The U-Bend #11: Back To School Special -A Teacher’s Guide To Harry Potter

by Andrew Lee and Robert Lanto

You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of potion making. As there is little foolish wand-waving here, many of you will hardly believe this is magic.

-Severus Snape (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone)

Well, it’s back to school season and as everyone sharpens their pencils and gets ready for another year of learning (or sleeping in class), it’s time for us to talk to all the teachers out there. After getting past the parents, the school boards, your local government and Warner Brothers’ team of lawyers, did you manage to add the Harry Potter books to your curriculum this year? If you did, then this guide’s for you. So if you’re a student, stop reading now. If you’re a teacher (or a student who still wants to cheat) then this guide will teach you how to detect the signs that your students are trying to watch the movies instead of reading the books.

Since the beginning of time (or at least since public schooling began), students have always tried to find new and ingenious ways to cheat. From copying answers to complicated cell phone text messaging schemes, if a student can try and get one more correct answer, they will. One of the easiest (and more common) cheats is for a student to watch the movie version of any book. So, how can you as a teacher stop this? Luckily there are the standard ways: asking questions from scenes and chapters that do not appear in the movie version, asking certain details that are only found in the book and trick questions. Outlined below are the current Potter books that have movie versions available and (for your convenience) we’ve organized them in chronological order.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Sorcerer’s in the US)

The easiest way to prevent cheating here is to ask more questions from the chapters that did not appear in the movie, especially from the Midnight Duel, Norbert, and Forbidden Forest chapters. Questions about the more minor characters is a must. Ask about the names of some of Harry’s classmates and teachers. The ghosts and Peeves the poltergeist are also fair game, given their expanded roles. Ask more general questions, like where do the students do their homework (it’s not the Great Hall) or how many of Dudley’s friends went with him to the zoo (Piers went)?

But, these tricks also work in reverse. Since the movie makes cuts to speed up story flow, you could always ask questions using the movie as a base. For example, how did Quirrell die? The correct is answer is (assumingly) he didn’t. Quirrell is last seen choking Harry and Dumbledore pulls Quirrell off, Harry loses consciousness, and we never see Quirrell again. If you don’t want to be that cruel, you could always ask more specific questions like: When did Harry and Hagrid leave the cabin? If your student says “that night,” you know they’re lying.

The key to catching cheaters here is that the film spends more time establishing things (allowing the others to concentrate more on the story), and all the secondary plots and characters are placed in the background (or serve as comedic relief). So Seamus is not a pyromaniac and Snape did referee a match of Quidditch. It will be these secondary elements (in this and the other two books) which will be key to catching cheaters.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Luckily, Chamber of Secrets has many more ways to catch cheaters. Once again asking questions will catch a few cheaters (ask about Penelope Clearwater), but so will asking for book reports. Take this (phony) report for example:

After Madam Pomfrey unpetrified Hermione, Colin, Justin and Mrs. Norris, they all managed to attend the final dinner at Hogwarts. At the dinner Hagrid finally returned and everyone cheered and applauded. While walking back to the teacher’s table, Harry told Hagrid that it just wouldn’t be Hogwarts without him. The end.

Okay, first off this deserves an F. But, let’s go over why this is bad. First, there were more frozen students. Second, the ending is all wrong (it had nothing about Hogwarts missing Hagrid). Third, never end a book report with “the end.”

So, what are some things that cheating students may write in their reports? Look to see if Professor Binns (History of Magic) is mentioned, look for life at the Weasley’s home, Nick’s Deathday Party and what happened on Valentine’s Day. All these scenes were cut (or changed) in many ways, but their appearance in the books is key to catching cheaters. However, since the main plot about the Chamber is relatively undisturbed (when compared to the other two films), don’t expect students to miss those questions.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

If your class is fast enough, you won’t have to worry about Prisoner of Azkaban. The DVD is only coming out in November and the film is out of theaters. So only if your student downloaded the film from the Internet (in which case the FBI and MPAA will take care of them for you) do you have to worry. Fortunately, Prisoner of Azkban left out one key plotline: Who were the Marauders?

Maybe Warner Brothers and Cauron forgot about this plotline, but it is key to understanding almost everything we know about Harry’s parents (and their friends). Given that the film gave more screen time to Sir Cadogan fooling around in the background than it did on the Marauder’s plotline, teachers everywhere should place their concentration all over this. Questions about who they were, what they did, their relationship to Snape, all of it! Also, one of the things omitted from the first movie comes back here, mainly, why does Snape seem to hate Harry so? Given the importance of this answer (and everything about the Marauders), it is nearly impossible for a person (who has only watched this movie) to not miss a question.

Oh, and if anyone mentions shrunken talking heads in any book reports please give them an F.


The most important thing to remember is that cheating can be caught easily. While we don’t expect you to ask what Harry ate at every meal, or how many bones Harry had to regrow, it is important that only a person who has read the books can answer certain questions. Just be careful, if there is a will to cheat they will find a way. But as long as they don’t follow the movie version of events, you can be sure that your students are reading Harry Potter instead of watching. After all, that’s what we want; going to school and getting an education is for the children’s future.