Engaging Secondary Students in Film Study with The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

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Guest post from Kelsey Huculak

When I began teaching Grade 8 three years ago, I combed through my favorite film list until I selected the perfect one to share with my students.  Being an Oscar movie buff, I have an extensive list of quality films that is an ongoing note in my phone, being updated as I watch more and more.  My recent favorite is Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri.  I highly recommend it for your own viewing pleasure!  Trailer is linked here:  

Selecting a Film for Study

The difficult aspect of selecting a film study is finding one that is age-appropriate, content-appropriate, and still high quality in its thematic content and plot line.  The film I finally settled on is The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, directed and starred in by Ben Stiller.  I chose this film for a variety of reasons.  Walter Mitty spoke to me because of its inspiring story line, incredible soundtrack, picturesque landscapes (one of which literally inspired me to book a trip to Iceland a few years ago), dynamic protagonist, suspenseful and high-action moments, and its moving denouement.  I knew in my heart this was a film that had to be viewed alongside my students.

When deciding what work I wanted to go along with the film, I first decided what I really wanted my students to take away from the viewing of it.  This included plot and order of events, character relationships, protagonist internal changes, soundtrack, symbolism, and ultimately had students answering the question: what is the quintessence of life? 

Analyzing Film

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I created a viewing guide for students to fill out as we watched the film in about 5 segments.  Download a FREE COPY of the viewing guide HERE.  The first section is a plot diagram, which they label as the movie unfolds.  The second is section on character relationships.  For example, trace the changing relationship of Walter and Ted, Walter and Cheryl, Walter and Sean.  The third is identifying important objects in the film and their attached significance. These include clementine cake, eHarmony’s “been there, done that” section, the longboard, the wallet, and Papa John’s.  I also include eight analysis questions that show a deep understanding of the film.  A few of these include:

What is the importance of the song Space Oddity to Walter’s journey?

Why did Sean choose the photo that he did for the last print cover of Life magazine?

What is the significance of Walter’s place of work?

How does Walter embody the ABCs (adventurous, brave, and creative) at the beginning of the film?  At the end of the film?

With the analysis questions, students are expected to provide thoughtful, detailed responses using evidence from the film as support.  Download a FREE COPY of the Dynamic Character Analysis Guide HERE.

Synthesizing Analysis

The main written portion of the film study is having students write a paragraph tracing Walter’s inner change as a dynamic character.  This assignment has students demonstrate their understanding of what an inner change is, as well as how it is portrayed in visual media.  They are expected to include multiple direct examples from the film to show his transformation.  I mark this on a department-created rubric with categories that consist of content, support, and mechanics.

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The last portion of this film study is drawing a personal connection to the film.  I try to do this with every text that I teach.  It’s very essential for students to be able to form a personal connection to every text that they encounter and to be able to verbalize this through written or creative form. 

 

For the final film study project, I have students create their own life mottos on what they believe the QUINTESSENCE of life to be, inspired by the film’s Life magazine motto: To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.  Download a FREE COPY of this assignment HERE.  

Doesn’t that quote give you chills??  This project has students choose their own life motto, present it in an aesthetically pleasing way, and include a one-paragraph rationale describing how this life motto connects to them personally, and why it sums up what life is truly about.  It’s a great insight into their beliefs and own personal stories.

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The most important aspect to remember when selecting and delivering a film study is to choose a film that you are personally passionate about and that will enrich and inspire your students!  I hope many more students around the globe get to experience The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and all of the wonder it instills in its viewers.

Thank you for reading!

Kelsey Huculak


About the Author

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Hello! I’m Kelsey Huculak, Canadian middle school teacher!  A glimpse into my life… I am in my fifth year teaching!  I teach Grade 8 Language Arts and Social Studies, as well as a variety of options including Literacy and Physical Education.  I live in southern Alberta, which is just north of the USA border above Montana, just shy of the rocky mountains, and surrounded by prairie. Coaching is something extremely important to me.  I have been coaching volleyball for 6 years now and absolutely love instilling my love of the sport to the younger generation.  Harry Potter is one of my greatest loves.  I grew up with Harry and devoured each book the day it was released. To prove my fandom, I even have a Deathly Hallows tattoo on my foot!  I am a globetrotter and have a serious case of wanderlust.  My most recent adventure took me to some of the highest peaks of the Andes!  Peru and its natural wonder was an incredible experience.  The countries I have explored total 19, and I am constantly dreaming of my future adventures.

Teaching Language Arts is something a truly think I was born to do.  From the age of 8, I performed Shakespeare scenes and poems in festivals at a competitive level.  Bookworm doesn't even begin to describe me.  When I was in second grade, my parents had to pack an extra suitcase for all of my books on a Mexican vacation!  How hardcore is that!?  It was no surprise to anyone when I became a Language Arts teacher.  One of my areas of interest is selecting high quality texts to share with my students.  I am careful in my selections and choose texts that have HEART and SOUL to them.  The Alberta Language Arts curriculum is amazing because it allows for so much teacher autonomy, and I am grateful for the flexibility I have in my LA curriculum.

Connect with Kelsey

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