One of my favorite movies for high-intermediate or advanced level students is 'Spellbound,' an Academy Award-nominated film (for Best Documentary) which presents snapshots of the lives of eight American adolescents who compete in the 1999 Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee competition in Washington, D.C.
I've shown this movie numerous times, and 'Spellbound' never fails to captivate and entertain. Of course, we have an in-class spelling bee so that students can identify a little with the kids in the movie. In addition, before the national competition is covered in the movie, we take a vote in class to pick the girl or boy who we think will win the Bee. Students are asked to support their choice with information and observations about the various candidates.
Furthermore, watching and discussing 'Spellbound' is an opportunity for students to think about what an 'American' is. Among the competitors are the daughter of 'illegal' immigrants from Mexico, a child from a privileged background who rides horses in her spare time, a bright young hyperactive boy, the son of an Indian immigrant, a low-income African-American student, and so on - a real cross-section of America.
I highly recommend this movie for teaching English through content. Supplementary reading material can be downloaded from various sites, but I often use this movie review. For the spelling bee, I use the list of words for different grade levels from this site. Finally, if you want to inspire students with follow-up readings, you can go to Angela Arenivar's blog to find out what she's doing now eight years later and also read a 2004 news article about Ashley White, the aspiring African American girl from Washington, D.C..
**STUDENT WRITING ASSIGNMENT**:
Based on your observations and what was said in the movie, 'Spellbound,' how would you describe an 'average' American? In your view, what qualities do all the children in the movie share? Why do you think the National Spelling Bee captures so much public attention in the United States?
Please post ('publish') your writing in the Comment section; use the 'Other' box, and use your first name so I can see that you've done the assignment.