A Historical Thinking Activity for Watching Movies in History Class
Watching movies or even just scenes from movies can really pull students into history and make it come alive for them. That’s because movies center on the human story and the juicy drama of the past- putting skin, bones, and often blood into the dry, dusty facts of the content. But imagine instead of just passively watching, you could use movies to develop historical thinking skills & creativity!
The “Deleted Scene” is an activity I developed years ago to get my students to critically examine Hollywood ‘historical’ movies. I first just wanted students to understand how movies often misrepresent history but over time it changed into an artistic project that develops historical thinking skills. (You can grab the linked freebie below).
The way I use the Deleted Scene now is just an augmented history lab with a fun culminating activity. And if you are watching a movie to end the semester or anytime later this year, I really encourage you to challenge your students with this activity.
This strategy challenges students to watch Hollywood movies through the lens of critical historians and not simply accept entertainment as historical fact. Like history labs, this teaches students to be skeptical consumers of information and can make watching an epic movie even more worthwhile!
This is how it works.
As students watch the movie, they are tasked with comparing how it depicts people, events, and circumstances to what they learned in class about the topic. They can also do additional research into the historical accuracy of the film to dig deeper into it’s accuracy.
Then they are tasked with writing a ‘deleted scene’ for the movie to cover a topic, a point-of-view, or include a group that was ignored or glossed over in the film. They could also choose to rewrite a scene to be more historically accurate or demonstrate a marginalized perspective.
Groups could either write out the scene, create a storyboard for the scene, or for those thespians out there, act it out in front of the class. If done individually, you could also have students write “Rotten Tomatoes” reviews for the movie based on its historical accuracy.
Students often love to share their new scenes with their peers!
Want to simplify this activity to support your students?
If this seems out of reach for your students, you could also pick a particular scene from the movie and after students watch it, you have them read different sources showing different perspectives on this event or the characters in the scene.
Now, they can better critically examine the scene and how it portrayed the event, what was left out, and the point-of-view of the director. Rewatch the scene after analyzing all the sources if that helps- they'll be viewing it as critical historians now! Then, with their groups, they write and develop their ‘deleted scenes’. This makes the activity very similar to a history lab- using the film as the hook.
Grab the free template for this ‘Deleted Scene’ activity here.
Keep teaching & learning,
HIstory For Humans
2020 Hawai'i History Teacher of the Year