One thing that I work hard on, perhaps too hard at times, is keeping lessons interesting. I believe in mixing different elements of instruction and content into each lesson. To do that, I often integrate different forms of media. Here are 15 different strategies for integrating your lessons with various media types. By the way, these can apply beyond English classes too!
Music videos are a great way to engage students in content-related materials with culturally-relevant songs. I’ve incorporated videos from Childish Gambino, Colbie Caillat, and Justin Timberlake over the years. Best of all, these videos go beyond songs by building on the depth of themes in a visual way. Check out this article to learn about incorporating Childish Gambino’s video of “This is America” into a 9th grade ELA class.
Showing movie clips is a weekly (if not daily) activity in my classroom. I have always had a deep love of film and I enjoy introducing both new and old movies to my students. Recently I added to a lesson on suspense in “The Birds” by using clips from Jaws, Back to the Future, and The Lost World. While students understood suspense fairly well before they began the lesson, I found that by showing my students these clips before we read “The Birds,” they became more excited to see what suspense lay in store for them.
Documentaries are another excellent way to deepen lessons, especially those that require cultural context. I’ve relied on documentaries to add to lessons on The Crucible, Animal Farm, and Dracula. One of my favorites is the PBS series Riding the Rails, which I use to engage students into reading Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.
Being a movie fan, it’s always tempting to show a full film to my students. However, we all understand that there is never enough time to fit it in. For that reason, I rarely show a full movie in my classes. I’ve made some exceptions in the past for movies like Big Fish. Aside from being a beautiful movie overall, I find that it pairs well with a lesson on magical realism. I also usually show the full version of our Shakespearean films when reading the corresponding plays. I’m especially a fan of movies that modernize the setting without changing the words, such as Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet (1996) or Rupert Goold’s Macbeth (2010).
To see how I use Big Fish and other films to teach magical realism check out this resource!
Interviews & Readings
Another way that I incorporate video into classes is by showing interviews or readings with authors before we do a literature study. I’m a particular fan of showing interviews with Chinua Achebe and Ray Bradbury. These authors don’t shy away from sharing their opinions and inspiration for their respective books. I also pair videos of poetry readings by poets whenever I can. My favorites are those by Taylor Mali, Carolyn Forché, and Billy Collins. Here are a few clips I’ve used in class:
- To engage students in spoken word poetry: Taylor Mali’s “Totally Like Whatever, You Know”
- To provide background information on Fahrenheit 451: Interview with Ray Bradbury (best if only the audio is used)
- For experiencing Carolyn Forche’s “The Colonel”: Carolyn Forche reads “The Colonel”
If you go onto Teachers Pay Teachers and search for TED Talks you’ll see hundreds of results. Using TED Talks in the classroom is not a new idea as high school students are overwhelmingly receptive to the content in TED Talks. Some that I’ve used in my own classroom include:
- “My Identity is a Superpower, Not an Obstacle” by America Ferrera in our sophomore identity unit
- “Everyday Moments, Caught in Time” by Billy Collins in our poetry unit, specifically on narrative poems or works with imagery
- “The Danger of a Single Story” by Chimamanda Adichie in AP Lit and our study of Things Fall Apart. But, to be honest, this TED Talk can be used with almost any lesson!
One spinoff of TED Talks are TED-Ed lessons, which are beautifully made videos specifically for educational use. If you teach ELA and haven’t yet looked into using TED-Ed video lessons, please do! These short, engaging videos are great for reinforcement or introduction to many different concepts in the ELA classroom. This can include literary elements, writing strategies, research methods, grammar, and more. My all-time favorite TED-Ed lesson is Tim Adams’ lesson on anti-heroes, which I use with my sophomores in our study of Fahrenheit 451.
One way I’ve incorporated magazines into class is in studying propaganda methods through print ads. In my propaganda media study, based on Kelly Gallagher’s Write Like This curriculum, students page through magazines and analyze the logical fallacies present in current media campaigns. You can check out this resource here to learn more.
While it’s a sad fact that newspapers are dying out, informational text is still valued in the ELA classroom, especially those whose districts adhere to CCSS. Many teachers subscribe to Newsela for student-friendly and age-appropriate content from newspapers and other informational text.
I love using songs to engage students in English class, especially when we’re studying poetry. In fact, when studying poetry every day for three weeks, my sophomores and I begin each class with a song with especially poetic lyrics. I’ve also used songs to pair with specific poems, such as in my British Literature class. In one particular lesson, students were comparing the attitudes towards war in Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce Et Decorum Est” and Rupert Brooke’s “The Soldier.” To reinforce the attitudes towards war, we matched the poems to corresponding songs. Owen’s bleak attitude about the ravages of war matched with Edwin Starr’s song “War” from 1969. On the other hand, Brooke’s patriotic poem that depicted war as beautiful and heroic matched with Toby Keith’s “American Soldier” from 2003. These connections from old, British poems to newer American songs helped reinforce theme and meaning.
Like TED Talks, podcasts have become an explosive new media that has caught on with high school students. They too have made their way into the classroom. I’ve heard of ELA classes studying Serial and listening to Malcolm Gladwell, just to name a few. For more ideas about using podcasts in the classroom, check out Common Sense Media’s list of 16 suggested podcasts for educational use (grades K-12!).
One recent jigsaw activity that I used with our study of Fahrenheit 451 was a gallery walk between five different news stories. I had these articles printed out and placed in various areas of the classroom, then asked students to visit stations and read at least three of them. Each article discussed a technological advancement or commercial development that matched with something from the plot of Fahrenheit 451. These articles opened my students’ eyes and let them see that the characters in Bradbury’s novel are not that far removed from our own reality. Some of the articles I used for this activity were:
- The Samsung Wall – A Wall-sized Television
- The Demolition Zone – A recreational facility where you can smash household items for fun
- Implanted Headphones – How a man surgically implanted headphones into his own ears
Another common activity involving the internet is a webquest, however the overwhelming amount of media available sometimes makes webquests difficult to manage. Rather than asking my students to do webquests on vast topics, I prefer to set them loose to answer a question. For example, in our study of How to Read Literature Like a Professor, I drop hints that Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games was based on a work from Greek mythology. However, they don’t know which one. After a short webquest activity they learn that it is in fact partially based on Theseus and the Minotaur. The information they pick up on the webquest helps them understand the relationship between the two texts, reinforcing the underlying lesson in How to Read Literature Like a Professor.
This sounds silly, but I’ve actually been implementing Google search and its results in teaching MLA and ethical research lately. My students suffer from Googlitis, the feeling that everything can be solved and cited with Google. I like to teach them that Google has its flaws as a search engine when searching for peer-reviewed articles, and thus I teach them how to use Google Scholar. We’ve also randomly searched for something on Google and practiced creating a citation for it, or discussed whether that search result is a credible source. Bottom line: Google can be the enemy or the tool that helps mold your students into thorough researchers.
Another internet strategy making its way into classrooms is the mandatory student blog. I first heard about student blogs when I was observing a writing center at a local high school. The district had set up the writing center as a class, and students had to not only serve as writing coaches but contribute to a weekly writing blog online. This trend has been growing in recent years and has several excellent websites that can help your students create and maintain educational blogs. To learn more about integrating blogs in your classroom, read Kathleen Morris’ article here.
If your lessons are feeling stale or you are looking for ways to lengthen a lesson in an engaging way, I encourage you to try one of these media strategies out. If you have any more suggestions on ways to incorporate media in your lessons please comment below!