Unlike written texts, movies generally employ three common types of artistic devices. These devices, although quite obvious once described, may not be immediately apparent to a young viewer. Educators can assist students in identifying these devices, defining their characteristics and understanding how they relate to the movie or film at hand. Repetition of this exercise will allow the young viewer to become proficient in quickly making the connection between the artistic devices used by the filmmakers and the movie’s underlying meaning.
The ELA curriculum of today has its roots in 17th, 18th and 19th century literature. The stories that interested the people of those times and were expressed via the written word. However, today’s youth will experience the vast majority of storytelling through screens (television, feature films, video games or the web). Thus, to stay relevant, modern educators must address stories told on screens as well as those in traditional written formats.
The three levels of artistic devices are:
1) Traditional Elements and Devices of Fiction in Novels and Short Stories
Many hours of current ELA instruction are spent on the elements and devices of fiction. They include: plot, character development, protagonist, antagonist, prologue, expository phase, crisis, rising action, falling action, denouement, epilogue voice, symbol, foreshadowing, flashback, imagery, irony, foil, archetype, motif, etc. These are also found in screenplays and the analysis of these elements and devices in the medium of film can assist students in understanding their use in written texts.
2) Traditional Devices of the Stage
These include: sets, simple lighting, costumes, props, sound effects, acting choice, choreography of movement, music and dance. The response to music and dance is something many young viewers are accustomed to already, as they are a crucial component of many popular movie and film productions.
3) Cinematic Methods
This layer of artistic expression includes shot angle, camera movement within the shot, music/sound effects, editing, colors/visuals and lighting levels.
In conclusion, no single method of adapting ELA curriculum to the current digital environment has been agreed upon. Many discussions and varying methods exist. However, regardless of the method, students will ultimately benefit from having the tools to make sense of what they see on the screen. The important aspect to take away from this writing is that every ELA course (from 6th to 12th grade) should devote a substantial portion of their lessons to analyzing stories through movies and documentary film.
James Frieden, Esq. is a Co-Founder of TeachWithMovies.com, Inc. the premiere site on the Internet showing teachers how to create lesson plans using movies and film. Thousands of Teachers and Parents use movies in their classes and home schooling programs to teach Social Studies, English, Science, Health, & the Arts.