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Dead Poets Society Teaching Unit

Dead Poets Society Teaching Unit



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Published by Nick Senger
A not-quite-finished teaching unit for the film Dead Poets Society. I thought there might be some teachers who would find it useful.
A not-quite-finished teaching unit for the film Dead Poets Society. I thought there might be some teachers who would find it useful.

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Published by: Nick Senger on Aug 01, 2007
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Page 1
 A Dead Poets Society Teaching Unit
Nick Senger
Teen Literacy Specialist
For more free teen literacy resourcesvisit
Copyright 2007, Nick Senger 
Page 2
 by Nick Senger  Peter Weir's film
 Dead Poet's Society
is an asset to any junior high or high school curriculum.In it, students gain an appreciation of poetry. Also, the movie shows the dangers of peer pressureand suicide. It encourages students to think for themselves and to live life to the fullest. It is amovie about coming to terms with oneself and others. It practically teaches itself becausestudents identify with it so well. 
 Dead Poets Society
is rich in symbolism, plot and imagery, making it challenging and ripe for discussion. It is open to several interpretations, as all good art is, and provides teachers with analternative to teaching print. 
 Dead Poets Society
works well with other literature. It may be viewed in conjunction with
 ASeparate Peace
Catcher in the Rye
. It also works well as an introduction to poetry, especiallythat of the Romantics.There are several approaches one might take in teaching
 Dead Poets Society
. For instance:
Feelings of alienation: Todd's low self esteem; the issue of conformity and peer pressure;Todd's following in his brother's footsteps; the dilemma of feeling indebted to parents.
Dealing with increased feelings of independence and rebellion: Neil's conflict with hisfather; Charlie's illegal editorial; learning to spread one's wings slowly.
Academic pressure: private schools as too competitive; preparatory schools as babysitters for the elite; dictatorship of school administrators.
Symbolism and imagery: Neil as Christ-figure; boys as flocks of geese; Mr. Keating asscapegoat; Mr. Keating as Lincoln-figure.
Influence of role models: Mr. Keating's influence on the students; Neil's father.With any film it is always a good idea to preface it with things to look for. Pages can be readagain, but scenes from a movie come quickly and important items can be missed if a viewer isnot aware. 
 Dead Poets Society
is an excellent anticipatory set to use when beginning a unit on poetry.John Keating, the main character (played marvelously by Robin Williams), is a passionate andlively teacher. His enthusiasm for poetry and literature flows from the screen to the viewer.Students can't help but leave the film with at least a bit of curiosity about the power of poetry.The film is a bit over two hours, and can be viewed in four thirty-minute segments. Thefilm's rich symbolism and controversial nature require periodic commentaries. Showing the filmin thirty-minute segments allows for discussion at the end of each session of viewing.
Copyright 2007, Nick Senger 
Page 3
Part I
(Beginning of movie to the end of Mr. Keating's "O me! O life!" speech - approx 32 min)Part I establishes the setting and tone of the movie. The characters are introduced, as is the personality of Mr. Keating. The year is 1959. Welton Academy is situated on a large campus inautumnal Vermont.Draw to students' attention:
The four pillars of Welton are Tradition, Honor, Discipline and Excellence. Which pillars do the administration lean on? Notice the prominence that is given to the pillar of tradition.
A scene of flying geese fades to a scene of the boys standing in line to receive their extracurricular activities. Notice as the honking of the geese fades to the chattering of the boys, setting up a connection that will later be commented on by Mr. Keating.
Quick views of "typical" Welton teachers are followed by Mr. Keating's dramatic firstclass. The juxtaposition of these scenes helps to distinguish Mr. Keating as a uniqueindividual.
The sentiment of 
carpe diem
is expressed by Donne in his poem. Discuss the point thatMr. Keating is trying to make.
Mr. Keating dares the students to refer to him as "O Captain! My Captain!" Thisreference will prove to be symbolic.
Part II
(First dinner scene to students standing on Mr. Keating's desk - approx. 20 minutes)Part II reveals the secret of the Dead Poets Society. The boys decide to revive theorganization and meet in the cave at night. Later, they get a lesson in looking at life from new perspectives from Mr. Keating via standing on his desk.Draw to students' attention:- T.S. Eliot's quote about dead poets (reference study questions)- The boys run through the mist in dark cloaks as they head to the cave. Discuss what thedirector might be saying with this imagery.- Ask the students the question, Why would the "present administration" not look favorably onthe Dead Poets Society?- Invite the students to stand on their desks and view the world differently.
Part III
(From Neil's desire to act to Charlie's punishment - approx 35 minutes)In this section, we learn of Neil's desire to act, even if it means disobeying his father. We alsosee Todd's fear of expressing himself, and the talent he has hidden inside. Knox summons thecourage to call Chris, the girl he has a crush on. Mr. Keating gives a lesson about the evils of conformity by having the students walk together.Charlie brings two girls to a Dead Poets meeting and announces he has slipped an article intothe school newspaper. The article demands girls be allowed into Welton, and Charlie has signedit in the name of the Dead Poets. This section ends with Mr. Nolan's paddling of Charlie.
Copyright 2007, Nick Senger 

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