Integrating a classic is a great way to pump up an otherwise simple lesson. It seems like a black and white movie is the last thing a kid would want to see, and yet… classics are classics for a reason!
I showed It’s A Wonderful Life to my 6th-graders before Christmas and was amazed at my students’ interest in a film older than my parents. They referenced the story and its characters throughout the year, even surprising me with their connections. I have no doubt that this film enriched my students’ lives as well as my lessons.
So: do not underestimate your students’ interest in a classic film, song, piece of art, comedy routine, poem, play, etc. They are classics for a reason!
Several teachers have told me that their classes have enjoyed Charlie Chaplin clips, so I watched Chaplin’s masterpiece, Modern Times and looked for classroom uses.
Here are some ways you could integrate clips from this classic to add spice to your lessons. All links go to a full-length version on YouTube (it’s technically in German, but there’s no speaking in these clips).
An Opening for Big Ideas
Watching a clip can quickly introduce and illustrate a complex idea. We’ll look at three clips than might open the door to discuss:
- ethics of technology
- importance of doing things by hand
- how to create suspense
- power of repetition
- remixing ideas
I can then ask students to think about other works of art that they’re familiar with that could connect with this same big idea. I can also connect further concepts back to this Chaplin clip. For example, when reading The Veldt, it would be perfect to revisit a clip from Modern Times since they both deal with the ethics of technology.
When we study poetry, I could revisit how Chaplin’s humor is powered by his use of repetition, connecting with the importance of repetition in a poem.
In this clip starting at 8:34, Chaplin is strapped into a machine that feeds him, and of course, wacky hijinks ensue. The mouth-wiper is especially funny!
This would be a wonderful opener to any discussion about the ethics of technology or the advantages of doing things by hand.
Connect with this image from 1906 warning about “wireless technology” and discuss how humanity’s concerns repeat throughout time. Your students will have plenty to talk about!
Modern Times also showcases Chaplin’s roller skating skills in this classic scene starting from 45:30 in which he skates closer and closer to a drop while blindfolded.
You might use this clip to demonstrate “suspense” in writing. It’s much more exciting when Chaplin moves away and then back towards the edge, rather than always having him in danger. Students can apply this to their writing to build excitement.
Or this clip could introduce the use of repetition. By going close to the edge, over and over, Chaplin heightens the scene’s suspense, humor, and entertainment.
Also, you can pull back the curtain and show how this scene was filmed.
Influence of Ideas, Futility of Work…
It’s amazing how many classic moments are in this movie. In the scene starting at 13:17, Chaplin must tighten bolts on a conveyer belt. Of course, the belt increases speed, with Chaplin scrambling to keep up. This could open a theme about working hard versus working smart.
It also touches on a favorite topic of mine: remixing classics into new ideas. This scene has been remade several times, including the famous (and still hilarious) I Love Lucy moment at the chocolate shop, which, of course, continues to be remixed itself.
Just be sure to stop this clip before Chaplin starts chasing the women!
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