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Minari and SEL: A Movie Guide and Lesson Plan for Your Classroom

Help students reflect on what motivates who we become and how we grow.

Christine Elgersma | July 22, 2021

Minari follows the journey of a Korean-American family building a new life on a farm. At the heart of the movie are questions about the choices we make for our families and the priorities behind them. Specifically how our choices are influenced by our character traits, values, and virtues.

The discussion guide and lesson below will help students consider how and why characters in Minari act the way they do. Students will also reflect on how their own sense of identity has developed within their family and community -- including the impacts of culture and ancestry. They'll also consider how this might play out for others who aren't like themselves.

There's a ton of SEL content to work with here. It's accessible to 9th graders but can also spark more nuanced conversations for 12 graders. The movie taps into common family dynamics that most students will connect with, while complicating those dynamics through a story of migration and cultural displacement. The film will resonate particularly with students whose households have deep connections to countries other than the one in which they reside.

Things to Know Before You Show Minari to Your Students

This guide offers two different approaches to teaching Minari:

  1. Show a few specific clips along with discussion questions.
  2. Show the entire film with a more in-depth lesson plan and handout.

Feel free to use either approach, or even combine the two into one lesson (or an entire unit) based around the movie. If you only have a single class period, showing just a few key clips below might be perfect. If you decide to help students delve deeper into the topic, you might show the entire film and have more extensive discussions over multiple days. Of course, you could also use some combination of the two, adapting the lesson to best suit your class's needs.

Much of the movie has subtitles, so if you have students that can benefit from it a simple transcript and the full screenplay are both available.

Content warning: There are a few scenes to be aware of before you show the movie. You know your classroom and community norms best -- use your professional judgement to decide how you'll address these, if necessary.

  • At 49:44, there's a scene where David tricks Soonja (Grandma) into drinking his urine.
  • Around 1:19:00, some kids use chewing tobacco.

Lesson Objectives

This lesson is designed to align with the CASEL 5 competencies for social and emotional learning as well as various Thinking Routines from the Harvard Graduate School of Education's Project Zero.

Use this lesson to help students consider how they can:

  • Exhibit self-discipline and self-motivation.
  • Show the courage to take initiative.
  • Demonstrate personal and collective agency.
  • Integrate their personal and social identities.
  • Identify their personal, cultural, and linguistic assets.
  • Experience self-efficacy.
  • Develop interests and a sense of purpose.
  • Identify diverse social norms, including unjust ones.
  • Recognize situational demands and opportunities.
  • Understand the influences of organizations and systems of behavior.
  • Anticipate and evaluate the consequences of their actions.
  • Reflect on their own role in promoting personal, family, and community well-being.

Minari Clips and SEL Discussion Questions for Students

If you only want to show brief parts of the film and discuss them with students, use these helpful clips to get you started. You can also use these in conjunction with the longer lesson plan below.

The time stamps can help you pick and choose your areas of focus. Use as few or as many clips as you see fit, but keep in mind that you may need to introduce the movie's overall plot and talk through some of what happens before or after each clip.

Clip #1: Jacob explains how the male chicks are "discarded," and that means it's important to be useful. (7:56-9:40)

  • What do you think Jacob is feeling as he talks to David about the farm? Why do you think so?
  • Jacob explains that the male chicks are discarded, so it's important to be useful. What do you think this statement shows about Jacob's motivations?

Clip #2: A thunderstorm is in full swing, and everyone's scared. Jacob and Monica fight as the kids make paper airplanes with the message "Don't fight!" (10:49-13:53)

  • Why does Anne get so angry when Jacob says they worried for nothing? Beyond the tornado, why is she angry?
  • When Monica asks Jacob which family the move was really for, what does she mean? Why does Jacob mention that he's the eldest son?
  • Anne's strategy when her parents are fighting is to send messages with paper airplanes, which is a creative way to find some control over a situation where she's powerless. Can you think of a situation where you make your voice heard even though you can't really change what's happening?

Clip #3: A dowser comes to show Jacob he can find water on the property, but Jacob says, "Americans, believing that nonsense! Korean people use their heads." (16:09-19:51)

  • Dowsing is a very old practice considered to be pseudoscience by some and legitimate folk wisdom by others. Jacob relies on knowledge and planning, so dismisses the dowser. What do you think about the tension between Jacob's approach and the dowser's approach? Why?

Clip #4: Jacob tells Anne that Koreans immigrate to the U.S. and miss Korean food. Monica explains that her mom has no other family because her father died in the war. (25:49-27:39)

  • What does Jacob's decision to grow Korean vegetables in Arkansas say about culture and identity?
  • Why is it significant that Monica's father died in the Korean War?

Clip #5: Grandma (Soonja) arrives, and David is unsure about her. She says American kids don't like sharing their room and Monica says, "He's a Korean kid." (27:40-31:25)

  • Is Soonja what you expected? Is she what David expected? Why?
  • Grandma sees David as an American kid and Monica asserts that he's a Korean kid. Who's right? Is there a "right"?

Clip #6: Grandma (Soonja) makes David a special tea, and he complains about a "Korea" smell in his room. (34:04-35:56)

  • Because entire countries can't have a smell, what is it David is really reacting to? Why?

Clip #7: Grandma can't bake, but she shows the kids what she can do by teaching them a card game. (35:37-37:58)

  • David expects his grandmother to be able to bake cookies. Instead, she plays cards and swears. How do our roles in a family sometimes create expectations for us?

Clip #8: The family goes to church, and people there react in various ways to them being Korean. (42:44-49:43)

  • Monica wants a sense of community. Does she find it at church?
  • How would you describe the behavior of the people at church toward the Yi family? This movie is set in the '80s. Do you think this scene would look different today? Why or why not?

Clip #9: David dumps out his tea and urinates in the cup. Grandma drinks it, he's punished, and Grandma defends him. (49:44-55:13) 

  • Why do you think David does what he does, and why does Soonja defend him?

Clip #10: After Jacob learns a deal fell through with a Korean business owner, there's a shot of the smoke stack for "discarded" useless male chicks. (1:02:06-1:03:57)

  • Why do you think the filmmakers linger on the shot of the smokestack at the end of this scene?

Clip #11: After David gets hurt, Grandma emphasizes how strong he is. When they're by the creek, Soonja says, "It's better to see [the snake] than have it hide. Things that hide are more dangerous and scary." (1:05:33-1:10:00)

  • Why does his grandma telling him he's a "strong boy" contradict the identity he's used to?
  • Why do you think David has accepted Soonja?
  • Beyond the snake, what does Soonja mean about things that hide? Do you agree with her? Why or why not?

Clip #12: Soonja has a stroke. The kids go to church so they can call their mother. On the church bus, kids joke about Paul not having water. (1:12:32-1:18:35)

  • David wakes up thinking he's wet the bed, but it was Soonja this time because she's had a stroke. Just a few hours before, she'd been making him feel safe. As kids, what do moments like this mean about our understanding of the world and how it works?
  • When the kids on the bus make fun of Paul because he doesn't have water at his house, David realizes that's true about his family, too. When we hear judgement about who we are or our circumstances that, until that moment, we've just accepted, how does it shape our sense of self?

Clip #13: Monica tells Anne she's so grown up, taking care of everyone. Later, Anne asks David if he wants to live with mom or dad. (1:23:41-1:24:58)

  • What's Anne's role in the family? What are some examples to support your idea?

Clip #14: Jacob takes his box of produce to the appointment with the doctor, which upsets Monica. They fight. (1:31:41-1:35:41)

  • What are Jacob's priorities? What are Monica's? What are our options when our priorities are fundamentally different from a loved one's?
  • If you had to take a side, whose side would you take? Why?

Clip #15: Soonja accidentally sets fire to the produce shed. Jacob hires a dowser to find water. David leads dad down to the creek. Jacob sees the minari and says, It's growing well on its own." (1:38:26-end)

  • How do priorities seem to shift during the fire? Why do you think big events -- like birth, illness, death, a pandemic, etc. -- can shift one's priorities?
  • What do you think is the significance of Jacob hiring a dowser?
  • Why does the movie end with Jacob commenting on the minari, and why is it the title of the movie?

Minari Lesson Plan and Graphic Organizer

Start by introducing the movie and give students some context as to why it’s worth thinking more deeply about. Though it wasn't hugely popular among teens, it's possible that some of your students have seen it, so it's helpful to make a strict "If you know it, don't blow it" rule to prevent spoilers. You might also want to discuss some of the learning objectives or the concept of active viewing.

Before the Movie

Hand out the graphic organizer and give students a few minutes to complete the Before You Watch question.

  • Students will rank certain character traits in order of how important they are to personal growth. Importantly, they’ll return to this after the movie and reflect on it.

Preview the activities students will be doing during the movie. Students will be writing down notes about one character's motivations.

Once the movie is over, you can use all of the questions and activities or pick and choose, depending on how much time you have. Depending on what's best for your class, have students work in pairs, small groups, or as a whole class.

During the Movie

Make sure to pause periodically (feel free to use the timestamps above) and give kids a chance to write or draw responses to the prompts on their handouts.

After the Movie

Have students complete the After You Watch Activities.

Writing Prompts

You can use these additional prompts (which don't appear on the student handout) to guide students in a writing project or a more comprehensive discussion about the movie's major themes.

  • In an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, director Lee Isaac Chung, said, "Ultimately, a patch of minari, this Korean plant that the grandmother plants, that my grandmother planted, that ended up being the only thing that really thrived on that farm...It's a hardy plant. It kind of grows in places where you can't grow anything else. It can take root in very poor soil conditions. And what it ends up doing is it actually revitalizes the soil. And it cleans up the water. It has a purifying effect." How can people be like the symbol of minari, in that they're not only resilient but make something or some place better than before?
  • Thinking back on the movie, is there one scene that’s particularly memorable? What scene, and why does it stick out in your mind? Can you identify a choice the filmmakers made about music, camera angles, etc. that made it especially memorable?
  • People often fall into roles in families: The peacemaker, the comedian, the caretaker, etc. Do you think this is a positive or negative thing? Why?
  • What are the challenges of maintaining a culture while being a part of another one? What are the pressures of "fitting in" while also being true to yourself/where you came from?

Creative Extensions

Create a "farm" that represents the things that motivate you to learn and grow as a person. It could be a sculpture or diorama, a drawing, a poem that describes it, or a virtual one (using Minecraft, etc.).

Jacob faces many challenges and setbacks as he tries to make the farm work, only to lose the crop in the fire. But we see, at the end, he is going to try again. Identify a time in your life when you had to work hard and overcome challenges but didn't give up. It could be something that only happened inside of yourself. Create something -- a piece of writing, art, music, a game, etc. -- that illustrates this time.

Anne is a quiet force in the movie, taking care of David and trying to make things easier for her parents. Though she's not a very dynamic character, she plays a huge role in holding everything together. Can you think of someone from your own life, from history, or from a piece of media that's like Anne -- a bit of an "unsung hero" who helps keep things going? Create something that gives this person a proper shout out!