The following lesson plans comprise a unit that explores documentary film and are written for grades 7-12 and college-level classes respectively. These classroom activities include: learning objectives; an outline of the relevant national standards met by the plans; a list of necessary tools and materials; a notation regarding the total time needed to complete the individual lessons; a teaching strategy; assessment recommendations; and extension ideas.
This lesson helps students understand that documentaries are a type of storytelling that explores factual stories and issues using film or video. By the end of the lesson students should know the difference between fact, fiction and opinion, and be prepared to watch documentaries in class.
This mini curriculum, grounded in the work and comments of filmmakers showcased on POV, an award-winning series featuring social-issue documentary and the longest running series of its kind, is designed to help professors incorporate the basics of social-issue documentary production into their larger teaching objectives. It uses the resources of the POV website.
Lesson #3: Using Documentary Films to Spotlight and Redress Genocide, Corruption and Injustice Around the Globe
This educational unit utilizes interviews with the filmmakers of four films from POV’s 24th and 25th seasons. Together, these films highlight this trend. They are set in various places around the globe — Cambodia, Guatemala, Mexico and the Philippines. Each tells a powerful story that spotlights injustice, either on a massive societal scale, as with the genocides in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 and Guatemala in the early 1980s, or at the individual level, as with injustices in Mexico, the Philippines and Spain that signal broader failures of the criminal justice systems in those countries.
Lesson #4: What Makes a Documentary a Documentary?: What Filmmakers Have to Say
(Secondary level and up)
It was once rare for a documentary film to be released in mainstream theaters, but that is beginning to change. Given the growing influence of documentaries, it is important that students have the skills to understand and analyze these information sources. This series of activities is designed to help develop what Common Core Standards advocates call “close reading skills” as they apply to documentary film. The activities utilize not only POV films, but also POV’s extraordinary archive of interviews with many of the world’s most accomplished documentary filmmakers.