two films.
- Gettysburg-Civil War
- Tuskegee Airmen- WWII. The story of the first African American pilots, men who overcame great racial obstacles to fight during WWII. This is an awesome movie.
- The Alamo- The classic move with John Wayne. True story of the Battle of the Alamo.
- Gods and Generals-Civil War
- Grapes of Wrath- Dustbowl years
- Adventures of Marco Polo - the tale of the explorer, Marco Polo in the courts of Kublai Khan
- Down to the Sea in Ships-Whaling in the early 1800s
- The Lion in Winter-King Henry the second
After you have watched the films with your students spend some time discussing them. What were their thoughts and feelings? How did they perceive the main characters? Ask questions and take time to listen to the answers.
There are several enrichment activities that can be done after viewing a film. Choose two to three activities per film for best retention.
- Act out a part in the movie.
- Pretend to interview the main character.
- Write a synopsis of the movie
- Create a movie poster.
- If the movie is an adaption of a book read the book. Contrast the book and the movie.
- Make a map of the location of the film.
By doing these things, and others, the information from the film will become real and easily remembered by your student. They will develop an understanding of not just what occurred in history, but why it occurred. By identifying with the characters the lives history becomes living and real, and not dry facts in a dusty tome.
Using films in conjunction with other methods of teaching history is an excellent way to give your students a love of the subject and an interest in it.