A skill where my students are weak is the ability to show and identify similarities and differences. The educational literature indicates you need to be able to compare and contrast. I explain this to the men and tell them how important the ability is, and we have had lessons to work on those skills.

For example, I have shown all three movies in the trilogy Sarah, Plain and Tall. We have read the books and watched the movies, and the students loved it! I used these movies to guide them on how to compare and contrast. I did a whole lesson on how 1909 was like 2009, and how the times were different. How were the clothes different? How were the marriages different or how were they the same? I put up big sheets of paper and gave them markers, and they went up and filled in the charts.

It was very educational for me to watch this, because it was hard for them to think about it, let alone have the nerve to actually stand up and write words in front of their fellow students. Once they got the hang of it, there was no stopping them.  One man contrasted the roofing. Another compared the clothing.  It was a really exciting lesson. I am always bringing up compare and contrast, compare and contrast. “How is it like something you already know?”

I want to mention again how much the students love the Sara, Plain and Tall movie as well as its sequels.  Never be afraid to offer a variety of movies and books.  Sometimes they surprise themselves with how much they enjoy them.  More than once, my students have cried over a movie that I’ve shown them.  They even want to see some of them over and over.  I believe they relate to the universal themes in some of my choices.  By the way, after every movie, I ask them to list what universal themes were present.  I never miss a chance to teach a literary term.


Janice M. Chamberlin, a licensed prison educator in Indiana, is the author of Locked Up With Success. In her book, Ms. Chamberlin shares stories not only of the challenges she has faced, but also the triumphs she has seen in the prison classroom setting. She has successfully developed a system that can unlock potential even in the highest risk students. The full paperback or digital version can be purchased at . 

About Christopher Zoukis, MBA

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the Managing Director of the Zoukis Consulting Group, a federal prison consultancy that assists attorneys, federal criminal defendants, and federal prisoners with prison preparation, in-prison matters, and reentry. His books include Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2020), Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (PLN Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014).

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