Soul Surfer: A Great Teaching Tool!

When the story of teenage surfer, Bethany Hamilton broke around the world, people everywhere stiffened with fear at the fate of the young girl. A true miracle-story, Bethany fought her way back to life and success. Soul Surfer, by director Sean McNamara does justice to Hamilton’s epic journey. Released in 2011, and with a very Christian-focused lens on Bethany ‘s journey, this film takes a hard look at the role of faith during times of adversity. I showed it to my high school English class and they were riveted.

I found this to be a great teaching tool because it allowed students to learn very important themes around faith, family, love, compassion, perseverance, disability, hardships and overcoming those hardships.

Award-winning AnnaSophia Robb stars as Bethany Hamilton, with Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt in the role of her parents. Essentially a star-studded cast, Carrie Underwood and Loraine Nicholson round off the line-up. The Most actors do a solid job of making their characters come alive and displaying individual foibles and strengths. Robb was a particularly convincing Bethany Hamilton with her tear-jerking reactions to Bethany’s challenges. This movie connected with my students on several personal levels and it was this connection that allowed me to extend the learning into a writing activity (a movie review).

The special effects were quite well done with the surfing stunts and underwater scenes offering viewing depth and clarity.

Teachers, for those of you who would like to show this movie to your intermediate students (it is best suited for the 12-15 year age group), I have attached a Soul Surfer Movie Review Instruction Sheet that you can modify for their writing activity. Along with the instructional sheet it would be worthwhile for you to include a rubric of your choosing as well as a movie review that you think is of a high caliber.

After marking close to a 100 movie reviews, I found this to be a great tool (the movie and the ensuing review) because it helped start the conversation around good writing (including the proper use of grammar, syntax and punctuation – please refer to my previous post, Teaching Grammar in High School). As a diagnostic it worked rather well in identifying which of my students were strong writers and which ones would need more help and in what areas. Since this was a film that everyone enjoyed because they were able to connect to it, it was the perfect conduit for developing writing skills.

Additionally, Soul Surfer worked really well to reinforce goal-setting, a lesson that I did earlier in the summer with my classes. My students were able to see someone in a seemingly impossible situation encounter multiple failures and finally [SPOILER ALERT] succeed.

Available on Netflix, Soul Surfer is a feel-good movie perfect for a girls’ night in, or with the family. As a teaching tool it works even better because larger life-lessons can be had. Teachers, try it and if  you do, please share  your experiences in the comments below.


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