How to Teach "Slumdog Millionaire" to High School Students

Written by jeffery keilholtz
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How to Teach "Slumdog Millionaire" to High School Students
Dev Patel, star of "Slumdog Millionaire" (Ian Gavan/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images)

"Slumdog Millionaire" is a world-renowned movie, based on the novel "Q & A" by Vikas Swarup. Released in 2008 -- and the recipient of eight Academy Awards -- "Millionaire" tells the fictional story of Jamal, an indigent teenager from the streets of India, who is one question away from winning a quiz show fortune. Teaching "Millionaire" to high school students is a creative way to explore countless themes and writing techniques. Use the film in humanities or screenwriting courses, and tap into the power of this Best Picture winner.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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Things you need

  • DVD player
  • Television
  • Humanities text books
  • Newspaper articles
  • Magazine articles
  • Screenplay writer interviews
  • Movie script

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    Humanities Lessons

  1. 1

    Ask the students to examine the hardships of poverty after viewing the movie. Launch a discussion about financial deprivation using the story of Jamal and his impoverished roots. Look through newspaper and magazine articles to locate similar stories of poverty. Compare and contrast Jamal's life on the streets of Mumbai with the stories in the periodicals. Discuss the content of each story and how poverty affects human lives -- domestic or foreign -- in economic, personal and social ways.

  2. 2

    Investigate matters of prejudice. Find moments in the film where prejudice clouds a character's judgment and determines poor decisions. Discuss, for example, the attitudes of supporting characters in the film -- the quiz show host and police, for instance -- and how statements indicating that poor people lack knowledge shape their actions. Ask students to compare episodes of prejudice in their own lives with those facing Jamal.

  3. 3

    Encourage students to discuss and/or write a topical paper addressing the themes of love, passion and the pursuit of dreams in "Slumdog Millionaire." Ask students what they value most in life and why. Follow up by asking students if the values they possess accurately reflect their inner character. Discuss why belief in yourself and following your heart are important to character building and self-definition.

    Screenwriting Lessons

  1. 1

    Explore the value of enhancing screenplays by embracing multiple themes. Use a draft of the "Millionaire" script and/or interviews with screenwriter Simon Beaufoy, for example, to investigate what specific themes carry on throughout the movie and how they inspire and/or affect the content. Identify specific themes in the screenplay -- a poor kid becomes rich and love conquers all, for instance -- and evaluate the strengths and/or weaknesses of each discovery.

  2. 2

    Examine the structure of the screenplay. Explore the three major acts of the screenplay. Identify elements of Act One: scenes and scenarios that introduce the drama. Point out the body of Act Two: scenes that escalate the drama -- the bulk of the movie. Investigate Act Three: resolution to the drama. Discuss how the writer uses flashbacks in Jamal's story, for example, and other narrative measures, to add aesthetic appeal.

  3. 3

    Probe the visual language in "Millionaire." Read the script and identify visual elements used by Beaufoy -- positioning a slum next to an airport, for instance. Discuss with students how these visual choices impact the script and what these images say about the world of the story. Specifically, ask ways the visual language comments on and/or enhances "Millionaire" themes, characters and settings.

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