Here are scenes from Hollywood films that you can use to help students discover what it takes to be successful in college and in life.

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The Matrix Revolutions (starring Keanu Reaves)

PURPOSE: To encourage students to persist in their collegiate studies and life

SCENE TO SHOW: The climax of the movie occurs at the end of this final episode of the Matrix trilogy when the human, Neo Anderson (Keanu Reeves), faces his arch enemy, Agent Smith, a machine in human form. Agent Smith is the stronger of the two because of the machine’s advantage of superior information processing and controlling protocols. Neo recognizes his human limitations in fighting a machine that controls the rules of the game. He realizes he must enhance his mental and physical skills to develop solutions in order to successfully resolve the conflict with the controlling machine. Agent Smith sees his advantage over Neo becoming stronger and goads him by asking, “Why do you continue Mr. Anderson?”  Neo confidently responds to Agent Smith’s goading with, “Because I choose to.”

PROCESSING THE SCENE: Have students brainstorm as individuals or in groups answers to the following questions: 1) What was Neo Anderson’s motivation for persevering against the controlling machine? 2) Have you faced a similar difficult obstacle and chosen to persevere? Why? 3) How does Neo’s persevering compare to your experiences in life or college? 4) What wise choices will you commit to in order to achieve your collegiate and/or life goals? After brainstorming, have individuals or groups report their insights via oral presentations or through journal entries. This is a great activity to do along with Chapter 1 in the On Course text: Taking Personal Responsibility.

–George Daniel, Director, Student Success Center, University of Tennessee —Martin, TN

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Witness (starring Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis)

Purpose: The power of Interdependence is beautifully illustrated in a clip from the movie “Witness” (1985-Paramount Studios). The scene dynamically illustrates the value of creating a team to help with a challenging goal, like completing a complex project, passing a difficult course, or earning a college degree

Scene to show: In the film, a young Amish boy (Lukas Haas) witnesses a murder. When John Book (Ford), the investigating officer, discovers that his superiors are involved in the crime, he seeks refuge in the Amish community.  I show a 5-7 minute clip that depicts Officer Book participating in a barn raising. The entire Amish community comes together to build a barn for a newlywed couple.  In this visually stunning scene, everyone has a job; even the children are participating by hammering nails or preparing food.  Men, women, and children are working diligently in a collective effort yet are enjoying themselves every step of the way.  Even Officer Book, who is the least skilled, finds purposeful work and a positive experience.  At the end of the day, the grateful couple has a new barn, and the entire community has participated.

Processing the scene: I recommend showing this scene after assigning any complex academic project or group task. I show it without any introduction and follow with questions such as, “Why do you think I showed this film clip today?” “What did you observe about those giving and receiving help?” “What did you notice about the mood of the participants during the barn raising?”  “Can you connect this piece of film to a situation you are encountering that would benefit from forming a project team?”  “What is the life lesson we can learn from the barn raising?” “What will you specifically do to create greater support for yourself?” Students easily see the value of interdependence for completing a large project. Other discussion threads often involve the sense of community that exists in the Amish culture and how that spirit fosters positive interdependence. For instructors using the On Course text, this is a great activity to do after students have read and completed journals in Chapter 5, Interdependence.

 –Sue Palmer, Chair, English Department, Brevard Community College, FL

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Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (starring Matthew Broderick)

Purpose: To encourage students to take full responsibility for the quality of their education (and life)

Scene to show: The teacher (played by actor Ben Stein in his younger days) is lecturing very badly about “Voodoo Economics.”  He keeps bombarding his students with one question after another, giving them no time to respond as he pleads, “Anyone? Anyone?” And then he immediately goes on to answer his own questions. Student are, like, totally bored, man. One young lady glares at the teacher (if looks could kill!). Another student falls asleep and begins to drool on his desk top. The class is that bad. The scene is only about 2 minutes long and is very funny (if you like laughing at a totally inept educator).

Processing the scene: Have students get into groups and brainstorm answers to the following questions: 1) What excuses could the students in this class use if they receive a poor grade for the course? 2) If the students in this class took personal responsibility for learning despite the teacher, what positive choices could they make? Have each group report on its list. (This is a great activity to do in conjunction with Chapter 2 in the On Course text: “Accepting Personal Responsibility.”)

 –Skip Downing, Facilitator, On Course Workshop

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The Emperor’s Club (starring Kevin Kline)

Purpose: To encourage students to make wise and ethical choices in their education (and life) 

Scene to show: Show the scenes in which Sedgewick Bell (the student) cheats to win an academic contest and his teacher, William Hundert, finds out.  For a follow up, show the scene where the adult Sedgewick Bell again cheats to win a rematch of the academic contest, and his teacher once again finds out.

Processing the scene: Have students process the scene either in small groups or together as a class. Discuss the wise-choice process through Sedgewick’s eyes. What was his present situation? How did he want it to be? What were his possible choices? And what were the likely outcomes of each choice? Which choices would a Creator or a Victim choose?  Is it wise for Sedgewick to make an unethical choice that might get him the outcome he wants? What are the likely consequences if he gets away with cheating? What are the likely consequences if he gets caught? What is “character,” and how important is it to “success”? Discuss also the choices available to William Hundert, the teacher. Consider his statement, “It is not living, but living rightly that matters.” Did Mr. Hundert “live rightly”? (This is a great activity to do along with Chapter 2 in the On Course text: “Accepting Personal Responsibility” or Chapter 8: “Developing Emotional Intelligence.”)

–Cindra Kamphoff, Retention Coordinator, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, NC

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Remember the Titans (starring Denzel Washington)

Purpose: To a) discuss the scripts we live by and b) illustrate personal responsibility.

Scene “A” to show (regarding the scripts we live by):  About 30 minutes into the movie, Coach Boone asks Lonnie, one of the biggest players on the high school football team, if he’s going to college. What Lonnie says reveals much about the self-defeating scripts he’s living by. In a scene about 2 minutes later, Lonnie says even more about his life script when his roommate is trying to talk him into studying for college.

Processing scene “A”: Introduce the scenes, show them, and ask students to write what they think are Lonnie’s scripts. Have the students share what they wrote with a neighbor, and then record the possible scripts on the board. Discuss how this young man’s scripts are limiting his present and future accomplishments and how they might be changed.  Lonnie’s scripts come from his personal evaluation of himself and the situation he grew up in. The discussion will be rich with the kinds of “reasons” many students use to justify why they struggle to succeed. (This is a great activity to do along with Chapter 6 in the On Course text: “Gaining Self-Awareness.”)

Scene “B” to show (regarding personal responsibility):  Near the end of the movie, Coach Boone comes to visit Gary Bertier, the all-star linebacker who’s been injured in a car accident.  The Coach suggests it’s not time to talk about football.  What Gary says, students need to hear.

Processing scene “B”:  I used this clip at the end of the lesson on personal responsibility. It required no additional processing.  It could, however, be used to hypothesize what other kinds of reactions Gary could have had or what kind of reactions your students would have if a similar thing happened to them.

–Steve Davis, Director, Faculty Development, Ohio University, OH

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The Rookie (starring Dennis Quaid)

Purpose: To encourage students to claim their dreams and persist in their accomplishment.

Scene to show: Show the 20-minute documentary that comes with the DVD of The Rookie. (I found the documentary even more inspiring than the movie itself.) Through interviews with the people who actually lived this true story, the documentary shows how Jim Morris, at age 35, achieved his life-long dream of pitching in the major leagues. Morris’ inspiring achievement is described by his mother, his students, the screenwriter, and, most vividly, by Morris himself. From the age of five Morris remembers thinking, “I just wanted to be in the Big Leagues.” But it was players on the high school team he coached in Big Lake, Texas, who got him to agree to try out for a big league team if they won their division playoffs. They did and he did, leading him to join the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and become the oldest rookie in Major League Baseball history.

Processing the scene: After viewing the documentary, have students choose one of their most important dreams, visualize it using all 5 senses, and freewrite about it for 10 minutes. Tell them the freewriting will be shared with (not evaluated by) a group of 2 to 3 other students. After the freewriting, have students get together in groups of 3 or 4 and read these visualizations of their dreams to their group. Afterward invite willing students to share their dreams with the whole class and discuss the importance of a dream for motivating positive actions. (This is a great activity to do in conjunction with Chapter 4 of the On Course text: “Discovering Self-Motivation.”)

–Sharon Osburg, Faculty (Adjunct), Reading and Composition, El Camino College, CA

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What About Bob? (starring Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss)

Purpose: To help students master the art of breaking large projects into small, manageable tasks.

Scene to show: Show the scene in which the loveably neurotic Bob Wiley (Murray) first seeks help from noted psychiatrist Dr. Leo Marvin (Dreyfuss) and the good doctor tells him about his theory of overcoming large problems by using “Baby Steps” (the title of the Doctor’s book).

Processing the scene: Ask students to explain their understanding of “taking baby steps.”  Draw out a realization that a key to completing big projects is breaking them into many small steps. Then have each student select an assignment, project, or goal s/he wants to complete soon. Have them list all of the actions necessary to complete this desired outcome. Select one of the student projects to discuss and ask the student to state his/her goal and verbalize all of the small steps necessary for its completion. To illustrate the process, stand on one side of the room and identify that the other side of the room represents the accomplishment of the student’s large project; then, with each action the student mentions, take a step toward the goal. Ask the class how big a step you should take for each task. If the step is too big, ask them how the task could be broken into “baby steps.” Afterwards, ask students their view on taking “baby steps” to achieve their goals. The Graduation Game from the On Course I Workshop is a great activity to pair with this video as it reinforces the concept of achieving success by taking small, persistent steps toward a goal.

–Fred Kester, Counselor and Student Success Instructor, Yavapai College, AZ

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For the Love of the Game (starring Kevin Costner and Kelly Preston)

Purpose: To help students develop focused attention in the midst of emotional distress

Scene to show: Show the scene in which the main character, Billy Chapel, a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers and a 19-year veteran of professional baseball, is pitching an important game in Yankee Stadium. Even though his life is crumbling around him (he’s just learned that his team has been sold, he’s being traded, and the woman he loves is leaving him), he demonstrates an uncanny ability to concentrate on the task at hand. As Yankee fans scream at him, Billy silences the noise in the stadium (and the chatter in his mind) by “clearing the mechanism” so he can focus on pitching to the best of his ability. As Billy achieves total concentration, he finds himself pitching the best game of his long career, despite the stress in his life.

Processing the Scene: Have students select a partner and share a time in their lives when they were able to “clear the mechanism.” This would be a time when they were in the “zone,” totally focused on the task at hand, despite any stress and potential distractions. Students will often identify situations in sports, as a dancer or skater when they were really in the moment. After the pair’s discussion, invite volunteers to share their experiences with the entire class. During this class discussion, explore questions such as: What is the quality of such an experience? What would be the benefit of creating such an experience while studying or taking a test? In such academic situations, how can students create such total concentration that all distractions become silent and invisible and their attention becomes totally focused on the task at hand? List the student’s suggestions on the board and ask each student to commit to experimenting with one new behavior on his/her next test. For On Course instructors, this is a great activity to do with Chapter 8, Emotional Intelligence.

–Fred Kester, Counselor and Student Success Instructor, Yavapai College, AZ

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The Empire Strikes Back (staring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams)

Purpose: To help students understand the power of their beliefs to influence their choices and accomplishments

Scene to Show: Show the scene in which, Luke Skywalker is training with Jedi Master Yoda. Luke has been lifting objects (stones, R2-D2). I start the scene right after he drops R2-D2. Yoda tells Luke he must feel the Force, and encourages him to lift Luke’s X-Wing (plane) out of the swamp where it has nearly sunk out of sight. Luke says, “I’ll try,” and Yoda responds “No. Do. Or do not. There is no ‘try.'”  Luke makes an effort, but ends up dropping the ship even deeper. After declaring the task impossible, Luke stands in amazement as Yoda levitates the ship out of the muck. Luke says “I don’t believe it” and Yoda replies “That is why you fail.” (Stop the scene here)

Processing the Scene: Most of the students have seen the film, so it’s fun for them to apply the Victim and Creator roles to these cultural icons. I ask them to identify the Victim (Luke) and the Creator (Yoda) in the scene. This intrigues them, since the heroic and adventurous Luke seems more positive than the old, hermit-like Yoda (who is, after all, only 2 feet tall). Discuss the impact of what we believe on the choices we make. Have students identify Victim beliefs they have that are disempowering (like, “I’ll try math.”) and what Creator beliefs they have that are empowering (like, “I will master math.”).  If the students are interested and well versed in the films, we talk about Luke’s later decisions as a Creator (even though some of them are bad decisions). I ask students if they would like me to use my Yoda stamp pad on their notebooks to help them remember to do rather than try.

–Elizabeth Hardy, Faculty, English and College Student Success, Mayland Community College, NC,

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Rocky IV (starring Sylvester Stallone)

Purpose: To help students understand that life isn’t always “fair” and that there are benefits to perseverance.

Scene to show: Rocky Balboa lands in Russia to begin his training for the fight with Ivan Drago. Stop after Rocky has climbed the mountain and shouted, “Drago!”

Processing the scene: Before showing the movie, I have my class complete an activity in small groups in which they construct a tower with unequal resources. I tell them the team with the tallest tower will receive a reward. This usually elicits the comment from groups with fewer materials, “That’s not fair!” I tell them I am aware of this inequity and to continue on with the task anyway. After we finish and process the activity, I show the clip from Rocky. This movie, from 1985, is old enough that most of my students haven’t seen it, so they don’t know the outcome of the fight. In partners, they then list the difference they saw in the training of Rocky and Drago (equipment, training staff, etc.) Then we list these differences on the board, and ask them to predict the winner of the fight, with a rationale for the prediction. I refer the class back to a statement at the beginning of the scene where Rocky’s Russian escort says, “Everything is as you requested.” We then discuss why Rocky would choose to train this way and the benefits of adversity. (This is a great activity to do in conjunction with Chapter 5 of the On Course text: “Mastering Self-Management,” especially the section on persistence.)

–Mike Danilson, Guidance Counselor, Gilbert Middle School, IA

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Hoosiers (starring Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey, and Dennis Hopper)

Purpose: To help students see the power of positive thinking

Scene to show: Show the scene from a tournament game where Ollie (a little used player) must get into the game and has to make two free throws to win. Focus on Coach Norman Dales’ pep talk on the sideline. He says to the team “When Ollie makes his second shot [and to Ollie] and you will make your second shot…”

Processing the scene: I show this movie clip after talking about positive thinking. I ask the students to predict what the outcome might have been had the coach sat back and just felt sorry for himself and his team instead of providing them with a positive vision of what was about to happen.  (This is a great activity to do in conjunction with Chapter 3 of the On Course text: “Discovering Self-Motivation,” especially the discussion of positive visualizations.)

–Mike Danilson, Guidance Counselor, Gilbert Middle School, IA

The Karate Kid (starring Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita)

Purpose: To help students understand the importance of sticking with something that a teacher asks them to do even when they don’t see an immediate payoff

Scene to show: Show the scene that presents Daniels’ training. I start with Daniel learning to “sand the floor” and stop after his confrontation with Mr. Miagi about being his slave. Included in the scene is Daniel learning to “paint the fence” and “paint the house.” Feeling frustrated, Daniel quits his training until Mr. Miagi shows him the hidden benefit of the unorthodox training.

Processing the scene: After showing the scene, I ask, “What can this scene teach us about perseverance?” I later show the end of the movie so students learn the positive outcome of Daniel’s efforts. I ask them to forecast how Daniel might have done in the karate tournament had he quit and tried training on his own. After a class discussion, I have students write about a time when they gave up on something before they finished and have them speculate as to what might have happened had they stuck with it. Then we connect the scene to their performance in school–working hard now for an unseen outcome in the future. (This is a great activity to do in conjunction with Chapter 4 of the On Course text: “Discovering Self-Motivation,” especially the part about the dangers of being motivated only by instant gratification.)

–Mike Danilson, Guidance Counselor, Gilbert Middle School, IA

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