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Why Have Students Compare Books Versus Movies?

Find out why it is good to compare books versus movies in the classroom.

It is important to teach students to compare and contrast books versus movies. 

“Isn’t this a movie?”

As English Language Arts teachers, we have all heard these words as we hand out a new novel to our students. And whether the movie is relatively new, like The Giver and Ender’s Game, or has been around for decades, like To Kill a Mockingbird and 1984, the appeal of movies to our students is undeniable.  

Also undeniable is how that question makes a part of our teacher selves cringe—“Yes,” we want to shout, “But the book is so much better!” Why, though, are we so opposed to using some movies in class? What is it that stops us from including them as part of our curriculum?  

And can we be sure that the book is indeed always better?

Let’s talk about some of the very good reasons why using movies in class, often in addition to the original texts, can be so beneficial, and perhaps you will come away with some ideas for how to compare and contrast books versus movies.

Reason One: Student Engagement

Students rarely beg to read a new novel for class but might often beg to watch the movie version of that same novel in class.  

This ready-made engagement is priceless – something that teachers often can only dream of when they are teaching topics like verb tenses and proofreading skills. And when you are handed this kind of student interest, you would be foolish to ignore it.  

If students want to do something academic that relates to the topic you are studying, seriously consider building it into your curriculum and attaching it to the other material you want to cover, such as comparing books versus movies. If done correctly, the interest students have for a part of the material will rub off on the rest, and the entire thing will become more engaging for your students.

Reason Two: Consider the Struggling Readers

When students are struggling just to understand the words in front of them, it can be extra challenging for them to be able to analyze the story too.  

ELL students, struggling readers, and others with similar reading difficulties are often set up for failure when asked to understand literary critique or identify and apply literary concepts when they are struggling just to understand what they are reading in the first place.  

Movies are a great way to help these students. Identifying an inciting incident, irony, or foreshadowing can be done just as effectively in a movie as it can in a story without the added difficulties of trying to understand the story in written form.  

Once students have a solid grip on the concepts, it is much easier to apply them to difficult texts. Hint: You don’t have to only watch the movie versions of texts you read. Pick movies in the same way you pick texts—ones that are good for teaching the concepts you need to cover, no matter if they even have text versions or not.

Reason Three: Compare and Contrast

Using both the text and movie versions of a story is a great basis for comparing and contrasting books versus movies. Not only do you have the built-in interest solely in watching a movie in class,, but even a movie that is fairly faithful to the original text will have some major differences.

After reading the text and watching the movie, the compare/contrast activity can then take the form of anything from a simple Venn diagram or class discussion to a fully realized essay, and students can really get down the details of their thoughts on books versus movies.  

Take your discussions and essays of books versus movies to the next level by asking students specific questions about the two versions of the story. Instead of just asking how were the book and movie the same and/or different, ask questions about specific characters, plot points, and messages, how each version of the story dealt with these, and how that changed (or didn’t change) these elements.

Reason Four:  The Medium Is Important

It can be an interesting and important lesson to understand how different mediums of storytelling can affect an audience differently and relay a very different story.  A story we watch as a movie is a very different experience than one we read, and watching a live theatre rendition of that story, especially in a small setting, is different still. 

For instance, consider how different the experience of the final scene of Hamlet would be when you read it versus watching it on a TV, compared to seeing all those people die gruesome and realistic deaths a few feet from you on a stage.  

Understanding the effects that each medium has is an important first step in being able to utilize these mediums effectively ourselves. If you use multiple mediums of a story in your classes, consider taking the opportunity to discuss these differences. 

Comparing books versus movies isn’t just saying which one is better, but looking at the specific details included–or not included–in each medium and the reasoning behind it.

Reason Five:  Understandings

Movies can give us a very different understanding of a piece of literature.  When we read, we put our own interpretations of the characters and situations in the story. Everything from how we visualize the characters and settings to which underlying tones and messages we pick up on is up to us.  

However, when we watch a movie, much less of that is up to us. While some people see this as a weakness of movies versus their book versions, you can use this to your advantage in the classroom. 

Have your students discuss how their understanding of a book changed or varied with the different versions. For instance, in Harry Potter, Professor Snape is a subtly different character when you read him in the book than when you watch Alan Rickman swirl his black cape on screen.  

Another example is from Romeo and Juliet: Romeo is not only a different character for most of us when we read him than when we watch Leonardo DiCaprio climb the balcony in the movie rendition, but how different actors portray Romeo can change our understanding too.  

Instead of bemoaning this fact, use it to help your students broaden their understanding of a story, as well as the characters, messages, and themes in it while completing books versus movies analysis.

Book Versus Movie Comparison Analysis Project

Now that you know the benefits of teaching using books and movies together, why not try this Book Versus Movie Comparison Analysis Project? This assignment will help students gain higher-order thinking skills as they compare their favourite book to the movie adaptation of that book.

Students will select a book to read that has been made into a movie. Then, they will complete a series of assignments to demonstrate their understanding of both the book and the movie.

Students will compare and contrast the novel and movie’s plot, characters, setting, and theme. Each section of the assignment includes a due date option to ensure that the assignment is presented in “sections” to students and to space out your marking load.

Assignment Includes:

  • Reading Assignment
  • Writing Assignment
  • Oral Assignment
  • Media Assignment
  • 5 Reading-Focused Graphic Organizers
  • Book vs. Movie Suggestion List
  • 4 Success Criteria-Based Rubrics (Reading, Writing, Oral and Media)
  • 1 Points-Based Assessment
  • Print & Digital Formats
  • Curriculum Alignment – Grades 6 – 8 Ontario & Common Core

Incorporating movies into your teaching doesn’t have to feel as though you’re not really teaching. Show your students the benefits of comparing books versus movies, and you might just instill a love of reading inside of them without even knowing it. Find this resource on Shopify CAD or Teachers Pay Teachers USD.


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