One thing I’ve been working on recently is incorporating basic film literacy and criticism into my 8th grade curriculum. We often conclude literature units with the viewing of a related movie, and it bothered me that I wasn’t doing more with that time and opportunity. I’ve always been a film buff, but it had been years since I’ve had to write an essay about a movie, and so I spent a good chunk of two summers researching concepts and lesson plans on media literacy and film criticism.
One of the things I came to realize was that before students could analyze the whole of a movie—or even a single scene—they needed to master the description and consideration of a single image. As a result, I put together a simplified—but still fairly comprehensive—checklist of elements to consider when picking apart an image:
Here is a video where I demonstrate mis-en-scène analysis. I did show this video to my 8th grade classes, but I actually put it together for a 10th grade class that I had been observing; they had just finished the combined Persepolis and were writing a short analysis on a single large comic panel from that graphic novel. I made it in Keynote, recorded my voice, and exported it into Quicktime.
(Note: The volume is pretty quiet; you’ll need to turn up your speakers to hear me properly)
One of the mis-en-scene exercises I followed this up with is that I asked my 8th graders to watch a movie of their choice (G to PG-13, and parent-approved) over the Winter Break. We talked about their movies after the break and brushed up on the basics of mis-en-scene analysis and narrative arc. They then wrote an in-class essay contrasting the opening and closing images of their chosen movie as a reflection of narrative progress and theme.