In this lesson, students will use clips from 56 Up--the latest installment in one of the world's most famous documentary film series--to examine the differences between "reality" television and documentaries. The lesson will also provide an opportunity to engage in group discussion, read an informational text, write an opinion piece and practice source citation.
One 50-minute class period, plus time for writing assignment to be completed outside of class.
- Be able to explain the differences between a reality television program and a documentary.
- Know how to cite an online source properly.
- Read a text that contains both information and opinion.
- Write an opinion-based or informational essay.
- Internet access and equipment to show the class online video
- Internet access for student research (optional)
1. Start with a class discussion to prepare students for the writing exercise. Ask students to name "reality" television shows. Once the class has developed a short list, ask students to describe what the shows have in common. In other words, what characteristics make a show "reality" television?
Once there is consensus about the characteristics of reality television shows, repeat the process, but look at documentaries. If students have trouble naming a documentary, you might ask them to think about widely viewed television shows, such as Nature,ESPN's 30 for 30 or American Experience. Wrap up the discussion by comparing and contrasting the two lists generated by the class, checking that students understand the major distinctions between a documentary and a reality television show.
2. Then pose this question: Would you want to be filmed for a reality television show or documentary? Give students about 15 seconds to think about their answers, and then tell them that before they discuss their answers, they're going to hear from some people who were featured in one of the most famous documentary film series ever, the Upseries. Briefly describe the Up series, which filmed the same people every seven years from 1964, when they were seven years old, until the present.
3. Show each of the clips from 56 Up, pausing for a two-minute free write between each for students to jot down their reactions.
4. As time allows, discuss the pros and cons of participating in a reality show or documentary. Did the clips alter their initial thoughts in any way?
5. As an assessment, allow students to choose from one of two written assignments:
A) Write a position paper explaining why you would or would not want to be in a reality show.
Students who choose this assignment are required to read an essay by Jennifer L. Pozner: "The Surreal World: Class Anxiety, Hyperconsumption and Mocking the Poor, for Your Viewing Pleasure," from In These Times, November 2010 (available at: www.realitybitesbackbook.com/articles-and-essays/).
B) Write an informational essay explaining the difference between a documentary and a reality show.
Students who choose this assignment are required to read an article by Henrik Juel: "Defining Documentary Film" (available at:http://pov.imv.au.dk/Issue_22/section_1/artc1A.html). If the reading level of this article is too advanced for your class, you may assign WordIQ's definition of a documentary as an alternative (www.wordiq.com/definition/Documentary_film).
Require each student to incorporate a quote from the assigned article in his or her own piece. If needed, review proper citation format.
1. Have students watch the entire film and discuss the relationship between socioeconomic status and identity. Is being part of a particular socioeconomic class just a matter of how much money one has, or is there also a cultural dimension? You could also introduce students to POV's Media Literacy Questions for Analyzing POV Films(www.pbs.org/pov/educators/media-literacy.php) and then use those to analyze the film.
2. Offer students an opportunity to shoot home movies that they can save and look at seven years from now. Ask them to reflect on how their ideas have changed over the past seven years. What do they predict life will be like seven years from now?
3. Have each student choose one of the people featured in 56 Up and, after viewing all the segments in which that person appears, write a character sketch.
4. Write and record a review of 56 Up.