Most educators can relate to the experience of having a transformative experience that takes place in the classroom. Maybe it was a really special teacher who recognized your potential when no one else did. Maybe it was someone who challenged your base assumptions or introduced you to concepts that had never crossed your mind before.
It’s that “Oh Captain, my Captain,” Dead Poets Society moment that every educator is chasing. You want to engage your students in a way that gets them legitimately excited to learn. Sometimes, those moments happen organically. Other times, they need a more deliberate push.
Documentaries can be a great way to grab kids’ attention, introduce them to new concepts, and help them to explore their passions. In this article, we take a look at why you should consider using them in your classroom. We will also discuss how you can select highly effective documentaries.
Diversify Your Instruction
As a teacher, it’s important to constantly keep in mind that everyone in the room learns a little bit differently. Some people will do best with their noses buried in a book. Other people will need a more visually stimulating presentation.
Visual and auditory learners will benefit significantly from video-based media. Documentaries blend both elements, making them an easy and effective way to service the different types of learners in your classroom.
Note that they may serve as a particularly effective way to help your students grasp complex concepts and information. Visual depictions of historical events can bring them to life in ways that are otherwise inaccessible for people who learn best from materials that they can hear and see.
Even kids who aren’t visual or auditory learners can improve their information comprehension and retention when they are exposed to different mediums. Music, sound effects, and exciting imagery can make information seen in documentaries feel more vivid and distinct.
Regardless of what type of learners you have, documentaries also provide compelling real-world context for otherwise conceptual information. It’s one thing to read about a flood or famine. It’s a very different thing to see depictions of destruction, or listen to an emaciated human describe what it is like to try and scavenge for food in the wake of a natural disaster.
Video has been widely shown to humanize otherwise abstract lessons, making them a powerful way to make information stick while also engaging students on issues that may not have previously been on their radar.
Enhance Critical Thinking
Documentaries also stimulate critical thinking and analysis by demonstrating a diversity of opinions and perspectives. This both teaches students that there are always multiple ways to interpret an issue and also introduces them to ideas that they might not have encountered before.
Obviously, the quality of said opinions can vary considerably from documentary to documentary. As the teacher, it will be your job to vet the content of the documentary with the same level of scrutiny that you would apply to any classroom material.
We’ll talk a little more about what specific qualities improve the classroom documentary viewing experience in later headings.
Documentaries are a particularly good way to introduce your students to different cultures. Seeing people from other religious, social, or ethnic backgrounds living their lives can improve empathy and understanding.
Many documentaries focus on social and global issues, shedding light on injustices, environmental challenges, and human experiences from around the world. By exposing students to these issues, educators encourage students to become more informed and engaged global citizens.
It also just broadens your students’ horizons. Documentaries are a great way to show them something they’ve never seen before, possibly igniting the embers of future interest.
Criteria for Selecting a Documentary:
We’ve described why you should use documentaries in the classroom. Now, let’s take a look at how to get the job done effectively. When choosing a documentary for classroom use, educators should consider the following criteria:
- Age-Appropriateness: Ensure that the content, language, and themes of the documentary are suitable for the age and maturity level of your students. Documentaries can feature graphic imagery—made all the more troubling by the fact that it depicts something that actually happened.
- Accuracy and Reliability: Verify the accuracy and reliability of the documentary’s content. Check for credible sources, accurate data, and unbiased perspectives, especially in subjects like science, history, and current events. Many documentaries are made with a specific agenda in mind. Ideally, the content that you show your kids will be as objective as possible.
- Length and Format: Consider the documentary’s length and format. Make sure it fits within the available class time. Shorter documentaries or segments of longer ones may be more suitable for certain lessons. Otherwise, you may want to develop a set of lesson plans that will help carry and ground a viewing session that lasts for more than one class period.
- Diversity of Perspectives: Choose documentaries that present diverse viewpoints, especially when dealing with controversial or complex subjects. Encouraging critical thinking and debate is valuable for educational growth.
- Teacher Resources: Look for accompanying materials or educator guides provided by the documentary’s producers. These can help educators plan lessons, facilitate discussions, and assess student comprehension.
Documentaries are a fun way to excite your students and diversify your lesson plans to ensure that they reach all types of learners. You also open the door to exciting future lesson plans. For example, some educators have had great success getting their kids to make their own documentaries. Even if they don’t make a career out of filmmaking, they can have lots of fun getting creative in the classroom.
It’s all about finding lessons and materials that excite and engage the largest number of people. Good documentaries are a powerful tool in that process.
Guest Author Bio
With a Bachelor’s in Health Science along with an MBA, Sarah Daren has a wealth of knowledge within both the health and business sectors. Her expertise in scaling and identifying ways tech can improve the lives of others has led Sarah to be a consultant for a number of startup businesses, most prominently in the wellness industry, wearable technology and health education. She implements her health knowledge into every aspect of her life with a focus on making America a healthier and safer place for future generations to come.