Making a Murder: Teaching Documentaries through pop culture

The unit that I’m teaching right now with my 8th graders is about documentaries. Our inquiry question for the unit is, “Are documentaries credible sources of information?” We’ve been teaching terms like lighting and music and types of camera shots as well as reviewing traditional persuasion techniques. We are now in the phase of students applying that knowledge to documentaries by analyzing how these techniques are used to persuade the audience. It is then up to them to decide if the documentary is credible or not.

I, like almost every other person in America over the age of 11, is obsessed with the Netflix serial documentary “Making a Murderer.” While watching, I realized that this documentary uses all of the aspects we’ve discussed in class in order to persuade the audience. I asked the principal, found an episode that really was a great example, and found all the parts I needed to cut out in order to make it PG. (Let me tell you–such a job lesson planning by having to watch an episode of my current, favorite show.)

Before we watch the show, we did a DocentEDU lesson that introduced the students to the concepts. I LOVE DocentEDU because I was able to take a real magazine article and add my own insights, questions, and discussions to make a coherent lesson. It really helps make the endless options of the internet into a lesson format that is relevant and real and manageable for my students. Here’s the lesson if you want to make a copy.

We will be watching Episode 2 of the series, minus some content that I’ll skip. If you’d like to look at (or make a copy) of the analysis note paper, you can get it here.


Author: karinhogen

I teach middle school language arts and run an Edtech company, DocentEDU, on the side. Every day is an adventure in my classroom with technology!

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