Using Movies to Teach

For an excellent presentation on how to use movies when working with athletes or in the classroom, check out Everything I Know I Learned at the Movies: Using Video Clips to Teach Mental Skills to Athletes (submitted by Amanda Cruz & Lael Gershgoren).

Another great example can be found on an old class blog, Sport Psychology Goes to the Movies. Students were required to watch a movie, analyze how it fits with different sport psychology concepts, and link it to class readings.

Movies have been used to teach such diverse psychological topics as counselor education, psychology and law, cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, social development, family systems theory, abnormal psychology, and medical ethics (Alexander & Waxman, 2000; Anderson, 1992; Boyatzis, 1994; Conner, 1996; Davis, 2000; Greg, Hosley, Weng, & Montemayor, 1995; Higgins & Lantz, 1997; Hudock & Gallagher, 2001; Nissim-Sabat, 1979; Proctor & Adler, 1991; Self, Baldwin, & Olavarez, 1993).

Two common ways movies have been used to teach these topics are instructor assigned movies and student selected movies. The following paragraphs explain how to use these assignments in conjunction with the SPFC to help teach sport psychology concepts. Regardless of which path you take, you can use or modify the SPFC Contribution Assignment to suit your needs.

Instructor Assigned Movies

An instructor may choose to use class time to show a movie or movie clip that illustrates a particular topic or issue, and have the class discuss what they saw. This discussion can be done with the entire class or in small groups. An example of this strategy might be to show Hoosiers or Remember the Titans and have the class discuss the team’s transitions through the various stages of team development. Another example would be to show Searching for Bobby Fischer and have the class discuss issues involving youth sport. The SPFC can be used to find movies that highlight the particular topic of interest. Many of the concepts lsited in the SPFC closely correspond to topics covered in sport psychology textbooks, so finding movies to supplement topics covered in class can be readily accomplished by browsing the tags.

Some tips and guidelines for using movies in class are: 
  • View the movie to determine its appropriateness before showing it to your class.
  • Provide the class with specific discussion questions before showing the movie so they can look for answers. You need to help them observe the movie from a sport psychology framework and not just as entertainment.
  • If possible, consider showing only particular scenes from a movie that illustrate the topic. Viewing an entire movie takes up a lot of class time and may not be necessary to convey your point.
  • If shown in class, consider stopping the movie at specific times to highlight particular plot points.
  • A film rich in sport psychology themes, such as A League of Their Own, could be shown in the beginning of the semester and referred to throughout the course when particular topics are covered.
  • Try to ensure students will enjoy the movie. This is tough as many students may think a movie over 10 years old is too dated, but they may make exceptions for classics. If possible, try to use more recent films or films with well-known and well-liked actors.
  • If class time is at a premium, assign students to view a film outside of class. To facilitate this, place the movie(s) on reserve at the school library and put students together into "viewing groups." A class discussion can take place after everyone has viewed it outside of class.
Student Selected Movies

Another way to use films is to have students select and watch a movie outside of class. The SPFC is a valuable resource to help students find movies that contains relevant sport psychology topics and that would be of interest to them. Watching the movie can be followed up with either a written assignment or a class presentation about the themes in the movie, either individually or in groups. This type of assignment has the advantages of not using class time to view the movie, students can select movies that interest them, and a wide variety of topics can be examined.

If a written assignment is required, the instructor should give specific instructions as to what is expected. Particular emphasis needs to be made that this is a sport psychology assignment, and not just a movie review. As an example, view the SPFC Contribution Assignment. Class presentations also need detailed explanations of what is expected, and have the added benefit that the students can show a brief clip of the movie as part of the presentation. This allows the rest of the class to benefit from the movie experience.

References for Using Movies as a Teaching Aid
  • Alexander, M. (1995). Cinemeducation: An innovative approach to teaching multi-cultural diversity in medicine. Annals of Behavioral Sciences and Medical Education, 2, 23-28.
  • Alexander, M., & Waxman, D. (2000). Cinemeducation: Teaching family systems through the movies. Families, Systems and Health, 18, 455-466.
  • Alexander, M., Hall, M., & Pettice, Y. (1994). Cinemeducation: An innovative approach to teaching psychosocial medical care. Family Medicine, July-August, 430-433.
  • Anderson, D. D. (1992). Using feature films as tools for analysis in a psychology and law course. Teaching of Psychology, 19, 155-158.
  • Berg-Cross, L., Jennings, P., & Baruch, R. (1990). Cinematherapy: Theory and application. Psychotherapy in Private Practice, 8(1), 135-156.
  • Blumer, M.L.C. (2010). And action! Teaching and learning through film. Journal of Feminist Family Therapy, 22, 225-235.
  • Bolt, M. (1976). Using films based on literature in teaching psychology. Teaching of Psychology, 3, 189-190.
  • Boyatzis, C. J. (1994). Using feature films to teach social development. Teaching of Psychology, 21, 99-101
  • Conner, D. B. (1996). From Monty Python to Total Recall: A feature film activity for the cognitive psychology course. Teaching of Psychology, 23, 33-35.
  • Crellin, J. & Briones, A. F. (1995). Movies in medical education. Academic Medicine, 70, 745.
  • Davis, A. (2000). Using feature films in Rehabilitation Counselor Education. Rehabilitation Education, 14, 169-180.
  • Demerath, N. J., III. (1981). Through a double-crossed eye: Sociology and the movies. Teaching Sociology, 9, 69-82.
  • Desforges, D. M. (1994). Applying theories of development: An exercise for teaching adolescent development. Teaching of Psychology, 21, 245-246.
  • Dorris, W., & Ducey, R. (1978) Social psychology and sex roles in films. Teaching of Psychology, 5, 168-169.
  • English, F. W., & Steffy, B. E. (1997). Using film to teach leadership in educational administration. Educational Administration Quarterly, 33, 107-115.
  • Fleming, M. Z., Piedmont, R. L., & Hiam, C. M. (1990). Images of madness: Feature film in teaching psychology. Teaching of Psychology, 17, 185-187.
  • Gladstein, G. A., & Feldstein, J. C. (1983). Using film to increase empathic experiences. Counselor Education and Supervision, 23, 125-131.
  • Greg, V. R., Hosley, C. A., Weng, A., & Montemayor, R. (1995). Using Feature Films to Promote Active Learning in the Classroom. Ellenville, NY: Paper presented at the annual conference on undergraduate teaching of Psychology. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. 389 367).
  • Hemenover, S. H., Caster, J. B., Mizumoto, A.  (1999). Combining the use of progressive writing techniques and popular movies in introductory psychology. Teaching of Psychology, 26, 196-198.
  • Higgins, S. S., & Lantz, J. M. (1997). Nursing education.  An innovative approach to using film and creative writing to teach developmental concepts to pediatric nursing students. Journal of Pediatric Nursing, 12, 364-366.
  • Hudock, A. M., Jr., & Warden, S. A. G. (2001). Using movies to teach family systems concepts. Family Journal: Counseling and Therapy for Couples and Families, 9, 116-121
  • Hyler, S. E. (1988). DSM-III at the cinema: Madness in the movies. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 29, 195-206.
  • Hyler, S. E., & Moore, J. (1996). Teaching psychiatry? Let Hollywood help! Suicide in the cinema. Academic Psychiatry, 20, 212-219.
  • Hyler, S., & Schanzer, B. (1997). Using commercially available films to teach about borderline personality disorder. Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic, 61, 458-468.
  • Kirsch, S. J. (1998). Using animated films to teach social and personality development. Teaching of Psychology, 25, 49-50.
  • Koch, G., & Dollarhide, C. T. (2000). Using a popular film in counselor education: Good Will Hunting as a teaching tool. Counselor Education and Supervision, 39, 203-210.
  • Koren, G. (1993).  Awakenings: Using a popular movie to teach clinical pharmacology. Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, 53, 3-5.
  • Lelend, P. (1994). Using student enthusiasm for contemporary film to improve thinking and writing skills. Teaching and Change, 2, 31-43.
  • Markgraf, S., & Pavlik, L. (1998). “Reel” metaphors for teaching. Metaphor and Symbol, 13, 275-285.
  • Maynard, P. (1996). Teaching family therapy: Do something different. American Journal of Family Therapy, 24, 195-205.
  • Miller, F. (1999). Using the movie Ordinary People to teach about psychodynamic psychotherapy with adolescents. Academic Psychiatry, 23, 174-179.
  • Miller, L. (1987). Classification of psychopathology according to a scientific (psychology and psychiatry) and an artistic (film noir) perspective. Psychological Reports, 61, 287-299.
  • Misch, D. A. (2000). Psychosocial formulation training using commercial films. Academic Psychiatry, 24, 99-104.
  • Murphy, M. J. (1996). The Wizard of Oz as a cultural narrative and conceptual model for psychotherapy. Psychotherapy: Theory/Research/Practice/Training, 33, 531-538.
  • Nissim-Sabat, D. (1979). The teaching of abnormal psychology through the cinema. Teaching of Psychology, 6, 121-123.
  • Paddock, J. R., Terranova, S., & Giles, L. (2001). SASB goes to Hollywood: Teaching personality theories through movies. Teaching of Psychology, 28, 117-120.
  • Payne, B. (1993). A word is worth a thousand pictures: teaching students to think critically in a culture of images. Social Studies Review, 32, 38-43.
  • Pintertis, E. J., & Atkinson, D. R. (1998). The diversity video forum: An adjunct to diversity sensitivity training in the classroom. Counselor Education and Supervision, 37, 203-213.
  • Proctor, R. F., II., & Adler, R. B. (1991). Teaching Interpersonal Communication with Feature Films. Communication Education, 40, 393-400.
  • Self, D. J., Baldwin, D. C., & Oliverez, M. (1993). Teaching medical ethics to first-year students by using film discussion to develop moral reasoning. Academic Medicine, 68, 383-385.
  • Serey, T. T. (1992). Carpe Diem: Lessons learned about life and management from Dead Poets Society. Journal of Management Education, 16, 374-381.
  • Sharp, C., Smith, J.V., & Cole, A. (2002). Cinematherapy: Metaphorically promoting therapeutic change. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 15(3), 269-276.
  • Teasley, A. B., & Wilder, A. (1994). Teaching for visual literacy: Great young adult films. The ALAN Review, 21, 18-23.
  • Tipton, D. B., & Tiemann, K. A. (1993). Using feature film to facilitate sociological thinking. Teaching Sociology, 21, 187-191.
  • Toman, S. M., & Rak, C. F. (2000). The use of cinema in the counselor education curriculum: Strategies and outcomes. Counselor Education and Supervision, 40, 105-114.
  • Tyler, J., & Reynolds, T. (1998). Using feature films to teach group counseling. Journal of Specialists in Group Work, 23, 7-21.
  • Wedding, D., & Boyd, M. A. (1999). Movies and mental illness: Using films to understand psychopathology. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Williams, C. B. (1999). The Color of Fear and Blue-Eyed: Tools for multicultural counselor training. Counselor Education and Supervision, 39, 76-79.