The Great Debaters Film Exercise

The Great Debaters Film Exercise

Considering the Link between Social Justice and Persuasive Communication

Due at the end of Unit 9

Learning Outcomes

After completing this exercise, you will be able to analyze a movie that touches upon social justice and persuasive communication and reflect on the link between the two.


Watch the movie, The Great Debaters and answer the following questions. Please submit your responses to Blackboard (Submissions) by the end of Unit 9 (Sun 3/7). This exercise will be graded as “complete/incomplete.” There is no min or max wordcount limit.

You can access the full movie here:

  1. Select one of the main characters — Samantha Booke, Henry Lowe, James Farmer, Jr. and Mr. Tolson — to focus on for the duration of the movie by analyzing his or her nonverbal communication behaviors.

Include in your analysis the following about the character:

Kinesics: body orientation and movement, including posture, facial expressions, and hand gestures. When people refer to “body language,” they most often mean kinesics.

Chronemics: using time most effectively and balancing the various portions of a presentation and stay within the time constraints.

Paralanguage: everything that goes along with your verbal message other than your words, such as: vocal quality, rate, volume, pitch, articulation, and use of pauses (silence).

Appearance: professionalism or appropriateness of dress (to situations / content); attire can help set the tone and purpose.

And consider these questions:

What do you believe was behind Mr. Tolson’s passion for helping his student’s find and express their voices during such a threatening, turbulent, and violent social period?

  • Why do you believe he chose to have his students debate what were seen as “radical” topics? In what ways might he have been motivated by more than just having them win debates?
  • Do you believe you would have stuck with the team after having endured some of the traumas that occurred to them? Why or why not? 
  1. What lessons did you learn about preparation, confidence, anxiety management, and nonverbal behaviors that might assist in your upcoming persuasive speech?