We have spent several periods watching "Dead Poet's Society" and taking notes on the characters, conflict, and theme. At the end of each segment (each takes about 45 minutes), the students update their notes and make connections. At the start of the next class (say, Day 2 of the viewing,) we toss a ball around and recall details of the movie.
Tossing the ball around works like passing a "talking stick." I use a small, stuffed soccer ball and I toss it to someone and have them start off by setting the scene. The other students can add forgotten information by raising their hands, but the student with the ball has the floor. Once he or she has provided the input, the ball is passed to someone else. This is an excellent way to deal with absences while you are showing a movie, because the other students can fill in the person who was out and there is none of that "Come in on my lunch hour and I will replay that section for you."
Once we have debriefed the events, we follow with "Comments and Connections" -- this is the time wherein the students can connect the book with the movie. This part is particularly interesting, because the kids sometimes see things that I do not. For example, one student today pointed out that Mr. Keating (the teacher in the film) reminds here of Finny from A Separate Peace. I was thinking that the student was pretty far off base, especially considering that Keating is pretty intellectual, but then I remembered all of the sports and games that he made up and I see the connection. So, it's a good time to throw ideas out and see what people think.
This activity ended up taking about three days. I have compressed the assignment for the sake of clarity. The students took a long time in the computer lab, simply because it takes time to put together quality presentations.
Students started working on the assignment by setting up their presentation and tackling their thesis statements. Then, the process of developing a full presentation, complete with all of the required elements, took time.
Middle schoolers really struggle with coming up with good thesis statements, even with the skeleton provided (in the slide in Resources.) It is imperative that they learn to write the thesis BEFORE they try to develop their slides. Yes, they can take notes on individual aspects, but they absolutely must be warned against "freestyling" in such a specific assignment like the five paragraph paper.
As I mentioned in the previous section, this lesson ended up stretching over a few instructional days. My students needed much more time in the lab than I had originally predicted. However, the products were interesting and worth the extra time.