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DeadPoets Teaching Unit

DeadPoets Teaching Unit

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Published by: Mrs. P on Jul 29, 2011
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A DEAD POETS SOCIETY TEACHING UNIToriginally by Nick Senger 2007 and revised by Carly Palacios 2010Peter Weir's film
 Dead Poet's Socie
ty (rated PG) is an asset to any junior high or highschool curriculum. In it, students gain an appreciation of poetry. Also, the movie shows the dangersof peer pressure and suicide. It encourages students to think for themselves and to live life to thefullest. It is a movie about coming to terms with oneself and others. It practically teaches itself  because students identify with it so well.
 Dead Poets Society
is rich in symbolism, plot andimagery, making it challenging and ripe for discussion. It is open to several interpretations and provides teachers with an alternative to teaching print.
 Dead Poets Society
works well with other literature. It may be viewed in conjunction with A Separate Peace or Catcher in the Rye. It alsoworks well as an introduction to poetry, especially that of the Romantics. There are severalapproaches 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 withhis father; 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. Keatingas scapegoat; 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 beread again, 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 passionateand lively teacher. His enthusiasm for poetry, literature, and especially teaching flows from thescreen 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 for the purposes of this unit, can be shown insegments. The film's rich symbolism and controversial nature require periodic commentaries.Showing the film in segments allows for discussion at the end of each session of viewing.
 
 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 in autumnal Vermont.Draw to students' attention:--The four pillars of Welton are Tradition, Honor, Discipline and Excellence. Which pillars do theadministration 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 thatwill later be commented on by Mr. Keating.--Quick views of "typical" Welton teachers are followed by Mr. Keating's dramatic first class. The juxtaposition of these scenes helps to distinguish Mr. Keating as a unique individual.--The sentiment of carpe diem is expressed by Donne in his poem. Discuss the point that Mr. Keating istrying to make.--Mr. Keating dares the students to refer to him as "O Captain! My Captain!" Ask students why he might ask them to do that.-- Have students read and review the poems used in the first scene.
 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 the organization and meet inthe cave at night. Later, they get a lesson in looking at life from new perspectives from Mr. Keating viastanding on his desk. There is also a centerfold that the boys look at while in the cave—if you’d like, youcan skip that scene, stand in front of the screen, or get parental permission to show the scene.Draw to students' attention:--T.S. Eliot's quote about dead poets--The boys run through the mist in dark cloaks as they head to the cave and read in the cave with only aflashlight. Discuss what the director might be saying with this imagery. Some students said the flashlightwas symbolic of light in a dark place, ie, knowledge and individuality breaking through the darkness, or theconformity and rigidity of Welton Academy.--Ask the students the question, Why would the "present administration" not look favorably on the DeadPoets Society?--Invite the students to stand on their desks and view the world differently (only if your desks can handle it —you can also do this metaphorically).
 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 also see Todd'sfear of expressing himself, and the talent he has hidden inside. Knox summons the courage to call Chris, thegirl 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 the Dead Poets meeting and announces he has slipped an article into theschool newspaper. The article demands girls be allowed into Welton, and Charlie has signed it in the nameof the Dead Poets. This section ends with Mr. Nolan's paddling of Charlie.Draw to students's attention:--Mr. Keating's philosophy of sports.--What is it that Mr. Keating does that makes Todd come out of his shell?--The music involved (Handel, Beethoven)—why might this music be chosen for the film?--Discuss the poems used so far.
 Part IV (Mr. Keating's meeting with Nolan to Knox's talk with Chris - approx 19 minutes)
Points for discussion:--Is Charlie too daring?
 
--Is Mr. Keating a bad influence?
 Part V (The rest of the movie – approx 30 minutes) Points for discussion:
Remember not to give out the viewing guides for this portion until AFTER viewing the clip. Or else you’llgive away Neil’s fate! Have some tissues ready— there are some students that will most likely cry!--Who is most to blame for Neil’s death? Mr. Keating? Neil’s father? Neil himself?--What is Peter Weir (the director) trying to say about life in this movie?
Ideas from the film (to possibly discuss with students):
1.Conformity stifles creativity.2.Don’t follow the leader.3.Find your passion and bring it to life.4.Make your life extraordinary.5.Creativity can be unleashed—we all have it.6.There is a time for daring and a time for caution.7.Looking at life from different perspectives will allow you to see what others cannot.8.Carpe Diem—Seize the Day
Reading Journal Ideas:
RJ #1: Who is the most influential leader you have ever had? Why did they have such an influence on you?RJ #2: “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are membersof the human race. And the human race is filled with passion; and medicine, law, business, engineering;these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love; these are what westay alive for.” Professor John Keating says this—what do you think it means? Do you agree? What are your views on poetry and why we read it?RJ #3: “I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way.The world looks very different up here… Just when you think you know something you have to look at it inanother way… When you read, don’t just consider what the author thinks, you must consider what youthink.” Comment on this quote from Professor Keating. Do you agree? Why or why not? Do you have a personal story about a time you took another perspective?RJ #4: Keating asks his students to consider what their ‘verse,’ or lasting impression, will be when theyleave either Welton or this world. What ‘verse’ will you contribute in your lifetime? What do you hope will be the lasting impression you leave behind?

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