Teachers all have lessons they create that they’re proud of. These lessons typically teach valuable skills in a new, innovative way. Many times, they are popular among students, too. For me, one of the lessons in my repertoire that I am most proud of (and love to teach) is on text evidence.
In sixth grade, text evidence is a vital skill. It shows up in quite a few of our standards, and is typically covered multiple times during the school year. We have to teach how to identify text evidence, both implicit and explicit, as well as how to use it in their writing and speaking. This involves higher level reading skills, analysis of sources, and citations. It’s also a new concept for most students, so they don’t have a lot of schema on it. What prior knowledge they do have isn’t explicit, so drawing on it can be a little trickier.
A few years ago, when I first began teaching language arts, I was trying to come up with a way to effectively introduce the concept of text evidence. I wanted it to be interesting and engaging for my kids, which didn’t seem like an easy feat. I mean, who really gets excited about citing text evidence? Not many of us. But more importantly, I wanted it to be memorable so my students really made meaning from it. Because it was a skill we’d be using frequently throughout the school year, I needed to make sure this lesson stuck.
I pondered for awhile, and eventually had a “light bulb” moment… Movie trailers.
Movie trailers are designed for a specific purpose: Get audiences to make predictions. They are also inherently interesting, specifically created to inspire moviegoers to attend. I figured that with this combination, we had a solid start. From there, the idea seemed to flow. So without further ado, here’s a step by step for my introductory lesson on text evidence using movie trailers.
1. Choose a movie trailer.
This step is the most important one, for obvious reasons. You need to choose a new, popular movie that hasn’t come out yet. Choosing a brand new movie ensures that predictions are legitimate, and no one can use the evidence of, “I’ve already seen it, and that’s what happens.”
It’s should be geared toward your students’ ages and capitalize on what they like. In the past I’ve used trailers for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (the first and second one), Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Sing. Make sure you preview the trailer before showing to your classes, just to make sure it’s appropriate and includes what you want it to!
2. Watch the trailer with your class and have them write down predictions.
First I set the scene: Lights off, students have notebooks or post-it notes, and pencils at the ready. I play the trailer once all the way through. Once it stops, I have everyone write down at least one prediction. Oftentimes, they’ll write down a few.
I also participate by writing down my own predictions. My suggestion to my students is to number the predictions if they have more than one. It makes the next few steps a little smoother.
I invite the group to share their predictions, and I share my own. This is usually pretty fun and there are some great ones. The kids get excited about it, especially if the movie is one that they want to see!
3. Watch the trailer again, looking for evidence that you see.
After writing down predictions, I play the trailer a second time. Before pushing play, I tell students to look for some clues that they see to help explain why they made a prediction. I tell them that we’re only looking for things we see this time, and when we do see them, we need to jot them down. If they prove or explain one of our predictions, we can put the corresponding number next to it.
When it stops, I give students a few minutes to finish writing their clues down.
4. Watch again, looking for evidence that you hear.
This time, we’re looking for direct quotes from the actors. I tell students to pay particular attention to what’s being said, writing it down as best they can. Same rules apply for numbering as well.
5. Final watch!
I play the trailer one last time, telling students to write down anything they might have missed to support their prediction(s). Giving this final step might seem like a little much, but they typically are happy about it. If they’ve missed something in one of the previous viewings, they can catch it this time. If they’ve gotten everything down, they can just watch for fun!
6. Debrief and share.
Now I ask students to share their predictions again, as well as the things they saw or heard that supported it. We talk about how well a particular action or quote fits with a prediction, and a lot of times kids will really get into how their predictions are similar or different. They also like pointing out how one person might have interpreted something differently, leading them to a different prediction. The discussion here tends to be lively, and it leads us perfectly into the text evidence connection.
7. Connect to text evidence.
What we saw was like implicit, or implied, text evidence. There wasn’t anything directly stated to prove our prediction, but there was some subtext, some clue, that led us to believe it would happen. The actors did something or behaved a certain way, and it caused us to draw a particular conclusion. Writers do this too, both in literature and informational texts. They give us clues, often causing us to “read between the lines,” so that we pick up on a particular hint. Sometimes, this evidence is a little hazy and requires us to offer a clear explanation.
What we heard was like explicit, or direct, text evidence. The actors directly stated something that caused us to believe our prediction would come true. We may have had to draw a conclusion, but it was incredibly obvious and no other conclusion could have been drawn. Most of the time, though, it’s a direct statement with no room for interpretation. Writers do this the very same way. They tell us important information directly, right there in the text. There’s no other way to think of it because it’s right there in black and white.
Four years later, I still teach this lesson. It varies a little each year, mostly because I choose a new movie and it sparks new conversations. But the heart of the lesson remains the same because it is so effective.
Movie trailers are exciting, and when we watch them, predictions come naturally to my middle schoolers. This schema allows me to draw the background knowledge they have about supporting their ideas. The focus on what we see and hear provides a concrete, tangible way of looking at the new skill of text evidence. It also engages their senses for a more whole-brain approach. This lesson provides a common understanding that can be referred back to throughout the year, and engages the students in the experiential process.
It’s one of my favorite lessons for many reasons, but mainly because it is so effective. Students draw connections to it and make meaning from it, ensuring that they retain this concept for the future. We test our knowledge frequently following it, using my text evidence task cards, writing CER paragraphs, and learning to annotate nonfiction purposefully. But all these activities that follow would be far less successful if we didn’t start with a strong foundation—which in this case, just so happens to be a movie trailer.