Discussion Questions and Activities
- Goodbye, Mr. Chips is the story of a dedicated teacher and the changes in his life as he serves at the same school for over sixty years. Have you ever had a truly great teacher? Discuss in pairs or small groups what made these teachers so effective and make a list of these qualities. (You might also want to think about particularly ineffective teachers you've had and make a similar list of those qualities.) Would you want to be a teacher yourself? Why or why not? Share your answers with the class, then save your lists to use as you watch the film.
- Brainstorm a list of all the films, television shows, novels, and stories you can think of that are set in a school. Why do you think stories about school life are so perennially popular? What is it about a school that makes it a particularly rich setting for drama? What about schools also makes them perfect settings for comedy and/or satire? To extend this activity, have students read or view excerpts from some of the works listed before watching Goodbye, Mr. Chips. How are teachers, schools, and students portrayed by Hollywood and by our popular culture in general? What are the stock characters and plots that seem to appear over and over? How true are these portrayals to your own experiences in school?
- To provide students with additional historical and cultural context, visit the Masterpiece Theatre Web site at http://pbs.org/masterpiece/mrchips
- Mr. Chips's Brookfield is a very hierarchical and authoritarian place, with established rules, punishments, and rituals for keeping its boys in line. How are discipline and authority maintained in your school? Do you think hierarchies of authority and power are natural and unavoidable, whether in school, sports, the workplace, or elsewhere? To what extent do you think uses of power like bullying and hazing are also natural and unavoidable in these settings?
- Watch the first ten minutes of the film (through the scene in which Chips meets the headmaster in his office). In these ten minutes, a great deal is already established about the film's characters, plot, conflicts, and themes. Make two lists: first, list what you already know or can infer about this story just from these opening scenes. Next, list as many predictions as you can make about the plot, characters, themes, and conflicts to come. (Base your predictions both on what you've just seen and what you know already about the genre of dramas about schools and teachers.) Post your predictions to see if they come true as you view the rest of the film.
- Look back at the list you compiled to describe great teachers. Which of these qualities does Chips have? What other qualities would you add to your list to describe him? Why do you think Hilton made Chips a Latin teacher? How does Chips change in his role as a teacher through the film?
- Do you think Mr. Chips's lifelong commitment to one school narrowed or enlarged him as a person? To investigate, create a timeline of his life at Brookfield with all the significant turning points represented. Now choose one turning point on your timeline, and change what happens, by eliminating that event or by adding something else. Finally, create a new timeline that continues from that point and shows what you think might have resulted from that change. (For instance, what if he had never met Kathie? What if World War I had not intervened?) Share your new timeline with the class.
- Though your own school and Brookfield are removed from each other by at least a century and a continent, how many ways can you think of in which they are alike? To what extent do you think all schools are alike, whether Chips's Brookfield, Harry Potter's Hogwarts, or your own?
- In the first scene between the headmaster and Mr. Chips, the topics of discipline and authority are raised, and these continue as important, interrelated themes throughout the story. How are discipline and authority maintained at Brookfield, either officially, through the teachers and headmaster, or unofficially, through fagging, bullying, and other rituals among the boys? What scenes from the film in particular show this? Proponents of systems like this defend them by saying that they "make boys into men." Do you agree? Why or why not? Consider, in this context, how Chips intervenes with Alderdyce. Do you think he helps him or hurts him in the end? Why?
- Kathie illustrates her and her husband's philosophy of kindness in her parable of the Sun and the North Wind. In small groups, think of how each force is illustrated in the story. Do you agree with Kathie about women's influence in the lives of men when she says, "we civilize matters"?
- Why is Herr Staefel pressured to resign? Do you agree with Headmaster Ralston when he says that, especially in times of war, a school must "foster patriotism"? Do you think something like this could happen today? Why or why not?
- How important is setting to this story? Could it be set in an urban American public school in 2003 and still have the same essential plot, characters, conflicts, and themes? To consider this, create a piece of "reader's theater." Choose a scene from the book or film that involves an issue that could take place in any school (for example, bullying, a new teacher meeting his or her first class, a discussion between a teacher and a student). Rewrite the scene as it might occur in your school today. Finally, use a Venn diagram or other graphic organizer to compare the two scenes: what do they have in common?
Using Goodbye, Mr. Chips in the Classroom
Goodbye, Mr. Chips: Plot Summary | Time & Place: English Public Schools
Discussion Questions and Activities | Novel into Film
The School Experience: An Inquiry | Resources | Teacher's Guide Credits
Essays + Interviews | Who's Who/Cast + Credits
Story Synopsis | Novel to Film | Russell Baker
Links + Bibliography | Teacher's Guide | The Forum
About The Series |
The American Collection |
Schedule & Season |
Feature Library |
Learning Resources |