Teaching history from a textbook can become boring for both the student and the teacher at times. When learning about the past is reduced to memorizing meaningless names and dates, it becomes drudgery for everyone.
But sometimes that’s all that the curriculum provides. And teachers are left with the overwhelming task of getting a classroom of bored students engaged in unmotivating topics.
One way to spark interest is to use entertainment in the forms of historical fiction books or movies. And some video documentaries are high quality enough to also fit in this category. When you add the human element of emotion, fear, risk, and intrigue, you transport the student into that world to feel those feelings or experience vicariously the thrills or anguish of the moment. Then instead of random memorization of inconsequential details, the student can’t help but remember the important facts, the dates, the people, and the scenario of particular historical significance that have been encountered through media.
Movies are easiest to use in the classroom, since the entire class can experience the story all at the same time. Rather than watch it all in one sitting, consider splitting the movie into segments, and have a purpose behind each segment. Allow ample time for historically-based discussion on each segment in the same class period immediately following the clip. Ask factual questions that relate to the scenes, such as “In what year did this happen?” or “How many years after [a major war or another significant event] did the movie take place?” or something similar. Questions with definite right or wrong answers are good and get people thinking.
Beyond the factual questions, also plan on questions that would involve the students on a more human, emotional level. Questions like “What was going on in the world that may have motivated the main character to make those choices?” or “How did people think about that situation that is different than our society today would view that same situation?”. These types of questions do not necessarily have right or wrong answers, but encourage the students to delve deeper into what was really going on in the world at that particular time and how people thought about life issues. Sometimes it can lead into discussion of what kind of technology was available at the time (I.e., telephone or telegraph, automobile or stagecoach, etc.), when those technologies came into existence, and how things may have been different if other technologies were available. At other times, discussion can revolve around what parts of the movie did not line up with the true history of the time period.
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