Teaching history with movies has many advantages and makes learning fun and memorable! Here are 10 reasons to teach history through movies.
Disclaimer: Some of the following links are affiliate links. I make a small commission from some of the links on this site. You can read my full disclosure here.
10 Reasons to Teach History with Movies
Nothing can bring history to life like the big screen. Even if they’re not 100% historically accurate, many historical movies invite looking further into the topic and the true story surrounding it. Movies have introduced me to so many interesting people and events throughout history.
1. It sticks better.
Visual learners make up around 65% of the population, and studies have shown visual learners can help stick in long-term memory. While the exact number may be debated, it’s well-proven that our visual memory is strong. (Moonwalking with Einstein, showing the memory champions of the world, has excellent stories about this!)
Instead of random names and dates and boring facts, movies give us memorable visuals and an engaging storyline that simply help us remember what we learned.
You’re naturally more likely to remember the story of a famous figure from a movie, than from a paragraph in a textbook with no visuals. Image credit: Race
2. Movies bring history to life by focusing on depth.
Many times, to fit everything in, many textbooks dedicate only a few forgettable paragraphs to a time period or historical person. We never get to truly invest into a story.
Movies make history literally leap off the pages and help characters like “Abraham Lincoln” and “Harriet Tubman” literally come to life. Even fiction can help offer us an example of what the time period was like for the average person, not just the “greats.”
3. Movies inspire and bring characters to life.
Movies help us to see a person from many different angles. Not only can they show the grand things people like Oskar Schindler and Abraham Lincoln did in history, but they can help you seem them as human beings. They can help flesh out a person so they are not just another figure in a history book. Image credit: Schindler’s List
4. They can be interactive and encourage discussion.
Sites like Teach With Movies and Movie Sheets offer free printable resources for teaching with movies, including assignment ideas, worksheets, and discussion questions. Learn in Color offers movie guides, activities, and discussions that encourage social-emotional learning and understanding the context of the movie.
5. Movies can be easier to relate to.
We often read about World War II from the perspective of battle-worn soldiers. However, children in particular may enjoy films like Molly: An American Girl better, which portrays life on the home front from the view of a young girl. Likewise, what better way to teach a 10 year old about life on the home front, than from the view of another 10 year old?
6. Movies encourage you to dive deeper.
From dedicated biopics to pop culture favorites like Pearl Harbor, movies can encourage you to dive deeper into history. Pearl Harbor (despite being overall not a historical movie) introduced us to the Doolittle Raid, an event that is seldom in history books.
From “inspired by a true story” movies to fiction, movies can introduce us to new stories, new people, and new places. Sites like History vs. Hollywood and Chasing the Frog can help you directly compare and contrast the movie with the true story. Image credit: Hidden Figures/20th Century Fox
7. Movies are a part of our culture.
Movies are meant to entertain and are a major part of American culture. Why not take advantage of it with the plethora of quality historical movies out there?
8. Many historical movies also have additional character-building/social emotional llearning themes.
The WWII flick Unbroken is a story of resilience, bravery, forgiveness and redemption. 42: The Jackie Robinson Story offers us great lessons on courage, leadership, change, and racism. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a Holocaust movie where courage and resilience were not major themes.
Many historical movies, especially those that revolve around a notable person, are often made for a reason. They are packed with good character-building life lessons that are important both inside and outside the classroom.
9. Movies give us new perspectives.
As we become emotionally invested in a story, movies help give us new perspectives on historical events. Felicity: An American Girl, can teach kids about both sides of the American Revolution, the Loyalists and the Patriots, in a way that makes sense. Image credit: Seabiscuit
10. It gives students people to look up to.
Erin Gruwell from the movie/story Freedom Writers, inspired her students by introducing them to Holocaust victim Anne Frank, and the woman who hid her, Miep Gies. While her students were battling tough racial tensions, Miep Gies was a reminder to do the right thing, no matter what.
No matter who you are, movies can introduce you to a wide array of people you can look up to – men, women, and people of all different races and ages.
Bonus: It’s fun
Learning history through movies is fun! And honestly, to me, anything that gets kids excited to learn is worth looking into.