My Top 5 Movie Picks For The End of The School Year

May 18, 2017
Lauren Martin
Lauren M. M.Ed

At the end of my first year teaching, I wanted to show my students educational and inspirational movies during the last days of school. While my administrator strongly discouraged spending the last weeks or even last days of school watching mindless classroom movies, I could not imagine teaching my disengaged classroom any longer. After state testing was over, I found it nearly impossible to keep my 7th grade students engaged with end of year classroom lessons. They knew their grades – and effort and behavior – no longer mattered. My classroom management skills were no match for their increasingly disruptive and disrespectful behavior. I needed a cure for teacher burnout and end of year student slump.


Then I read an article about stereotypes and prejudice in fairy tales and films. Linda Christensen’s academically rigorous article, “Understanding the Myths that Bind Us: Critiquing Fairy Tales and Films” analyzes how animated films portray men, women, people of color and people living in poverty. I showed the article to my Principal and asked permission to show my students the film, Aladdin. To my surprise, he agreed. I enjoyed an entire class period of Disney film viewing, followed by an equally enjoyable class period of student groups discussing and creating poster boards about the various gender, class and race stereotypes they saw in the film. After this success, I felt brave enough to play another film for my students.

Miss Representation

Available to stream for free online, Miss Representation, is part of Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Documentary film club. The film critiques western media for undermining women’s authority by valuing women solely based on their physical appearance. I strongly suggest previewing this film as you may feel the contents are inappropriate for your age group. While this documentary shows images from music videos and advertisements that are considered explicit, I chose to show the film to my 7th grade students because they are bombarded with these same images on public radio and television every single day. My typically unruly classroom discussed the film and their own experiences and beliefs concerning sexism with uncharacteristic maturity and respect. Download the Screening Guide for a no prep lesson introduction and discussion.

The Mask You Live In

While Miss Representation focuses on the negative consequences of female stereotypes, The Mask You Live In focuses on the pressure boys face to constantly prove their masculinity. Watch the trailer to determine if the language used in the film is appropriate for your classroom, and remember that student insights will far outweigh any initial reactions to the “foul” language they hear everyday.  Stream for free online when you login or subscribe for a free month of Netflix. Both documentaries are created by The Representation Project, whose mission is to “challenge and overcome limiting stereotypes so that everyone – regardless of gender, race, class, age, religion, sexual orientation, ability, or circumstance – can fulfill their human potential.” They offer a free downloadable discussion guide that just might convince your administrator to host a school-wide film-viewing and discussion.

I Am

Available on Netflix, iTunes and Amazon, I Am is a documentary film by Tom Shadyak, the famous Director of Ace Ventura and other comedy blockbusters that have grossed nearly 2 billion dollars. After a near death experience, Shadyak gave up his lavish Hollywood lifestyle to search the world to answer two questions: “What’s wrong with our world, and what can we do to make it better?” The film is a record of Shadyak’s self-professed “twenty-first century quest for enlightenment” which is as transformative for the viewers as it is for the creators. This film will inspire your students -as it inspired my students – to live a life of purpose.

Louder Than a Bomb

If you want to inspire your administrator’s confidence and your student’s poetic ability, stream the documentary, Louder than Bomb, from YouTube. This film documents four talented high school students as they prepare to compete in a spoken word contest in Chicago. Use the film to jump start a fun and inspirational poetry writing and spoken word performance unit.

The Little Prince

Why not practice every single common core reading standard by watching the animated film adaptation of the children’s book, The Little Prince? Young and old students can answer literal and inferential questions about characterization, conflict, setting, text structure and sequence of events in the film. Students can discuss or write about their analysis of metaphors, symbolism and theme. Have students read the full text before watching the movie to practice the important common core skill of comparing and contrasting the book versus the film version of The Little Prince. Stream the movie for free on Netflix and download the complete public domain printable book. For no prep activities, use Pixton Comic Maker’s The Little Prince Lesson Plan, activities and answer keys.

I hope you, too, can show your administrator that replacing stressful end of year lessons with academically rigorous and eye opening movies just may change your students’ lives.

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