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Using film to engage Citizenship pupils with difficult and controversial issues

Lorellie Canning is Head of Citizenship at St Bedes and St Joseph’s Catholic College in Bradford. She is also a member of ACT Council.

Being dyslexic I must admit that I hate reading. Perhaps this is why I can relate to students who don't read much and why I often look for film alternatives. 

Although it is important for students to engage with literature and I would always encourage this, I think we need to engage students with difficult concepts in a variety of ways. You can after all learn a lot from a well-chosen film that then inspires you to research and learn more.

This is why I recommend using films as a homework resource. I have discussed it with parents at parents’ evening recommending they watch the movie together and discuss it afterwards as a family. I find this can also be beneficial in nurturing those parental relationships when they don't get the point of citizenship.

A structured approach to using film

However, a more structured approach to this idea sees better results. I would suggest setting it as a challenge grid to encourage 'thinking outside the box' and independent learning as part of the GCSE class expectations.

You will see that the grid means the student has to summarise the film and then include a piece of further research based upon something in/from the film and explain why they researched that in particular. They also then have to relate it to their Citizenship education e.g. Hotel Rwanda shows how the UN works in areas of conflict and how it can fail those in need. This can be easily linked to the new AQA GCSE spec (3.2.4: What is the UK's role in key international organisations? 3.3.4: What are the universal human rights and how do we protect them?).

At the end of the half term or term, set an essay style question based upon the out of lesson activity and then marry up the independent learning through film to the curriculum in an engaging way for students.

In conclusion, films are a great resource to engage students in difficult and often controversial issues. Our English colleagues have understood this and used them for years so I say step boldly into this new frontier and give it a go!

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