Witness, A Video Materials Package

Sally Winnr

Introduction and Notes for teachers:

This action film presents an accessible forum for looking at violence and cultures in conflict. Students also appreciate being introduced to the Amish culture, which differs in numerous ways from the general American culture they routinely encounter. Suggested materials and discussion topics assist teachers in bringing this film successfully to the class.

Witnessis an action film. The dialog is not the most important part of the film. For this reason, it is fairly easy to follow and lends itself to some very communicative video activities. (See below.) I have included reading and discussion activities, too.

WARNING!!! Witness contains explicit violence which is integral to the action plot. It also contains one nude scene (breasts) which is not essential and can be easily edited out.

Recommended Levels: High Intermediate and above.

Time: Not sure. I recommend showing crucial scenes only, filling in the intervals with plot summaries. That could probably be done in a week's time, or stretched out over a month with viewings twice a week only. At the end, offer one full viewing in a class period with no interruptions. Bring popcorn!

Optional Activity:Tape recording and lyrics of pop song that appears in the movie,What a Wonderful World This Would Be.

Introductory Activity: Show overhead of dictionary page with the word witness. Concentrate on the various meanings of the word. Use the opportunity to review dictionary skills, too, going over various abbreviations, etc. Tell students that this is the name of a film they are going to see. Ask them to guess what the movie might be about. (Don't tell them!)

Viewing l:

Opening of film from Amish funeral to departure on train for the city. Stop before arriving in the city, approx. l0 minutes.


For two viewings and discussion, 30 or 45 minutes, but if this is the first time they've done
See and Tell Activity, allow one hour. (It should get faster as they get the hang of it.)

See and Tell Partner Activity:

This activity will be used frequently in viewing the film. Students are in pairs. Chairs must be rearranged so that one partner faces the screen, but the other does not, facing instead partner number one (back to TV). The scene is played without sound. The student who is viewing, talks to her partner as she watches, describing what she sees.

EX.: Your students might say, "There are a lot of people. They have funny clothes. The women wear long black dresses and hats. The men wear black clothes and hats, too. They're walking. They're in the country. They're in someone's house...etc." When the scene is finished, rewind, and let the students move their chairs so that everyone can see the screen. Let them watch again, this time with sound. Discuss.

Note: The first time, you might like to have all students watch the silent clip while you demonstrate the "See and Tell" method for one or two minutes, so that they get the idea.

Comprehension and Prediction Questions:

  1. Where are the people? (In the US? Setting? City or countryside?)
  2. What year is it?
  3. Why are the people meeting together?
  4. What kind of people are they? (physical descriptions, guesses about occupations, are they religious? do they speak English? customs? etc.)
  5. Who do you think the main characters are? What are their relationships?
  6. What do you think is going to happen?

You might put these questions on the board in between the two viewings to give them something to think about as they watch together with sound. A third viewing is also an option, but try to emphasize that understanding the sparse dialog is not essential. Point out that you don't understand it all either because it's not all in English!

Note: Always begin a video lesson by orally reviewing the plot to refresh students' memories and help those who were absent. Have students help you with this, asking specific questions when necessary.

Viewing 2:

From arrival in Philadelphia train station to arrival of police to question boy about murder, approx. l5 minutes. WARNING!! MURDER IS BLOODY! TOTAL TIME for two viewings and discussion 45­60 minutes. Do See and Tell Activity.

Comprehension and Prediction Questions:

  1. What problem is there with the train?
  2. What is new and interesting in the station for the boy? How does he feel?
  3. What happened? Where? Who was killed? Why? (Guess!) Who saw the murder? Who talks to the boy? What does the policeman say? What does the boy say?
  4. Who are the new characters introduced? Which ones are important? (Perhaps put a list on the board to help students keep them straight.)
  5. What do you think will happen next?
Concentrate on plot here. Bring up the definition of the word "witness" again and discuss its possible meaning with regard to what they saw today in the film.

Continue with See and Tell Activities, choosing the crucial scenes only. For example, the next scenes I would choose are the boy's identification of the killer as a policeman, then the shootout in the garage, then the flight from the city, etc. Fill in the missing scenes with brief summaries. These could become short reading or listening activities.

THE AMISH: A reading

Find or make a summary of an encyclopedia or Internet article about the Amish to do as a reading exercise. It could be done midway as a break from the video viewings. Make it a jigsaw activity.

l. Divide the reading into two parts. Half the class should work on part one, half on part two. They should read and understand their parts, using dictionaries, asking questions of the teacher and each other.

2. Put the students in groups of 2 (one with each part) or 4 (two with each part). Distribute the questions to everyone. Each group should answer the questions. Some answers will be in part one, some in part two. Students must help each other, providing the info to answer the questions. THIS IS A SPEAKING ACTIVITY! Do not allow students to just exchange the two parts of the reading and work silently alone. When groups are finished, they can read their partnersą readings. Check and discuss answers together.


Following the musical scene in the film, you may want to break away from the video and listen to the song. (Get a tape and do a cloze if you like. This song has been done by Simon and Garfunkle, too.) Discuss the song's role in the film. In the context of the film, is it an old song or a new one? What is its meaning to Book? To Rachel?



  • Rachel Lapp
  • Eli Lapp
  • Samuel Lapp
  • Daniel
  • John Book
  • Carter
  • Schaeffer
  • McPhee


The gun scene is the crux of the film. Discuss it carefully. What are the different viewpoints about the gun (Rachel's, Book's, Samuel's and Eli's)? This is the most important dialog in the film. Make sure the students understand it.

Bible quotation spoken by Eli:

Wherefore come out from among them
and be ye separate,
saith the Lord. And touch not the unclean thing.

Write this on the board. Discuss. How does it help explain the Amish way of life?


Following are several handouts with discussion questions to be used as needed.

This film has also been discussed in the book, American Picture Show: A Cultural Reader, Prentice Hall Regents. You might want to look at it for more ideas (advanced level).


Discuss the movie in your group. Every person should give his/her opinion. There are many possible answers!. TALK! DON'T WRITE!!

In your opinion....

  1. What are the most important differences between the Amish life of Rachel and the life of Book?
  2. Do you think they should stay together and get married? Why or why not?
  3. What would be some problem for Rachel and Samuel if they went to live in the city with Book?
  4. What would be some problems for Book if he stayed in the country with Rachel?
  5. Would you like to live with the Amish? Why or why not?

TALK ABOUT YOUR CULTURE: Discuss the movie in your group. Every person should give his/her opinion. There are many possible answers! TALK! DON'T WRITE!!

In your opinion....

  1. What are the most important differences between your culture and American culture?
  2. When you came to the U.S., what surprised you the most?
  3. What do you like the most about American culture?
  4. What do you like the least about American culture?
  5. Do you think you (or your children) should marry an American, or someone from a different culture? Why or why not?
  6. If you (or your child) married an American, or someone from a different culture, what do you think the biggest problems would be?


Discuss together in your group. Every person should give his/her opinion. There are many possible answers! TALK! DON'T WRITE!!!
  1. How do the Amish preserve and protect their culture?
  2. Do you think they will succeed in the future? Think about Samuel. Do you think he will stay with the Amish, or leave?
  3. How important is your culture? What ways do you try to preserve and protect it?


The Amish have remained separate for hundreds of years. In contrast, the majority of people in the U.S. have lost their first language and culture, and replaced it with a mixture we call American.

List 5 good points about mixing cultures in America.

List 5 bad points about mixing cultures in America.

back to lessons and materials
back to home page