Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Movie Guide: The Better Angels- a film about a young Abraham Lincoln- lesson plans

Here is a movie guide to "The Better Angels" that you can use when showing the movie to your class.

The Better Angels is a 2014 movie depicting three years in Abraham Lincoln's life (1817-1819) when he was a boy living in backwoods Indiana. It is a beautiful black and white film directed by A.J. Edwards and presented by Terrance Malik. I recently watched the movie on Amazon Prime (currently streaming free for Prime users or as a rental):The Better Angels.  It is also out on DVD:  The Better Angels DVD.As I watched this cinematic beauty, I wondered how interested my fifth grade students would be in such a visually artistic movie that was quiet and contemplative in spirit. I decided to write up some lessons and try it out with them. With guidance and conversations before, during, and after the movie, they were thoroughly engaged with the movie.

The Better Angels - Trailer from Amplify Releasing on Vimeo.

My class had been working on a colonial America unit, so I introduced this movie as just a movie about a boy and his family in 1817 Indiana trying to eke out a living on a sustenance farm. I never told them that it was a film about Abraham Lincoln until after it was over (I just skipped the first few moments of the film in front of the Lincoln Memorial).

I discussed a lot of information about movie-making before showing the film and gave my students some specific things to look for while watching the film. This process proved vital in keeping them interested and aware as they watched. It led to numerous great discussions with my students that continue even a week after watching the movie. This is not a movie that you just pull off a shelf and show to your class. If you are not engaged and they are not prepared, I don't think it would go over very well.

I would recommend this movie in your classroom if you teach grade four or above. You do need a plan before you show the movie, because of that I have put together a guide to the movie on Teachers' Pay Teachers. It is an 11 page PDF with conversations to have before watching the movie, activities for the students to take notes on during the movie, and things to do after the movie. I also include a guide with links to various resources about the movie that you may find interesting in attaining more background information about the film and how it portrays a boyhood Lincoln. You can check out my Guide here: Movie Guide: The Better Angels. If anyone uses this guide,  I would be interested in your feedback.

Note: the portrait you see at the top of this page is of a print by George Bucher Ayres from 1861 taken by Alexander Hesler of Chicago on June 3, 1860. It has been written that this image was Lincoln’s personal favorite portrait. The glass negative was broken in the mail on the way to the Smithsonian Institution in 1932 or 1933. This historic photograph has been passed down in my family and is the first photograph taken of that print