Cinematic Citizenship: Developing Citizens of Character With Film

Summer, 2010

Source: Action in Teacher Education v. 32 no. 2 (Summer 2010) p. 12-23.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The current paper explores how educators use film to promote critical thinking and develop citizens of character through values analysis.

Developing Citizens of Character Through Film

The authors claim that utilizing alternative teaching methods, such as teaching with film, has been shown to increase student interest in the content as well as promote the use of higher-order thinking skills (Bonwell & Eisen, 1991).

The article provides Russell model for using film (Russell, 2007) to teach students to be citizens of character are provided for teachers interested in incorporating this approach into their classroom instruction:

Stage 1: The Preparation Stage
This stage includes creating lesson plans that incorporate film while still meeting instructional goals and objectives, state standards, and national standards and adhering to all legal requirements.

Stage 2: The Previewing Stage
This stage is done before students view the film. It should include the introduction of the film and the purpose for viewing it.

Stage 3: Watching-the-Film Stage
This stage includes presenting the film in its entirety or in short clips while ensuring that students are aware of what they should be doing and looking for when watching the film.

Stage 4: The Culminating-Activity Stage
This stage is done after students have watched the film. It includes assessing student learning. During this stage, teachers focus on reviewing, clarifying, and discussing major points, concepts, issues, scenes, and inaccuracies, and they assess student learning in some fashion.

The article also provides teachers with a filmography of character education-related films for elementary, middle, and high school.


The authors argue that preparing students to become effective citizens in society has always been a responsibility bestowed on teachers and schools. Therefore, it is essential for educators to realize the fluid nature of educating students as citizens of character and to begin exploring new methods to assist them in developing moral values and a sense of civic responsibility. Teaching students to critically examine and analyze films will enable them to transform from passive receivers of information to responsible consumers able to interpret meaning from cinema. Incorporating film into the classroom builds citizens of character by allowing students to critically analyze and interpret films.

Allowing students to consider their thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and beliefs through the engaging medium of film will empower them to rationalize and defend their values, which is a necessary skill for all democratic citizens in the 21st century. Furthermore, having an improved understanding of their values and decision making will allow students to deeply think about what it means to be an effective citizen in such a diverse and ever-changing world.

Bonwell, C., & Eisen, J. (1991). Active learning: Creating excitement in the classrooms. Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction No. ED340272).

Russell, W. (2007). Using film in the social studies. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

Updated: Jan. 10, 2012