Middle school movies that support SEL in the classroom

Help students recognize and understand social and emotional themes in popular films

4. RBG
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg headlines this documentary about her life and career. Politics aside, students can see how Ginsburg maintained integrity in her private trials and public fights for gender equality.

5. Wonder
Empathy, Perseverance
Kids will get emotional as they watch this story of a fifth-grader born with a facial abnormality. Bullying is a strong focus in the film, and students can talk about why it’s important to try to understand what their peers are going through and when to stand up for others.

6. Won’t You Be My Neighbor
Compassion, Integrity
This highly acclaimed biopic of Fred Rogers’ life showcases his passion for inspiring integrity and kindness. Whether or not they know who he is, students can argue whether the show’s discussion of tough topics with young kids had a positive or negative impact on kids’ social and emotional learning.

7. Arrival
Communication, Compassion, Curiosity
Communication is front and center in this sci-fi alien tale. Faced with important choices around compassion, the characters make decisions that will get students debating the consequences of how we talk to, and learn to work with, each other.

8. Liyana
Courage, Empathy, Perseverance
A unique mix of live-action documentary and animation, Liyana tells the emotional story of a group of African orphans and the fictional tale they created. The tale is based on their own experiences, which can be emotional and will open up students to new perspectives.

9. Black Panther
Courage, Integrity, Teamwork
This popular Marvel superhero movie is a great opportunity to take a film that kids already love and show them how their favorite characters handle integrity, decisiveness, and teamwork. You can also discuss the effect the film has had in African American communities and why it has produced such gratitude and pride.

10. Eighth Grade
Communication, Courage
This R-rated film is certainly the most controversial pick on this list; the director has hosted special screenings of Eighth Grade in schools across the country. Discuss as a class whether the characters and issues surfaced in the film are true to real life, and talk about how students might deal (or have dealt) with these types of experiences. For more information about showing the movie Eighth Grade in your classroom, be sure to check out this article, as well as our discussion guide for schools.

 [Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Common Sense Education.]

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