Sunday, March 24, 2013

Today's Technology Tidbit: Using Documentary in the Classroom

 This lesson is also included on Tried It Tuesday

Sorry it has been a whole week since I last posted. I really try to post at least thrice weekly. It has been a long, busy, and stressful week.

First we had my father-in-law's health issues going on and some nerve-wracking days with that. Then it was my birthday Friday (yay!) so my parents came down for a couple days and met our super high-anxiety dog (have I told you my dog hates people coming in the house, especially men? Yeah). Thankfully it actually went really well. Now today, we're getting 6" of snow! This does not sit well with me. It's spring for crying out loud!

So all of that led to my lack of posting, but I hope to get back on it this week, starting with a technology tidbit today.

I like to use film in the classroom when it's relevant. I look for high interest pieces that serve a purpose, and often times, show clips and not even the whole thing.

Today I want to talk a little about how I use documentaries in my classroom. I have Netflix streaming, and they actually have a TON of great documentaries on there that you can watch instantly. Of course, the one I wanted to use this week that I'm about to discuss is one that is NOT on there. Grr.

I am teaching the process of argument for my College English course. We discussed the parts of a successful argument (claim, support, assumption), different appeals of argument (ethos, pathos, logos--we did a Wikispace assignment where each student was assigned one appeal and had to post an example of it from modern-day media), counterargument and refute or concession, as well as discussed logical fallacies that we need to watch out for in argument.

Though they will be writing their argumentative essays, I wanted to show them a non-print example, so I decided to show clips of the Michael Moore documentary Sicko.

Many of the Michael Moore documentaries would work also. If you have never seen his documentaries, he is extremely liberal and is blatantly so. I emphasize to my students that I am not promoting his ideas on things and that that isn't what they should focus on; rather, they should focus on the process of the argument he makes, and they should watch to analyze and evaluate his actual argument.

We started watching this Friday. I gave them a sheet of questions to answer as they watched. Some of the questions were:
  • What is his main claim?
  • What different appeals does he use and what are examples of each?
  • What type of support does he use for his argument?
  • What assumptions does he make based on this support?
  • Does he address the counterargument? If so, how? Does he refute or concede it?
  • How successful is his argument overall?
On Monday we will wrap up watching part of it and discuss their findings. There are parts of his argument that are done very well and are strong and parts that are weaker. We'll point these out and apply his strategy of making an argument to their own topics and essays. I also like that it's a current hot button issue (universal healthcare) so it's relevant to the larger context of the course (writing in the context of current social issues in our society).

We do look at some written examples of argument too, but I like to get out of the textbook and bring in non-print sources whenever I can. For their next and final essay of the year, they are going to be writing an analysis of advertisements in social media, for example. They can still learn the process of writing an argument but apply it to something non-print. It holds their interest and makes it more relevant.

If you'd like more titles of great, school-appropriate documentaries, just let me know. I have watched many (or parts of many of them) on Netflix.

*There is a small amount of strong language in Sicko, so I wouldn't use it with kids younger than high school, and I'd probably use it for upper high school at that. I am much more lax with what I show my college-level seniors since it is a college course and I know they can handle it maturely. Honestly I think there may be a "bitch" and "ass" in the film, but nothing more than that.


  1. Great post. I found you from the Tried it Tuesday Link Up.
    Netflix is one of those goldmines for informational material and movies that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle.

    The amount of quality content they have is great and I use it as much as possible even with my elementary kids. Also, the power of the visual medium is more than people realize so these kids needs to be able to recognize purpose, inten, and more.

    Digital: Divide & Conquer

  2. I agree with you about power of using film in the classroom. I can find a lot of fun clips on youtube but my problem is I often think of a great movie with a clip I could show and there is something in it that is "questionable" for 4th graders. If I really did my research, I know I could find more relevant clips that are clean. Thank you so much for linking up and getting me thinking about this topic!
    Fourth Grade Flipper