Teaching Adolescents Self-Respect Using Box-Office Movies

by Sheri_Oz

Box-office movies present marvelous opportunities to teach teens life skills in a way that keeps them interested and at the same time develops their critical thinking capabilities.

I am going to show you a lesson plan that I developed for use with teenagers. This program has been used in classrooms and in extracurricular settings, such as the scouts. Pupils and teachers enjoy it.

In this article, you will find the rationale for the lesson, a questionnaire given to pupils before and after seeing the film, the exact places where you stop the movie for discussion and exercises, and a number of sample discussion questions.

Learning Goals

Young people are not aware of the impact of their manner of dressing and talking, or their comportment on the impression that they make on other people. Many blindly follow the behaviors and fashions seemingly endorsed by their peers without asking themselves if that is what they really want.

This lesson invites them to open their minds to the possibility of defining, for themselves, the fashions and behavioral scripts they wish to follow, according to how they want to see themselves and how they prefer other people see them.

Teaching Movie: Pretty Woman

Julia Roberts and Richard Gere star in this film. Roberts plays a 'working woman' that billionaire Gere hires to escort him to functions during his stay in town for business, offering a good fee for the week. He has her shop in top of the line shops and dress in expensive clothes to match his station in life. The hotel manager sees Roberts' positive qualities and subtly encourages her to think well of herself. Part way through the movie, she does begin to remember she once had dreams for a better life for herself. At the same time, she has shown Gere that life can be fun if you don't always think about making more money. The week ends, Roberts tells her friend that she, too, can make for herself a better future and gives her money to take the beauty course she always wanted to. Roberts, ready to leave 'the life' and start out fresh, is surprised when Gere proposes to her.

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Some May Feel Uncomfortable Using This Movie for Educational Purposes

The problems with the film are:

  1. There are scenes that are suggestive.
  2. Gender role stereotypes, with little leeway for variation, are predominant: the beautiful woman lacking in personal power and the powerful man who controls the resources available in society.


  1. Adult scenes have become more overt in film and on TV such that young people have been exposed to far more daring materials than this movie presents. 
  2. The movie can be seen as providing a strong stimulus for discussion with pupils on the topic of gender roles and stereotypes.
  3. Another area of discussion that can arise around this film is whether or not we can allow ourselves to enjoy a movie, laugh at the funny parts, even take a lesson from it when at the same time we may be opposed to major aspects of the message it seems to promote.

Pre-Program Questionnaire

Means for Assessing Attitudes Before Start of the Program

Hand this out to pupils at least a week before the program begins. You want to have them record their answers so that they can later compare them to how they answer after the program is over; you may also want to collect their answers anonymously so that you can measure the program effectiveness for yourself.

You can click the image of the questionnaire and save it in your own document files for printing.

Questionnaire for Adolescent Self-Respect Class
Questionnaire for Adolescent Self-Res...

Watching the Movie

Places to Stop and Suggested Discussion Questions

Questions for students to think about while watching the first section of the movie:

  1. What do you think about Vivian, Kit, Edward and Phil? 
  2. What information do you use to determine what you think about them?
  3. How do each of these characters feel about themselves?

STOP THE MOVIE AT 40 MINUTES -  discuss their answers to the questions above.

Resume watching the movie and have students consider the following questions while watching:

  1. Would Mr Morrison and his grandson have been so respectful toward Vivian if she was still wearing her own clothes?
  2. Did she change her personality when she changed her clothes?
  3. What difference do the clothes make? Why does Vivian say that in her own clothes she can handle men like Phil better than in the new clothes?
  4. Why was she prepared to leave Edward without taking the money?
  5. How are Vivian and Edward beginning to change?

STOP THE MOVIE AT 1:34 - discuss the students' answers to the questions above.

Resume the movie at 1:36 (in order to skip over the adult scene) and provide students with the following questions:

  1. How does Vivian feel toward herself? Could she go back to dressing as she did at the beginning of the film?
  2. Why did Vivian not agree to stay that last night with Edward? How hard was it for her to refuse? Where did she get the strength to refuse?

STOP THE MOVIE AT 1:53:30 - discuss the questions above.

Resume the movie to the end and then discuss the following questions:

  1. What is the importance of first impressions in our interactions with other people?
  2. What part does clothing, hair style and make-up play in first impressions?
  3. Everyone is different, so different people want to present themselves in different ways. How can we know if the impression we want to make is the impression other people actually get of us?

Using the Attitudes Questionnaire at the End of the Program

Hand out clean copies of the questionnaire you gave students before the start of the program. Ask them to complete the questionnaire again.

Discussion questions:

  1. What is different in your approach to dress, make-up and hair styles after seeing the movie and discussing it?
  2. In what way has your attitude to dress and appearance remained the same?

Other Background Resources

Film Theory and Other Discussions

The part that pertains to "Pretty Woman" discusses the mass media presentation of the "good working woman". In this film, Vivian saves herself, saves her friend and saves the man. She was a pearl waiting to be discovered. However, one could also say that she took advantage of an opportunity that presented itself to turn her life around.

See page 593-599. This chapter discusses ideology as it relates to film and tries to answer the question of whether film reflects the ideology of the society in which it was produced or does it discuss ideology? The films "American Psycho" and "King Kong" are also discussed here.

Other Activities

You may want to divide the class into small groups and have them discuss their answers to the questions in the group. This can be followed by presentations by each group of the main points of their discussion or of their conclusions to the entire class.

You can have the class debate a central theme found in the movie, such as one of the following:

  • People should/should not be able to dress however they want without being judged by others because of it.
  • Self-esteem and self-worth are behind/have nothing to do with how people choose to dress.
Updated: 04/21/2014, Sheri_Oz
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Sheri_Oz on 12/13/2014

Thanks, Lybrah. I enjoy letting kids figure things out for themselves.

Sheri_Oz on 09/10/2014

Thanks for your endorsement of this lesson plan, Emma.

Sheri_Oz on 04/21/2014

Thanks for taking the time to look at this lesson plan, Pam. I have enjoyed working with teens on this. Hope others will find it useful.

dustytoes on 04/21/2014

This sounds like a very good outline for a lesson plan geared toward teens. I like the way you suggest that students fill out the questionnaire twice as their views may change after the discussion about the movie.

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