Beyond the Stigma: 9 Ways to Use Television In the Classroom

Post by Open Colleges on April 16th, 2018

Watching TV in school might sound like a bad idea. Granted, in my own school days, the only time teachers let us watch movies was at the end of term as a treat, not for educational purposes.

Over the last two decades, the amount of time kids spend in front of screens has risen dramatically. While the average child spent around 3 hours per day in front of their TV or console in 1995, children aged 5-16 now spend around 6.5 hours per day in front of their screens.

It might sound completely counterproductive to allow students to consume even more TV while at school, but it all depends on the material and the context in which they are watched. Kids are very used to consuming information via screens, so using this platform for educational purposes can actually be quite beneficial.

There are many different ways of incorporating TV shows, movies, current news, and documentaries into your curriculum. If used and prepared well, this can be a great way to grab your students’ attention, start meaningful conversations about a whole host of topics, and show them that a topic is relevant outside the classroom.

Of course, simply switching on an episode of Game of Thrones might keep the class quiet for an hour but won’t have a lot of educational value. TV shows should always be used in context, as a tool to drive a certain point home or start a conversation.

But with so many incredible documentaries, historic and political dramas, comedies, and science fiction shows available, there is no lack of opportunity to tie a show to the topic you’re currently covering in your classroom in a creative way. Let us show you how.


1. Pick a scene

Instead of watching a full episode or a whole feature movie, it can be much more beneficial to choose a short clip to share with your students. A three-to-five-minute scene will also have more impact than allowing your class to watch a full episode, as their attention will drift.

2. Use themes

When covering a specific topic, it can be a great idea to pick a few different shows or films with the same theme. This will be more engaging and will allow you to provide different perspectives on the same topic.

For example, if you were covering Black History Month, you could show TV shows based in different eras to show how this issue has changed over the decades. For example, 1970s award-winning show ‘Roots’ and Netflix documentary ‘The 13th’ address the topic of slavery from different points of view.

3. Current events

Using current events to explain historic events or political concepts is a great way for students to understand how the subject they’re learning is connected to the world around them outside of that dusty old textbook.

News clips can be a good way to introduce a topic and start a balanced conversation, but with today’s 24/7 news cycle, students might not be too impressed by a breaking news clip.

Instead, you could share a few minutes of one of the many comedy news shows that cover the most important events of the day or week. Humour is an excellent way to help students remember key points, and current events are no exception.

Late night shows like The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver cover topics from cryptocurrency and climate change to Brexit and net neutrality.

But satirical news shows aren’t the only way to bring current events into the classroom. Award-winning shows like The Wire or House of Cards can teach young adults a lot about the political system, as well as inequality and other social issues.

4. Historic Dramas

History can be a dry subject, especially when students having a hard time putting the lesson materials into context and connecting them with the modern world they live in. This is such a shame, as history is one of the most important, colourful, and interesting subjects when taught well. TV shows and movies can bring historic events to life and get students hooked on finding out more.

Thankfully, there’s no shortage of fantastic TV shows based on important historic eras, from modern times to ancient history.

Are you covering the 1920s prohibition era? Why not share a clip from Boardwalk Empire with your class to show the impact this seemingly small law had on the economy and society?

5. Economy and Business

Business and economics can seem like very foreign concepts to students, as they are often taught in an abstract, impractical manner. Instead of teaching the basics of business, why not watch an episode of Shark Tank with your students. Business plans, profit margins, and even negotiation skills can be learned in a playful and entertaining way.

If you want to take it up a notch, you can set up a live version of Shark Tank, with your students pitching their ideas to a panel of teachers or peers.

6. Language Classes

Languages are among the best subjects to teach using TV shows and movies. Foreign language TV shows depict the real language, including slang and spoken grammar, providing a more realistic experience than the stiff and often outdated language that is taught in class.

Short clips of shows or movies where characters use interesting grammar or sentence structure can transform language learning from a dry, abstract concept into a real world conversation that students want to follow along with.

Popular Netflix show Cable Girls could be a great way to liven up a Spanish class, while shows in German, French, Italian, and Portuguese can also be found on the platform.

7. Complement fiction

One of the easiest ways to integrate a TV series or movie into your curriculum is by showing clips of a novel you’re currently reading in class. All the great classics have been turned into TV shows, mini-series, or full feature-length movies at some stage.

Breaking up the reading using a short clip of one of the key scenes can bring extra life to novels and help pique your student’s interest. Seeing dialogue acted out can also be more engaging than reading it out in class.

8. Use a show as a trailer

Instead of using a movie or TV show that covers the topic being taught exactly, you can select a short scene from a popular show simply as a trailer to introduce a new topic. For example, The Big Bang Theory is a hugely popular comedy show about four geeky PhD students at CalTech in Pasadena.

While the show follows the relationships of the four characters, advanced physics concepts such as Schroedinger’s cat or the discovery of the Higgs Boson get regular mentions. Using a funny clip that includes these concepts can be a great way to grab your students attention and introduce a topic.

Interestingly, the popularity of the show has led to an increase in students taking physics in high school and university. Physics is losing its image as a ‘geeky’ subject thanks to shows like The Big Bang Theory and popular documentaries by Professor Brian Cox and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

9. Documentaries

Modern documentaries are a far cry from the old-school episodes you might remember from your own school days. Netflix has a whole host of world class documentaries on environmental, political, and social topics.

For example, BBC’s award-winning documentary series Life brings the incredible survival tactics used by nature to the screen and would be a fantastic addition to any biology lesson.

To make your lessons even more interactive, you could also involve your students in selecting or researching relevant shows and movies.

As you can see, there are many valuable and educational ways to incorporate a little screen time into the classroom. By picking the right show and planning your classes around the clips, you’ll be able to bring your subject to life, grab your class’ attention, and spark interesting discussions.

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