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Teaching Forrest Gump

Updated on March 30, 2012

Is there anyone who doesn't cry when watching the amazing film Forrest Gump? When mamma "died on a Tuesday" or when he's thinking about Jenny and "there she was" or when he meets Little Forrest for the first time and wonders "is he smart, or is he...?" These poignant moments are enough to melt the hearts of even the coldest of us. There is so much more to the film than just the funny parts or the sad parts or the endearing parts. Forrest Gump has a plethora of aspects that can help to teach even the most reluctant of students.

For years, I have been teaching this movie to my 8th grade gifted/talented students, but high school students as well can benefit from not just watching, but studying, this film. This is my basic plan for the Forrest Gump unit in my classroom.

1. Because of the rich history in the movie, I begin with a research project over the various historical events that Forrest is "involved" in shaping: Elvis's dancing style, the integration of the University of Alabama and Governor Wallace, JFK's assassination and alleged affair with Marilyn Monroe, Coach Bear Bryant, Robert Kennedy's assassination, the draft for Vietnam, folk music/Joan Baez/Bob Dylan, the Congressional Medal of Honor, The Chicago Eight and the Black Panthers, John Lennon and "Imagine," Watergate and Richard Nixon, assassination attempts on Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, and the jogging craze of the early 80's. The students each pick a topic to research, and their product (including an annotated bibliography) can be anything they want it to be: a game, a brochure, a mobile, a graph, a long poem, a map, a collage, a model, a cartoon strip, or anything else that they choose. This can be modified for a specific product or even a technology product. They must present it to the class before viewing the film so that the entire class is more aware of the historical aspects of the film.

2. Watch the movie. I don't view the entire film with them because I cut out some of the racier scenes that make it PG-13, but I make sure to cover the most poignant aspects and all of the historical parts of the plot. Each aspect of it now has an "expert" in the class who has done the research on that topic, so each student gets to be the discussion leader at different times as we stop and talk about the film.

3. The soundtrack. The soundtrack to Forrest Gump is key to understanding. I hand out copies of the lyrics and we spend a couple of days just listening to the music and talking about what happened in the movie during that time and tying it in to what they now know about American history as a result of their research. The connections that they make will astound you as they actually study the lyrics of the songs they heard while watching the movie.

4. End product: the essay. Using the entire writing process: pre-writing, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing, the students write about this topic: Forrest Gump is a film about the world being influenced and touched by a man held back by things that society deems "intolerable." Tell about a time when you or someone else (real or fictional) had to overcome a physical or mental handicap in order to be successful. Relate your tale to our theme of tolerance.

This unit is definitely one of my favorites of the years...


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