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Classroom discussion activities on characters played by Will Smith

the pursuit for emotional intelligence through cinema films

The primary goal of education is to promote the individual's holistic development, taking all of their characteristics into account, including emotional development. Currently, the actions of young people involving the school are more explicit. The school environment sometimes becomes the stage for situations such as the beginning of romantic relationships or bullying, for example.

Being one of the most successful actors of his generation, Will Smith is a name who can be associated with the study of emotional intelligence. Currently, his name is associated with the incident with his friend Chris Rock at the 2022 Oscars, but the focus of this article is not about that. Instead, this article will concentrate about how much, in more than 30 years of his career, Will Smith has taught us about emotional intelligence in your cinematographic works and how it is important to discuss them in the educational settings.

For a long time, the actor was known as a comedy actor portraiting TV shows like  The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996), the blockbusters Bad Boys (1995-2020), and Men in Black (1997-2012) and so much more. However, this article chose three masterpieces of his cinematographic collection Ali (2001), The Pursuit of Happyness (2006), and King Richard (2021).  In these three movies, the actor received the Academy Award nomination. These three movies can be essential agents in the development of emotional intelligence at school, as part of their characters can guide students in the process of emotional toughness, emotional financial, discipline and perserverance. In the end of the each part, this article has proposed activities to do in the classroom with students and other teachers.

  • Emotional toughness: From an action hero to a fighter.


    Cinema has the ability to create a strong impact on people. When we see how other people live and express their emotions, we are able to analyze and reflect on them without feeling judged.

    In movies with Bad Boys (1995), Men in the Black (1997), and Indepence Day (1996), Will Smith proved to us that he could be an action hero. However, in Ali (2006) he shows us that he is also a fighter. In this movie, the actor portrayed the champion of the boxing world and activist, Muhammad Ali.

    The preparation of an actor to play a character in a movie can be much greater than just thinking about the personality, mannerisms, and physical characteristics of the role that will be played. To interpret the boxer, Will Smith had a lot of training to get into the shape and match his personality. Ali was a controversial figure and Will Smith knew to tell his journey full of ups and downs and the boxer`s message to the world.

    The movie motivates people to overcome their difficulties in life. Muhamad Ali had some difficulties such as dyslexia, poverty, and Parkinson`s syndrome.  Playing Ali, Will Smith teaches us to free ourselves, to always get back up, to make it happen, and to dream bigger. The actor shows us that we can be fighters and never give up on our dreams.

    By debating this film in the classroom, teachers can explain to students how to deal with their own feelings and those of their peers are better able to express themselves and resolve interpersonal conflicts. This avoids bullying and fights, making the school environment healthier and more welcoming.


    Activity: Boxing training activities and debate

    In partnership with the physical education teacher, the teacher can promote physical activities related to a fighter where students can learn to express their anxieties and feelings. Afterwards, the teacher can generate a debate by asking the students how they felt doing the activities.

    2. Emotional finance: Self-management and emphaty

    Perhaps, this is the movie which more demonstrates the versatility of Will Smith as an actor and teaches us one of the greatest lesson about emotional inteligence - self-management. For a long time, in the education settings feelings and emotions were disregard from the subjects in the school, with the advance of problems as bullying, emotions and feelings started to be as an integral part of the everyday life in schools.

    A curiosity about this film is that it was the first fill that Will Smith starred with his son. The movie is based on the true story of Chris Gardner, who invest all of his savings in developing portable scanners to sell to doctors. However, he failed in his businesses and his wife leaves him with his son. With no money, no wife and a son, Chris have to live on the street and starting his life from scratch.

    Through this movie, you can reflect on themes as happiness, dreams, sacrifice, frustration and overcoming difficulties. Observing the character, the teacher has to teach the students what value and ability to overcome obstacles despite adversities in life.

    Throughout your life, you will deal with various situations and financial is one of them. Because of that, this is a great movie to teach students how to control their money or even that to help their parents at home.

    Activity: Financial plan and debate

     In a partnership with the maths teacher, the teachers can develop activities talking about percentages, interest, difference in cash or term, among other exercises. Students will learn how to care about money and the importance of savings and how to invest carefully their money. After the activity, it is important to talk to students about how can money affects their emotional life and how can we avoid some feeling coming from that.

    3. The King of discipline and perseverance

    If in the last movies, Will Smith taught us how to be a fighter and not give up on our dreams and how to develop ourselves personally, in this last movie all these attributes can be found in King Richard. The story is based on Richard Williams and his two daughters the tennis players Venus and Serena Williams. All the movie tells the successfull plan that Richard had for his two daughters to become worlwilde famous. The reception of the movie was extremely positive and Will Smith was accoladed by the Academy and received the Oscars of the best actor.

    One of the lessons that we can learn about this movie is discipline and perseverance, Richard believed in his daughters and never gave up on them. Before they got a professional tennis coach, Venus and Serena were trained by their parents. Discipline and perseverance were passed on to their girls. Richard not only had a dream, he had a detailed plan which helps him to visualize the goal and the necessary steps to achieve it. Thus, this is an great activity to teach students how to make plans about their future, using  to what (resources), how (tools, activities) and the why (the reasons). Doing that, students will be able to see a map of their dreams and goals and what they have to do to achieve them.

    Another lesson that we can learn from the film is do not think about other people do. The movie teaches us to think of what you do. When you compare yourself with the other is pointless and distracting, Richar taught to their kids to focus exclusively on their goals.

    Activity: Planning for tomorrow: future time perspectives and debate

    This activity can be integrated with the philosophy teacher, maths teacher, history teacher and others.  Teachers can ask students to define a goal and construct a map or a table and the steps they can do to achieve this goal. Maths teacher can help students to make a financial plan to see the savings and costs of this aim. he objective of this proposal is to lead students to reflect on dreams, motivations and interests and, then, build perspectives for the future, defining short, medium and long-term goals to achieve them. After the activity, teachers and students can debate about the plans and goals and students can express if they feel that they will achieve them or not.

    Discussing Will Smith's films in the classroom is very important because  allows students greater control over emotions, after all, the ability to deal with them is essential in the school period and also very useful for the students' professional future. Each character has a story, if the teacher ask how each student would feel in the main character's shoes or what they felt when they heard the story would be very interesting to debate they learn to shape their attitudes in a positive and beneficial health bias.

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