Whether in conjunction with another story or as a solo effort in an advanced film class, “I Am Sam" is a great movie to share with your class. Get lots of teaching ideas in this article.
Before Watching the Movie
Depending on the age group, review essential literary elements you plan to discuss while viewing the movie. Include in your “I Am Sam" movie lesson plan a mini lesson to review theme, characterization, symbolism, mood, plot, and irony. Use examples of these literary elements from other stories read earlier in the year so students can access their prior knowledge.
Secondly, if you’re going to teach a movie in conjunction with a short story or novel, it’s a good idea to read the story before watching the movie. By doing so, themes, characterization, plot, and other literary elements are emphasized as students view the movie. Since this movie features two picture books in the first part of the movie, include time to read Stellaluna by Janell Cannon, and Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss in your “I Am Sam" movie lesson plan. Another story which works very well with this movie is “Flowers for Algernon," a short story by Daniel Keyes.
Guided Practice on Movie Day
Provide students with a set of guided questions before the movie begins. These questions can serve as an anticipation guide, which will in turn prepare them to expect certain elements in the story. Here are a few examples questions to ask:
- How does music contribute to your mood? How could music reflect a theme?
- How does color reflect your mood?
- During her testimony, Lucy says, “All you need is love," and yet this famous Beatles song is not included on the soundtrack. Why not?
One of the central themes of the movie is acceptance, or how to be compassionate about another person’s differences. Now that you’ve read the book Stellaluna by Janell Cannon and seen the movie “I Am Sam," how does the picture book compare to the movie? What examples are provided from the movie and the book regarding this theme?
Green Eggs and Ham teaches that it’s okay to try something new. What did the characters learn throughout the course of the movie that they didn’t know before?
- How are the themes of changes and differences reflected in the movie?
- The movie is told in three acts. Decide where one act ends and another begins. How does the plot escalate with each act?
- At the very end of the movie, Sam continues to run in a circle. How does this image relate to the plot?
Throughout the movie, notice the predominant use of color. There are scenes full of blue, of yellow, and of red. In art, these are known as primary colors. What do these primary colors symbolize throughout the course of the movie? Which color is Sam? (If Sam is different and you read a book about accepting differences and learning to try something new, which color is Sam? Think of his work place aprons and how they also change color.)
- Finally, what is the significance of the color of Sam’s referee attire at the end of the movie?
- In what ways is Sam more insightful than other characters in the movie? How is this evident to the viewer?
- How does Rita’s life parallel Sam’s life? If her life parallels Sam’s, does this make her a dual protagonist?
How do Sam and Rita change?
After reading these questions, students might choose to make predictions. Allow them a moment to write down their notes. When you’re ready to begin the movie, let students know you will be pausing the film from time to time. This will allow you to discuss possible answers to the questions and to check their understanding. As the movie progresses, you might choose to pause with less frequency. The film does run 132 minutes in length, so plan to watch the movie in increments according to your schedule.
Collaborative Group Discussion
Once the film has ended, students will be eager to discuss the movie at length. Give them a time to talk by placing them in groups to discuss and answer their questions. Explain the relevance of maintaining their opinions and that it’s okay to disagree with other group members.
After an allotted time, hold a class discussion in response to the guided questions and any other significant elements they might have noticed.
Finally, give students an opportunity to demonstrate their understanding of the film. A few assessment ideas include:
- A premise, much like a summary, explains what a movie is about. Write the premise for this movie in one to two sentences.
- Create a collage using images to convey a mood or a theme. Present your mood or theme and your image choices to the class.
- Throughout the movie, the viewer becomes privy to only a slight amount of information about Annie, Sam, or Lucy’s mother. Plan and write a background story for Sam, Lucy’s mother, or Annie. What happened to them when they were younger to make them react as they did in the movie? Submit the story in writing or create a film of one to three scenes with a group of classmates explaining the background story for these characters.
Great movies provide so many lessons for students to learn. With a little guidance and plenty of time to talk afterwards, students will learn the value of film interpretation and how it connects to understanding literature and life. By including “I Am Sam" in your curriculum, students will grasp valuable lessons about the story behind the movie, about understanding a screenplay, about analyzing film and literature, and about their own lives.
Cannon, Jannell. Stellaluna. Sandpiper: New York, 1997.
Geisel, Theodore Seuss. Green Eggs and Ham. Random House Books for Young Readers: New York, 1960.
Information on "I Am Sam" http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0277027/
Nelson, Jessie. I Am Sam. Perf. Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer. New Line Cinema, 2001.