1. Develop open-ended focus questions
Focus questions are open-ended questions that ask students to look for or notice something in particular while viewing or listening to the selected media. It is important that the question be specific but also be open-ended, therefore allowing for several different responses in order to inspire discussion. For example, what did you notice? Can you tell me more about that? The questions should encourage students to be observational and interpretive rather than say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers.
2. Keep the media short
A good rule of thumb for screening length is to keep your media under 10 minutes if you want to have a rich conversation. You can, of course, screen a whole program as long as you pause intermittently to check in and discuss what is happening. Short clips can be screened more than once and be refocused on different elements of the construction (e.g. focusing attention on the sound first, then the images, or the story structure and characters).
3. Start each discussion by summarizing
After each clip is screened, ask students to describe what they remember seeing and hearing. Their summaries should start at the beginning of the clip and include as much detail as possible. Often it is useful to ask students literally, “What was the first thing you remember seeing or hearing?” Summarizing takes time, but it allows for richer discussions as information is slowly uncovered, and helps the teacher/parent know exactly what the student understood. It is not necessary to summarize an entire clip or program. When students are truly engaged and focused on what they saw and heard, the summary ends and they begin to answer the focus question.
4. Answer the focus question
Once students have begun to describe and summarize, restate the focus question. It is a good idea to encourage a wide range of opinions, especially if you have a group of students, by asking, "Does anyone disagree or want to add to that?" or "Did anyone notice anything different?"
5. Make connections
After analyzing a clip, ask kids to look for similarities and differences between other media you have shared with them, or that they have seen on a similar topic. Connections can also be made to a book, graphic novel, piece of music, or art. Students retain information more easily when it is connected to background knowledge or personal experiences.
Allow some time for students to reflect on what they learned from the media they viewed and discussed. Can you ask a question about it, or have the student ask you questions about it? To allow for different learning styles, you could give them time to draw, or write a response to the clips you have viewed together.
If you have any questions or ideas for topics you would like us to cover, feel free to email us at
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