Before You See The Movies (“The Great Gatsby” and Other Film Adaptations)

Movies have been used as a motivational teaching tool for decades, helping to engage reluctant readers by connecting them to text through moving images and diverse content. Some of the most acclaimed movies in history are adaptations of books, and each year, a dozen or so new movies are release that are based on classic or modern best-selling books. These movies can be used to supplement lesson plans that involve the books that inspired them, especially in English classes, where students receive the majority of their instruction in classic literature.

In “Using Video and Film in the Classroom,” the International Reading Association (IRA) suggests that teachers observe a few guidelines for incorporating films into the curriculum of an English class. The IRA does not recommend screening films in the classroom during regular instructional time, but a film can be assigned to students to view for homework and followed up with classroom discussions. Teachers need to be judicious in their choice of films, especially in considering the subject matter policies in place. Obtaining permission from school administrators and sending a letter home to parents about assigned films is the best way to avoid any backlash.

Of course, the movie version of a book should never be a replacement for reading the actual text. A movie represents an interpretation of a book, and students should experience the book firsthand in order to form their own interpretation. Films can, however, be useful in encouraging students to compare and contrast their own interpretations with those of the filmmakers. And after students complete the book and view the film, students can exercise their critical skills by writing reviews that discuss their opinions on the film adaption.

2013 Blockbusters and Learning Opportunities

For 2013, several new movies are scheduled for release based on books that can appeal to students in grades K through 12. Even though the school year is winding down, teachers may still have time to plan activities around the books that inspired these new releases.

The Great Gatsby

This classic American novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald is on the required reading list for many schools. It is argued that earlier adaptations have failed to capture the essence of this Jazz Age tale of love and ambition, but expectations are high that filmmaker Baz Luhrmann (Australia, Moulin Rouge, Romeo + Juliet, Strictly Ballroom) will bring excitement and opulence to his version. Shot in 3D and featuring a musical score that is a fusion of jazz and modern hip-hop, the film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby, Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan and Toby Maguire as narrator Nick Carraway. (May 10, 2013)

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Based on the best-selling novel by Mohsin Hamid, this film is a thriller that centers on the conflict experienced by Changez, a young Pakistani immigrant working on Wall Street. Like many New Yorkers, his life is forever changed by the events of 9/11. His quest for the American dream is interrupted by the pull of his homeland and his growing fundamentalism. Riz Ahmed stars in the film with a cast that includes Kate Hudson, Liev Shreiber and Keifer Sutherland. (May 10, 2013)


Billed as fantasy-adventure comedy-drama, this 3D computer-animated film is based on The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs, a popular children's picture book by author and illustrator William Joyce. The story centers on teenager Mary Katherine and her adventures in a secret world deep in the forest, where she finds herself in the midst of a battle between the forces of good and evil. Along with a cast of whimsical characters, she must help save a fantasy world and the real world as well. The film’s voices are provided by Amanda Seyfreid, Colin Farrell, Christoph Waltz, Pitbull, Jason Sudeikis, Steven Tyler and Beyonce Knowles. (May 24, 2013)

World War Z

Max Brooks' best-selling science fiction novel uses a series of oral histories to describe a global zombie apocalypse. The film version, which stars Brad Pitt, is schedule to be released this summer and, with production costs topping $400 million, is reported to be the most expensive film of all time.(June 21, 2013)

Romeo and Juliet

This British film version of William Shakespeare's tragic romance has been adapted for the screen by Downton Abbey creator and producer Julian Fellowes. The film stars 20-year-old Douglas Booth as Romeo and then 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) as Juliet. The youthfulness of the lead actors should appeal to high school students, and Fellowes remains faithful to Shakespeare's original language with this traditional production, which includes Italian settings, period costumes and plenty of swordplay. (July 26, 2013)

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

This highly anticipated adaptation of the second installment of the internationally bestselling Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins, is directed by Francis Lawrence (Water for Elephants, I Am Legend), and stars Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth. Set in the futuristic ruins of America, Catching Fire continues the story of Katniss Everdeen and Peta Mellark, the victors of the 74th annual Hunger Games: a televised battle for survival inflicted on the impoverished districts of Panem by the totalitarian Capitol. This series is very popular among young readers, but teachers should be mindful of the story’s violent content, which might not be suitable for all age groups. (November 22, 2013)


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