From FUTURESTATES collection, lesson plan 2 of 13

Audience: Grades 9–12

Duration: The main lesson is designed to be completed within a 55-minute class period, with additional and extension activities that can expand to three or four class periods. The film itself has a running time of about 20 minutes.

Purpose of the Lesson: This film depicts the ethical dilemma of a mother whose children are trapped in a vastly unequal school system. The lesson plan asks students to reflect more deeply about the state of our public education system — both in the near future, and today.

Standards: Common Core State Standards for Reading Literature: Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

Common Core State Standards for Writing: Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective techniques, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.

Curricula Writer: John Golden is currently a curriculum specialist for high school Language Arts in Portland, Oregon. He is the author of Reading in the Dark: Using Film as a Tool in the English Classroom (NCTE, 2001) and Reading in the Reel World: Teaching Documentaries and Other Nonfiction Texts (NCTE, 2006). John has delivered presentations and led workshops around the country in order to help teachers use film actively in the classroom as a way for students to improve their reading, analytical and critical thinking skills.


Based on the time available, ask students to consider one or more of the following questions and topics:

Section 1. Fictional news broadcasts in the film refer to the recent overturning of the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education. It might be helpful for students to complete a K/W/L (Knows/Wants to know/Learned) chart about the topic. Students should know that in 1954, the Court determined that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” The result was that forced segregation of white and black students in separate schools was illegal. Students ought to also consider whether segregation still exists today, despite the 1954 ruling.

Section 2. Much of the plot of this film is about Angela’s children’s movement from a public school to a private school. Ask students to complete and share a Venn diagram comparing public and private schools, based on their own experiences and background knowledge. Or, ask students to identify the rich and low income schools in their district or area. Why are some schools wealthier than others? What are the obstacles that students from poorer schools have to overcome that students from wealthier schools do not? Or, ask students to make a list of all of the elements that would make a perfect school: course offerings, materials, resources, class size, etc. Then, students should compare their ideal list with their actual school. What keeps students from having everything on their ideal list?

Section 3. The other main plot deals with Angela’s selling of some of her own organs to fund her children’s crossover into the private school system. Students should have an opportunity to learn about and discuss the issue of organ transplants and donations before viewing the film. Ask students to debate whether people should be allowed to sell an organ, such as a kidney, that they can live without, which is currently illegal. Why is it legal to donate an organ but not to sell it?

Section 4. Additional previewing activity: if students have not been asked to view film critically before, you may want to consider taking some time to review film terminology with students, using the relevant lesson on the FUTURESTATESpage.

VIEWING THE FILM (20 minutes)

As students watch the film, direct them to complete the Viewing Guide.

Ask them to take notes about the details they notice about the school Jennifer attends, and the environment in which her family lives. On the other side of the chart, students should take notes on what they infer about the new school and home life that Angela wants for her children. These inferences should be based on information presented in the film, including the news broadcasts that can be heard on the soundtrack.


Based on the time available, ask students to consider some of the following questions and topics:

Section 1. Using the free resource, PollEverywhere, develop a quick poll that students can respond to with their cell phones on how they feel about Angela’s decision at the end of the film: strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree. You can also have students text in the reasons why they feel the way they do about her choice. Conduct the poll again to see if students have changed their opinions. Another low-tech approach to this activity is to have students move to one of four corners of the room, based on their opinion. As they share their reasoning, students can move to one of the other corners.

Section 2. Take some time to help students consider the deep, personal sacrifice that Angela is making for her children. What are the factors that have put her in this position and what are other possible solutions? Ask students to write a letter as if they were Angela to Jennifer or to Quincy that explains the choice she made.

Section 3. The film takes place in 2028. How did the filmmakers make the time period seem both futuristic and recognizable to us today? What were the effects of some of the choices they made?

Section 4. While there is little information provided about it in the film, what do students think brother Quincy’s life will be like? How will it be different from Jennifer’s?

Section 5. Notice that we only see only a very little bit of the outside of the school and housing of the private, restricted areas. Why do you think the filmmakers chose to keep us from seeing too much of this? What is the effect of this on the viewer? Is Jennifer really going to be better off? Why or why not?

Section 6. Ask students to make a list of ways that Jennifer’s school is similar and different from their own school or schools in their community. Is the portrayal exaggerated, and if so, is the exaggeration effective?

ASSESSMENT (10 minutes)

Have students write a diary entry from the point of view of Jennifer a week or two after her arrival in her new school, in which she compares her new life with her old. Be sure that the entry draws on specific evidence that the film presents, as well as appropriate inferences about how you imagine the new school would look like, based on the information included in the film.

If you have additional time for this assessment, you may want to have students create a PowerPoint of Jennifer’s first days at the new school with contrasting images of her old school. Students could create their own images or they can access legally acquired photographs at


Using their cell phones, students can make a film or a slide show of still images that document the conditions of their own school. They should focus on exploring a single topic: overcrowded classrooms, cafeteria food, athletics, cliques or social groups, etc. Be sure that students acquire these images ethically and that they receive permission from anyone who is recognizable in their film. It would also be advisable to alert your school administration about this activity.

Watch the documentary Crossed Over (7 minutes), about the making of this film. Why do you think the producers of the documentary decided to start not with the film at all, but with interviews and images of actual classroom teachers and administrators? In the documentary, the director of photography of Crossover discuses his and the director’s choices for the contrasting areas — restricted and unrestricted — of the film. What were some of the most effective choices that helped you to understand these differences?

  1. Have students use the Predict-O-Meter tool on the FUTURESTATES website. First, using the forms at the end of this lesson plan, students will evaluate up to three predictions from this film based on scientific facts and their own knowledge. Then, they’ll have an opportunity to make a prediction of their own about an issue raised in the film and have it evaluated by another student. Finally, if they have made an interesting and a likely prediction, they can have it posted onto the FUTURESTATES website.

  2. Explore the science and ethics of transplants. Read or listen to the PBS story transcript about the ethics of transplants or the article and the charts about the issue of transplant tourism, which, according to the World Health Organization, is where rich patients can essentially buy organs that have been harvested from poor residents of countries like India, Bangladesh, and others. Students can then create an awareness campaign about the issue that includes press releases, posters, videos, editorials, or podcasts.

  3. Explore the issue of school funding further by reading a portion of an article written by Jonathon Kozol called “The Shame of the Nation,” or an excerpt from his book Savage Inequalities. Students could also view portions of the documentaries Hard Times at Douglass High or Waiting for Superman. Once they have an idea of the problem of inequitable school funding, students should then research possible solutions, such as vouchers, school choice, federal funding, etc. and present their solutions in a persuasive speech, letter to the editor, or their own documentary or fiction film.

  4. While it is not explicitly stated, it is clear that Quincy, Jennifer’s brother, is going to have a very different education than his sister because of his autism. Unfortunately, until very recently, this also has been the case in real life; it was thought that autistic students could not learn. Ask students to research the history of educating autistic students in this country. A good starting place could be this PowerPoint. Then, students could hold a panel discussion about the challenges that autistic students face and the ways that the education system can best meet their needs.

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