Close Viewing Protocol


Like close reading of text, close viewing of film media is carefully and purposefully viewing and reviewing a film clip in order to focus on what the filmmaker is trying to convey, the choices the filmmaker has made, the role of images, narration, editing, and sound, and what the film’s purpose might be. Close viewing ensures that students become critical viewers of film content and that they really understand what they’ve watched. Skillful close viewing is also an important foundation for helping students develop the ability to justify their claims in class discussions and writing assignments with specific evidence. The following sample protocol is meant for use with a short (five- to ten-minute) film or video clip.


  1. View the Film Clip Together

    After watching the clip, ask students to write down their general thoughts and reactions. You might prompt them with questions such as: What stands out for you? What resonated with you? What do you have questions about?

    Note: Before moving on to Step 2, it might be helpful to go over a few of these basic recall questions with students:

    • Who are the characters/people involved?
    • What is going on? What is the basic storyline?
    • What is the setting? Time period? Physical location?
    • What is the point of view? Whose story is this?
    • What is the theme/mood?
  2. Students Answer Film-Dependent Questions

    After this viewing, a teacher could ask “film-dependent questions” to focus students’ understanding of specific moments from the film. These are questions that students can answer entirely based on information and evidence provided in the film.

  3. Small Groups Practice Focused Viewing

    Have each student or small group take notes based on only one of the following lenses to focus their viewing of the film. Each lens includes “questions” to ask oneself.

    • Sound: Focus on the music in the film as well as the sound effects. What do you notice? What stands out to you?
    • Editing: Focus on the way that the interviews, photos, and video are edited together. What choices did the filmmaker make in terms of scenes or parts to show, represent, or emphasize?
    • Images: Focus on the visual experience; do not pay attention to the audio but simply take note of the images that are featured. What do you notice? What choices did the filmmaker make? What is the impact of these choices?
    • Storyline/Historical Facts: How is the story unfolding? What are the objective, historical facts that are portrayed in this film?
    • Human Behavior: How do you see the range of human behavior represented in this film? Where do you see the theme of choices or decision making?

    Have each group report on its lens and what its members observed. Ask each group to reflect on the following question: How was your viewing of the film affected by the specific lens through which you viewed it?

  4. Debrief

    Bring the small groups back together and ask that students take turns responding to the questions below.

    • What is the purpose of this film? Is it to teach, entertain, or do something else? How well is it doing this?
    • Who/what is left out of the message?
    • Whose interests are served by telling/showing the message in a particular way?
    • What motivations might the filmmaker have? How are these manifested in the film?
    • What do you already know about the topic? How might your prior knowledge of the topic change how you experience the film?

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