Set in a 1930s penitentiary, "The Green Mile" centers around the characters of death row prison guard Paul Edgecomb and death row inmate John Coffey. As a convicted murder and rapist, Coffey is facing the electric chair. Soon after arriving on death row, otherwise known as the "Green Mile" for the green tiles that cover the floor, Coffey begins to show that he has mystic healing abilities. While fictional, this film can be used as a basis for a variety of teaching opportunities.
Death Penalty Debate
When teaching high school or college students, "The Green Mile" can be used as a catalyst to discuss the debate over capital punishment. Show students the film in its entirety and pay special attention to the scenes where John Coffey heals Paul Edgecomb from his urinary tract infection, brings the inmate Del's mouse back to life and heals Melinda Moores from a fatal health condition. Lead the discussion by asking students what their feelings on capital punishment are. What are the pros and cons of this issue? There are no right or wrong answers for this exercise -- it is meant to teach students how to effectively debate difficult issues.
Based on a Stephen King novel, "The Green Mile" is a tale that contains a degree of fantasy with Coffey's healing powers as well as Edgecomb's sentence to live until all of the people he cared about have died. Instruct students to replicate this style of fantasy and imagination by having them develop their own creative writing stories. Teach your students how to combine real aspects with fantasy elements as they are in "The Green Mile."
Compare and Contrast
With the element of extended life in "The Green Mile," introduce students to another famous story with a similar theme, "Tuck Everlasting." While the plot has major differences, show students both films and instruct them to write either a play or short story that encompasses the idea of eternal life. As students are beginning the creative process for their pieces, lead a classroom discussion based around the question: "What do human beings find attractive or tragic about the idea of living forever?"
History of Penitentiaries in the U.S.
With "The Green Mile" being set in a Depression-era penitentiary, teach students about the history of prison life by assigning them to do a research project on the topic. Instruct your class to compile information about the history of capital punishment, methods of execution and famous executions throughout American judicial history. After the due date for the reports, have each student discuss what they learned in front of their peers.