Books vs. Movies: Teaching Visual Literacy and Literature Through Film

By Addie Albano on November 8, 2011
  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

When I was 13 years old, I received a birthday gift that I still treasure today: a beautiful copy of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. It quickly became my favorite book, and I was even more delighted to hear that there was a movie version (in black and white, of course). Although it was wonderful to put faces to the characters and see the plot unfold before my eyes, the film never reached me in the way the book did. I still face a conundrum today with film adaptations, vacillating between seeing the movie first and then reading the book, or vice versa, or even sticking to one option. In my experience, the big screen rarely captures the wonder of the written word. More disturbing is when major scenes or even endings are altered completely!


Fortunately, now more than ever, adolescent readers are flocking to movie theaters to see the latest bestseller come to life . . . AFTER they have read the book! Over the past ten years, the literary world has seen a firestorm of readers erupt as a result of massively popular hits such as The Twilight Saga, The Hunger Games trilogy, and the Harry Potter series. As a result of these bestsellers, we have seen hesitant readers willingly take on five-hundred-plus-page novels without complaint, something rarely seen in the classroom. With a book vs. movie unit, I capitalize on this interest, encouraging a love of reading and teaching visual literacy at the same time. November marks the release of several movies based on young adult novels, which makes it the perfect time for this kind of study. Read on for more on creating your own book vs. movie unit for your class.


As soon as my students hear that the book we are reading has a corresponding movie, they are ready to read. However, it is important for me to emphasize that they mustn’t lose sight of the text and all of its meaning. I would hate for them to think that watching a movie can take the place of reading. It should serve as a complement, not a substitution. I remind them of this at the beginning of each literary unit.


To create your own book vs. movie unit, start off with a Teacher Planning Page. Download a view of the original document or use this version in Word to help you plan your unit. This will help guide your lesson and allow you to decide which standards are essential. If you plan on watching a movie in class, consider handing out a parent permission slip, especially if the rating is questionable. For a list of upcoming releases, visit Also check out fellow blogger Jeremy Rinkel’s amazing Hunger Games unit.


Then give each student a Movie vs. Book Compare and Contrast Guide to help them achieve a more thorough understanding of the text. It will also give them the freedom to decide which version they like better. My students are often surprised at how representations can differ: They have been both disappointed and delighted by the visual interpretation of a book. For struggling learners, interactive components such as an online Venn diagram or interactive story map are terrific resources.


As a major movie buff, I try to make the atmosphere as fun and authentic as possible. When reading a novel due to become a movie, I like to hold roundtable discussions on Fridays while enjoying the ultimate film snack, popcorn! This is a perfect opportunity for students to convey the real reasons they're drawn to a story: a broken heart, a missed opportunity, or a decision gone wrong. It also lets them relate more fully to seeing kids their own age making the same mistakes they do on the big screen. For your culminating project, try a classroom movie review newspaper, or join me next week when I explore a great extension activity: creating book trailers!



As an ELA teacher and avid reader, I use everything in my power to get my students to find new reasons to read. Film has always been a part of my teaching. Comparing the rich figurative language of "Tuck Everlasting", to the visual richness of color and light texture in the film, has led to some amazing writing responses from my students and discussions that have refected a desire to find more book/movie connections. As a Humanities teacher, I often will use "real" historical facts and compare them to various film clips, or compare film and documentary footage, to bring the past to light for a very large population of visual learners. I get the best kick when a student asks me to recommend a book or movie about something that they are very interested in and they use both to learn more, or a request to "make a movie" as their end of unit assessment.

I have been having fun like this for years. Students need to learn that reading should be both fun and useful... We usually have wonderful discussions after students see the movie, with them asking why their favorite parts were left out, why things were changed, why characters didn't seem as well developed in the movie as in the book! After years in elementary ed., I am currently teching special ed. students at the high school level. What fun to see them turn on finally to books. One I always recommend now is the Percy Jackson series. i've seen kids who never read a book before read the entire series. It may have taken all year, but that's 500 percent more than they have read before. And when they ask what else would be good? Well, it makes me feel like I've won a prize.

I have been doing something like this for years as part of my 8th graders independent reading. They choose the book from a long list of books made into movies. They read the book and then watch the movie while taking notes similar to your compare and contrast chart. They then write a review in which they take a stand on which was better, the book or the movie, and why. Or if they feel that both had merit, explain where the movie might have offered more than the book or why both were equally good. I've gotten great essay/reviews from my students and they have greatly enjoyed this project.

Hi, Kristen! Thank you for the feedback. I like the idea of casting a movie version of the book with modern actors, and actually find myself doing that during a good read! My next post is about book trailers...I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Addie Albano

Great post! I think it is particularly important that teachers do not use a movie as a substitution for the literature, but a supplement. There can be very valuable lessons with the analysis of movies, and even the Common Core standards mention the use of media as a standard in ELA Grades 6 and up. Another project that students enjoy is casting a movie version of the book with popular actors of today. Students must explain their choices, give a synopsis of the book, and make a movie poster, where a symbol of the book must be represented somehow. Thanks for the resource!

Kristen Bowers
Secondary Solutions

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