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    SUBJECTS — ELA (figurative and description language in literary non-fiction) and Health;
    SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Disabilities, Romantic Relationships, & Parenting;

    Play this charming four minute film: Click Here!

    Ages:         12+

    Length:      The Film: 4 minutes; Director's Tedx talk, plus watching the film again, an additional 13 minutes (without the credits) Lesson: 45 minutes

    Description and Rationale:     This is a four minute film about a young man on the autism spectrum preparing for his first date. The film provides a clear example of the interplay of symbol and metaphor and beneficial lessons about romantic relationships and empathy. The director's TEDx talk provides examples of figurative and descriptive language in non-fiction presentations, provides valuable perspective on the movie, and contains additional life lessons.

    Learner Outcomes/Objectives:     Students will be provided with examples of the richness of figurative and descriptive language in a non-fiction presentation. They will practice identifying the different concepts of figurative language in words or phrases. Bumblebees and the director's talk will build respect for and empathy with persons with disabilities, give students perspective on their own efforts to form romantic relationships, encourage students to challenge limits imposed by society or other people, and provide an example of committed and effective parenting.


    Helpful Background and Analysis     
    Note to teachers: These materials can be used in classes with differing levels of sophistication simply by adjusting the depth of the analysis. For example, students just learning about symbol, metaphor, and simile can be directed to the clear examples of those concepts, while students in honors or advanced placement classes can be introduced to the fact that enhancing description by referring to unlike things is not limited to classic metaphor and simile but operates through many aspects verbal expression.


    Concepts to Impart to Students in an Advanced Class Figurative language enhances meaning and provides insight by using words or phrases to describe one thing in terms of another. Examples of figurative language are metaphor, simile, symbolism, personification, and hyperbole. These forms of expression are not meant to be understood on a literal level but involve an imaginative comparison between two seemingly unlike things.

    Descriptive language, on the other hand, uses images that appeal to senses of the reader or audience to help to evoke a vivid impression in the mind of how something looks, sounds, smells, tastes, or feels.

    While the categories of figurative and descriptive language are helpful, and students can easily identify some, such as simile — always with "like" or "as," many expressions don't fit neatly into one category or another. Skillful users of language in written or spoken form, fiction or non-fiction, often combine different aspects of figurative and descriptive language to make their presentations more compelling and insightful.

    Perhaps the most frequent mechanism used to make a phrase stand out in the reader or audience's mind is to describe something in terms that are usually used to portray something entirely different. This can be done by comparing things that are otherwise unlike each other using the words "like" or "as." This figurative language is classified as a simile. Another way is to equate unlike things, called a metaphor. Examples of metaphors are Homer's "wine-dark sea" on which the ships of the ancient Greeks sailed as they went to and from Troy. Another is the "rosy-fingered dawn" that Odysseus and his crew watched from the gunnels of their boats as they tried to return home. The sea has nothing to do with wine nor does the dawn have fingers, but the what we see when we read those words is much more interesting than "dark blue sea" or even "rosy streaks of dawn."

    Another frequently used type of figurative language is the symbol. However, the best symbols also have a metaphorical component. When description by equating unlike things is applied through a story, it is called "an extended metaphor." Here is an example.
    Let us say that we are composing a short story or writing an essay describing a real person — we'll call him John. John's life suddenly becomes interesting and exciting. However, later he suffers a loss from which he cannot recover because he is a fragile person who does not have the resilience to deal well with adversity. Early in the short story or essay, the author might use a metaphor to describe John, such as, "John was a flower that burst into bloom, colorful, and vibrant." (People and flowers are unlike things.) Throughout the events described in the story or essay, the flower might also serve as a symbol for John. This is a symbol that works on both the symbolic and metaphorical levels: the flower symbolizes John, beautiful and vibrant, and the attributes of a flower are suggestive of John's fragility and lack of resilience. The metaphor describing the change in John becomes, "John was a delicate flower, its beauty easily destroyed."
    (And of course, this could easily be made into a simile, "John was like a delicate flower, its beauty easily destroyed;" but the metaphor is a stronger description.)

    Using the Snippet in Class    

    Before watching the film, students should understand the meaning of the terms "diagnosis," "prognosis," "epilepsy," "seizure," and "early intervention."

    Figurative and Descriptive Language in the Film and the Director's Tedx Talk
    This is TWM's analysis. Reasonable minds can differ and there are probably additional examples of figurative and descriptive language in the TEDx talk.
    The title of the movie, "Bumblebees" and the film's expository phase, when Vance is talking about the bees and about himself, sets up the bumblebee as a symbol for Vance. Like a bumblebee, he's doing what he's not supposed to be able to do. The title of the film is in the plural, subtly implying that there is more than one bumblebee in this story.

    At the end of the movie, Vance states, "For once Goldie was wrong. You don't need to find somebody perfect or be somebody perfect. You just have to find another bumble bee to fly with." Vance is now equating himself and his friend to bumblebees.

    Vance's sister directed this film. In her TEDx Talk, she uses figurative and descriptive language to enhance her presentation. Here are some examples.

    "Eventually some of those limiting beliefs leak into our brain until we absorb and bear them as the undeniable truth . . . . " (Begins at 0:36)
    "beliefs leak into our brain" — This is descriptive language that brings an image to our minds. It also has a metaphorical component, enhanced by the use of the term "absorb" because it equates beliefs to liquids, that is, something that moves through leaks and are absorbed.

    The entire phrase has an important image that has a different and complementary metaphorical component, describing the brain as something that "absorbs" ideas. This image has been used so frequently that it is a standard component of our language. Minds and brains don't really absorb thoughts, but we speak of them doing this so often that the concept itself, in the many ways that it can be expressed in words, has become idiomatic. Thus, this phrase partakes of imagery, metaphor, idiom, and as we shall see below, simile.

    "bear them [limiting beliefs] as undeniable truth" — This is a simile, using the word "as" to compare "limiting beliefs" to a heavy burden, a physical object of substantial weight that can only be carried only with difficulty.
    "The prognosis did not have to be where they set the limit [for their son]. So, they could accept it at face value, placing him within the confines of a psychological box or they could chase the opportunities they still believed in for their son, placing him in a box with an open lid." (Begins at 2:14)
    "psychological box" and "box with an open lid" are striking images and good examples of descriptive language. You can see the two boxes in your mind, one with a shut lid confining a child in the dark and stunting his growth while the box with the open lid allows him to grow unrestricted into the sunshine and fresh air. This image gains some of its strength because it also has a strong metaphorical component. The phrase equates the way parents treat their children as placing them in one of two types of boxes.
    "The arrival of anything chronic or terminal often feels like 'a big old bucket o limits.' I met this autistic boy who's about ten at a film festival who spoke through a machine who told me that he felt his parents held a funeral for their expectations. That they had grieved for all the dreams they had harbored over nine months about what having a son would be like." (begins at 2:32)
    "feels like 'a big old bucket o limits" is a simile combined with an allusion to the advertising slogan of a company that sells fried chicken. "A funeral for their expectations" is a metaphor equating disappointment with a funeral. In addition, this phrase employs elements of hyperbole, these parents did not abandon their son or treat him as if he were dead.
    "The most important thing my parents did was to never let Vance know what he was supposed to be able to do. They raised him to be limitless, looking through the lens of ability rather than disability." (beginning at 4:03)
    "Through the lens" is another idiom. People do not evaluate others by looking at them through a lens. This is a metaphor, but we have used the term so often that its metaphorical content has morphed into actual meaning.

    "see eye to eye"
    Again, a metaphor: people having the same beliefs about something is equated with seeing something in the same way. However, the phrase has been used so often that it has become an idiom. We know what it means without thinking of the metaphorical content of the phrase.
    "with fresh eyes"
    Again, a metaphor: people looking at something anew and from a different perspective is equated with seeing something with eyes that are new or have not looked at it in the same way before. However, the phrase has been used so often, that we know what it means without thinking of the metaphorical content of the phrase. It has become an idiom.
    "guided him to limitlessness" -- (begins at 7:17)
    This is a metaphor: This is an image with a strong metaphorical component. You guide someone to a place not to a state of mind.
    "And Vance continues down his path of limitlessness. He was playing baseball in the yard alone the other day. When a group of teenagers drove by several times throwing trash at him and calling him a retard. Upon hearing what had happened, I was livid. My mind, tainted and cynical from my own bias, went to a place of heartache for him and animosity towards these others. But Vance's response: I feel sorry for them." (starts at 7:56)
    "Path of limitlessness" is a metaphor because paths are not limitless. They are usually thought of as having a beginning and an end. This metaphor equates paths with a psychological state of limitlessness.

    "A place of heartache for him and animosity towards these others" is a metaphor equating physical place with the mental states of "heartache" and "animosity."

Learner Outcomes/Objectives
Description of the Film Clip
Helpful Background and Suggested Analysis
Using the Snippet in Class:

Possible Problems with this Film Clip:     None

Building Vocabulary:

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    Discussion Questions     

    1. In the movie, there is a symbol and a metaphorical concept. What are they and how are they related? Suggested Response: See Helpful Background discussion.

    2. Listen carefully to the director's TEDx talk and find a metaphor/symbol/idiom/simile/striking descriptive language. Suggested Response: Ask this question as to each of these elements of speech. See Helpful Background discussion. Ask this question repeatedly until the class is as deeply into the concept of metaphor as is appropriate for the grade level and the students' sophistication.

    3. Jenna Kannel mentions two of influences that can hold people back, unsupportive peers and cultural expectations. What are some of the cultural expectations that can hold people back? Suggested Response: Family expectations and limits: "We are police officers in this family" "People in this family have always worked with their hands, you can't be a teacher." Girls used to face many of them much less now: Girls can't do math or that their place is at home in the kitchen. Of course, racial prejudice can also play a role in holding people back.

    4. What are the limits that others have set to your life? Should you respect those limits? There is often a cost to ignoring limits set by others. Are you willing to pay those costs. Suggested Response: There is no one correct response to this question.

    5. The TEDx talk has a very simple structure. What is it? [Suggested Response: Ms. Kannel starts with a question, "What would things be like in a limitless life?" (Begins at 0:17) And ends with the answer: "It all comes down to this. Don't rob yourself or anyone else of the immense power that we are all born with. Life relentlessly teaches us doubt. Just remember that you entered the world knowing nothing but opportunity. What would you be capable of if nobody told you that you had limitations?" (Starts at 8:36)

    6. Why did the kids harass Vance? Suggested Response: There is no one correct response. A good discussion should include the following: (1) his being different made them them insecure; (2) his appearing disabled and being alone made them think he was an easy victim and they were simply bullies.


    Each of the discussion questions can be turned into an essay prompt.

    1. Print out the talk. Ask students to make a close textual analysis and find all of the figurative and descriptive language and to describe the comparisons of any metaphors and similes.


    This Snippet Lesson Plan was written by James Frieden. This lesson plan revised on June 18, 2018.

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