How to Use Movies to Teach Students How to Solve Community Problems

Since I was in school, I always enjoyed the day when teachers rolled the TV cart into the classroom to play movies. I brought this love into my classroom.

This excitement faded for a second when I realized I was teaching civics. How could I possibly incorporate movies with civics? 

After much searching, I mean I had to dig deep into the internet. I found ways to incorporate movies with civics. The first topic I covered was solving community problems. 

Movies are great ways to teach students the steps in solving community problems. Let’s take a look at a sample lesson:

Part 1: Bell ringer 

  1. I start with a bell ringer that reviews content with students. The review question is usually a multiple-choice that asks the students who they would contact for a specific problem. 

Part 2: Notes 

  1. I then have students write down notes on the 4 steps for solving problems in the community. 
  2. There are more steps, but I like to condense the steps to make it easier for students to understand. 
  3. The four steps I cover are: 
    1. Defining the problem 
    2. Research public policy alternatives (find different solutions)
    3. Identify government agencies to address the problem (chose one solution) 
    4. Action plan

Part 3: Practice

I then choose a movie that has a character that has a problem. Cartoons and animated movies are the best choices because of the nostalgia factor. Many students would have watched these films in elementary. The excitement for secondary students will be through the roof!

After this activity, I have students who tell me they have a better understanding of the underlying themes in the movie. This year I showed wall-e, but there are other options you can choose from (all of the movies are rated G)

  • Cars 
  • Toy Stor
  • Finding Nemo
  • Ratatouille

I chose wall-e because of the underlying message of what happens when policies fail. In the movie, it shows life on earth if humans continue to pollute it. The solution to pollution led to obesity in citizens. I don’t want to ruin the movie for you, so you should watch it.

The four questions students answer are: 

1. What is the problem wall-e wants to solve 

2. What are wall-e’s three possible solutions 

3. What solution does wall-e choose? 

4. What actions did wall-e take to solve his problem?

Extension Activity

You can extend this activity by having your students create their own movie analysis. 

Students choose their movie and create a powerpoint or poster. You can download the instructions and rubric below!

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