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SUBJECTS — U.S./1913 - 1945;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Male Role Model; Suicide; Breaking Out;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Responsibility; Citizenship.
Age: 10+; Not Rated (but suitable for all ages); Drama; 1946; 130 minutes; B & W; Available from Amazon.com. (There is a colorized version which has been heavily criticized. We don't recommend it.)

Description: Set in upstate New York during the first half of the 20th century, "It's a Wonderful Life" tells the story of a young man who wanted to travel, have adventures, go to college, and be an architect in a big city. But George Bailey's responsibilities to his family and to his community kept him from leaving the small town where he grew up. In mysterious circumstances on one Christmas Eve, Bailey is shown that happiness can be found right in his own home town.

Rationale for Using the Movie: Students can see how living with clarity of purpose and ethics may, in retrospect, be more valuable to the self and the community than a life of adventure and excitement. The film promulgates valuable lessons for the 21st century in that it shows a moral and ethical character questioning his self worth.

Objectives/Student Outcomes Using this Learning Guide: Students will write reflections as well as values clarification essays in order to indicate awareness of the film's theme, to show their ability to empathize with an iconic character and to further develop their own principles.

Possible Problems: Minor. "It's a Wonderful Life" oversimplifies moral issues and bank dealings. A character playfully chases the black maid into the kitchen in a scene that would not be permitted by today's standards.

They were on their way out of town but
there was a crowd in front of the S & L



Rationale and Objectives
Possible Problems
Parenting Points

Using the Movie in Class:
      Introduction to the Movie
      Discussion Questions


Helpful Background

Additional Discussion Questions:
      Subjects (Curriculum Topics)
      Social-Emotional Learning
      Moral-Ethical Emphasis
            (Character Counts)

Additional Assignments

Other Sections:
      Bridges to Reading
      Links to the Internet
      Selected Awards & Cast

WORKSHEETS: TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students' minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film. Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM's Movies as Literature Homework Project.


Introduction to the Movie: XXXX.


Discussion Questions:

After the film has been watched, engage the class in a discussion about the movie.

1.  How does the moral of this film apply to today's society in which most people haven't grown up with the people that they live near or work with and don't know their families? Suggested Response: Answers will vary. Students should be aware that no matter the size of the society, people can live in more harmony when they treat each other in the same way that George Bailey treated the people of his small town, which is with respect and a sense of responsibility.

2.  George always wanted to be an architect but he sacrificed this dream so that his brother could go to college and then to meet his family obligations. Which is more important, fulfilling your life's dream or meeting your responsibilities to your family and your community? Suggested Response: There is no one correct answer. The answer depends upon each individual person and the situation. See, for example, a different resolution in The Glass Menagerie. All well reasoned responses are acceptable. Students may recognize the difficulty in finding a balance between the dual forces that both pull them into staying with what they know and also push them into the unknown.

3.  George becomes seriously depressed. What factors bring him out of his gloom and cause him to see things in a new light? Suggested Response: Answers will include the several realizations that the things he has done in his life have enriched, even saved, the lives of others.

For additional discussion questions, click here.


Any of the discussion questions can serve as a writing prompt. Additional assignments include:

1.  Write informally about a time when you did something kind for someone else. Include descriptions of the people, the place and the event that occurred. Share your thoughts about how you felt after being of service to someone else.

2.  Many schools now require community service as part of their graduation requirements. Write informally about your experience with community service. Be sure to discuss whether or not you felt good about what you were doing. Include an opinion about community service as an assignment. Does the fact that you are required to perform community service for a certain number of hours diminish the value of the experience?

3.  Some argue that Bailey is not quite a hero, that his flaws are greater than his good deeds. Write an opinion essay in which you support your belief about the character of Bailey. Is he a carping, self indulgent alcoholic willing to kill himself in a drunken binge in order to relieve his misery or is he a compassionate young man beginning to mature and discover his own self worth and his value to others? You can always assume a middle ground.

For additional assignments, click here.


For English Language Arts classes, distribute TWM's Film Study Worksheet. Teachers can modify the worksheet to fit the needs of each class. Ask students to fill out the worksheet as they watch the film or at the film's end.

Select questions that are appropriate for your students.

Are you concerned that time will be wasted if you are absent from class? Worry no more  .  .  .   Check out TeachWithMovies' Set-Up-the-Sub.

Parenting Points: You may want your children to see this film during their winter break as it has been a popular Christmas story for over half a century.

Reminder to Teachers: Obtain all required permissions from your school administration before showing any film.

Teachers who want parental permission to show this movie can use TWM's Movie Permission Slip.

BUILDING VOCABULARY: "savings and loan," "to call a loan," "run on a bank," 4-F; penny ante. See also English Learner Movie Guide to "It's A Wonderful Life" from ESLnotes.com.


Last updated August 11, 2010.

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