Te Kete Ipurangi Navigation:

Te Kete Ipurangi

Te Kete Ipurangi user options:

Senior Secondary navigation

You are here:

Snapshot 7: Film study

This snapshot describes how a level 7 teacher supported their students to take greater ownership of a film study by giving them choice and refusing to tell them what to think.


This class was one of eleven level 7 English classes in a decile-10, urban, co-educational state school.

Quite a few of the students in the class were also taking media studies, so the teacher felt their knowledge and understandings would be a resource that could be used to advantage in a film study – they would be able to actively support other students to develop their knowledge and their skills of analysis.

Rather than have everyone study the same film, the teacher got the students to choose from a short list of suitable films. Part of the reason for this was that there were a variety of really good films from which to choose and the teacher was unsure which would work best.

By building on and utilising the existing knowledge of the media studies students, the teacher was confident that a film study approached this way would be less daunting than might otherwise be the case.

Curriculum focus

Level 7

  • Creating and making meaning

Purposes and audiences

Show a discriminating understanding of how texts are shaped for different purposes and audiences.


Show a discriminating understanding of ideas within and across texts.

Language features

Show a discriminating understanding of ideas how language features are used for effect within and across texts.


Show a discriminating understanding of a range of structures.

Teacher action

As a focus for their study, I asked the students to choose a film from this list:

  • A Beautiful Mind – Ron Howard
  • V for Vendetta – James McTeigue
  • Gattaca – Andrew Niccol
  • Road to Perdition – Sam Mendes
  • I, Robot – Alex Proyas
  • The Shawshank Redemption – Frank Darabont
  • The Sixth Sense – M. Night Shyamalan

To help them make an informed choice, I showed them the trailers of all the films and gave a brief synopsis of each film. The students then selected the film they wanted to study and viewed it in their own time. If necessary, I helped them find a copy of the film. I encouraged them to view it at least twice.

I gave each student a booklet that outlined the process they were to follow. This booklet focused them on the processes and strategies sub-strand and supported them to critically reflect on, make meaning of, and respond to the ideas, features, and structure of their chosen film. It included:

  • information on what is meant by analyse: the how and why of film
  • the key aspects to be analysed: plot, structure, setting, context, production techniques, characterisation, theme, purpose, director’s intention, conflict, and symbol.

Students worked at their own pace. I would check their progress periodically (once a week was my aim), conferencing with them and helping those who were struggling.

To help them develop the discriminating understanding of visual language expected at level 7, I would choose scenes from the different films to demonstrate visual language features that the students could look for in their own films. On each occasion, we would look at three or four films.

I would also screen scenes from other films, such as the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice (to illustrate, for example, the framing of a shot/angle for a particular purpose). We would spend time discussing the scenes and how techniques had been used. I learnt a lot from their insights.

If you are thinking of a guided independent study along these lines, consider choosing films with a common theme or selecting a range of films in negotiation with your students. In either case, ensure the films demonstrate sufficiently sophisticated visual language features and ideas for them to be suitable for level 7 study.

What happened?

Some of the students felt insecure studying film in this way because they were used to having everything presented to them “on a plate”. They got what I call “speed wobbles” – they panicked because I wasn’t covering “their” film in enough detail. As they began to provide written responses and saw their own critical thinking and personal voice emerging, they found they were becoming more discriminating viewers. They then started to settle down and gain confidence in their ability to analyse texts and communicate their ideas in depth. What surprised me most was how varied their responses were. They identified aspects of the films that I had not initially noticed, and not once did they parrot back my ideas. This increasing reliance on their own resources was developing the key competency, managing self.

At the end of the unit, the students filled out an evaluation/feedback sheet. To validate the approach, they reflected on their choice of film and the usefulness of the various tasks.

Our students often expect us to tell them what they need to know. This time I pushed back. While it took my students time to adapt and to gain confidence in their own ability to analyse and respond to texts, they did get there.

Last updated July 17, 2012