Books vs. Movies: Teaching Visual Literacy and Literature Through Film
- 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 Kidsreads.com. 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!