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Teaching with Historical Film Clips

This guide explains an approach for teaching with historical film clips that meets two purposes: teaching students that film needs to be questioned just like other historical accounts, and deepening students' historical understanding of particular topics.

The successful ingredients for a lesson using historical footage include:

Non-fiction film clip

Use short clips, under 15 minutes. This allows students to pay close attention to the entire clip. You can also show a clip multiple times so students can watch it closely.

Background knowledge

Update and deepen your knowledge of the clip’s historical topic and time and any accompanying sources. Also ask yourself: What background information will my students need about this clip and the events it portrays? When and how will I include this in my lesson?

Supplementary historical sources

Select accompanying sources to make for a more complete and complex historical story. Students can consider how these sources support, contest, or extend the clip's story. They engage in the historical work of reading and synthesizing multiple sources.

Core questions

Good questions help focus and direct students. They help scaffold historical reading and thinking about the clip and sources.

Historical thinking focus

Identify one or two aspects of how we know what we know about the past that each set of sources can be used to teach. Visit our elementary, middle school, and high school examples for ideas.


Archives of Historic Footage
Teaching with Historical Film Clips

Grade-level Examples

Elementary School

Gravestone of Venture Smith, Haddam Neck, CTUsing Historical Footage (Elementary)
Venture Smith: How do we know his story? [...] »

Middle School

Tom Kobayashi, Manzanar Relocation Center, California, Ansel AdamsUsing Historical Footage (Middle School)
Cheerful evacuees? Discern and challenge argument in film. [...] »

High School

Senator Joseph McCarthyUsing Historical Footage (High School)
"Have you no sense of decency, sir?": Understanding McCarthy in Context [...] »