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SUBJECTS — Drama/Musicals; U.S./1945 - 1991; Diversity & New York;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Fighting; Revenge; Romantic
        Relationships; Bad Associations;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS --- Trustworthiness; Respect; Caring;

Age: 12+; No MPAA Rating; Musical; 1961; 151 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.

Description: This film is an adaptation of the "Romeo and Juliet" story moved to New York in the 1950s. The movie is regarded as one of the best musicals ever filmed.

Rationale for Using the Movie: West Side Story can be of benefit to students studying Romeo and Juliet as it helps them understand the timeless and universal nature of Shakespeare's themes. The film is one of the best of its genre. The story explores the meaning of romantic attachment, the danger of bad associations, the risks of revenge, the unpredictability and futility of fighting, the evils of prejudice, and the problems inherent in disrespect for authority. Students will be motivated to complete research and writing assignments based on this movie.

Objectives/Student Outcomes Using this Learning Guide: Students will gain awareness of how modern filmmakers adapt old stories to communicate ageless messages; they will be introduced to the musical as an art form. Assignments at the end of the film require students to exercise research and writing skills.

Possible Problems: Minor. Disrespect for all authority is shown.



Rationale and Objectives
Possible Problems
Parenting Points

Using the Movie in Class:
      Discussion Questions


Helpful Background

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

Additional Assignments

Other Sections:
      Bridges to Music
      Links to the Internet
      CCSS Anchor Standards
      Selected Awards & Cast

MOVIE WORKSHEETS: TWM offers the following movie worksheets to keep students' minds on the film and to focus their attention on the lessons to be learned from the movie. Teachers can modify the worksheets to fit the needs of each class.

Additional ideas for lesson plans for this movie can be found at TWM's guide to Lesson Plans Using Film Adaptations of Novels, Short Stories or Plays.



Discussion Questions:

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

[For classes that have studied the play, ask the following question:] 1.  Identify an important difference between the play and the musical in setting, plot, characters, presentation or any other difference that you noticed. How did that difference change your experience of the story? Suggested Response: The answers should include a discussion of the following: the effect of the plot-changes (including that Tony was not exiled and Maria survives); the absence of the church as a major factor in the story; the songs; the dances; that the gang members in the musical are completely isolated from their families; that the police officer in the musical (Sergeant Krupke) is a buffoon, etc.

2.  What forces acted upon these young people to cause this tragedy? Suggested Response: Answers will vary and may include the power of love and hatred; a desire for revenge; prejudice; poverty; police insensitivity and the sense of self that is so important to the young.

3.  How have race relations and gang behaviors changed over the years since the film was made? Suggested Response: Answers will vary depending upon a student's experience either in his or her personal life or through images from mass media. All well supported suggestions are acceptable. Good answers will mention the lessening of racial prejudice (although it is still a factor), the increase in violence, the effects of drug use, and the advent of drug trafficking as a major source of income for gangs.

For additional 25 discussion questions on the subjects of romantic attachment,the danger of bad associations, the risks of unreasoning and hasty revenge, the risks and futility of fighting, the evils of prejudice, and the problems inherent in disrespect for authority, click here.


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

1.  Research and write an informative essay on the several ethnic groups that have created communities in New York [or substitute the city in which class members live] over the years. Specify the difficulties faced by each group as it worked to integrate into American culture. Create a time line that shows the periods when these groups came to the city and note when their numbers began to diminish as integration into the larger community was achieved. Be sure to include newly arrived ethnic groups.

2.  Write a review of West Side Story in which you evaluate the acting, music and dancing that appear in the film. Express your opinion of this film and determine whether or not it deserves to keep its status as one of the all-time great musicals in American film history or whether it is outdated in its presentation.

3.  Assume that Chino was prosecuted for murder and convicted. Have the students form into groups, brainstorm the closing arguments in the sentencing for either the prosecution or the defense, and then hold a competition to see who comes up with the best argument.

For additional six assignments, click here.


Select questions that are appropriate for your students.

West Side Story is a beautiful work of art. The music, lyrics, and choreography are all terrific. The male dancing is strikingly masculine and virile, an expression of the strength and energy of the young men who make up the rival gangs. The featured songs include: "Jet Song," "Something's Coming," "Maria," "America," "Tonight," "One Hand, One Heart," "Gee, Officer Krupke."

Parenting Points: After your children see West Side Story, you may suggest they see the film Romeo and Juliet. You may then want to discuss the differences in presentation of similar ideas between the play and the musical.

BUILDING VOCABULARY: Puerto Rico, "social worker," "social disease," hoodlum, junkie, drunk, turf, cool, "zip gun," "hold it with skin," rumble, "dig this," "throw you in the can."


Last updated May 3, 2013.

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