What a wonderful world: Critical thinking in the classroom

Chris M. Murphy, International University of Japan



Quick guide

  • Key words: Critical thinking, cloze exercise activity, video in the classroom, music in the classroom
  • Learner English level: Pre-intermediate and above
  • Learner maturity level: High school and above
  • Preparation time: 60 minutes
  • Activity time: 45-60 minutes
  • Materials: TV, DVD/Video player (Optional: CD player), copy of the film Good Morning Vietnam or Bowling for Columbine (Optional: CD with copy of Louis Armstrong’s song What a Wonderful World), cloze exercise sheet


Having worked in Japanese junior and senior high schools, I am familiar with the difficulty many teachers face eliciting Japanese student opinions about current issues such as global climate change, the war in Iraq, or immigration in Japan. The following activity is meant to get students thinking critically about the world and about their feelings. Using either the 1987 film Good Morning Vietnam or the 2002 documentary Bowling for Columbine, students can be challenged to think about the unlikely juxtaposition of the optimistic, uplifting Louis Armstrong song, What a Wonderful World,playing in the background of the film while scenes of war and violence fill the screen. 


Prepare DVD/Video (either Good Morning Vietnam or Bowling for Columbine) before starting the lesson. Prepare a cloze activity sheet using the lyrics of the Louis Armstrong song, What a Wonderful World (see appendix). 


Step 1: Write, “The World is…” on the blackboard. Students complete the sentence. Review student responses. Write responses on the blackboard.

Step 2: Provide students with the cloze exercise sheet for the Louis Armstrong song, What a Wonderful World. Review key vocabulary (e.g. focus on adjectives such as red, blue, wonderful, etc.).

Step 3: Play the song 1-2 times using a CD player or from a video clip of Good Morning Vietnam or Bowling for Columbine (with the TV turned away from the students’ view). Students fill in the cloze exercise sheet. Review answers with students.

Step 4: Discuss the song with the students. Ask students, “How do you feel?” Write the student responses on the blackboard.

Step 5: Play the video clip from the film, Good Morning Vietnam or Bowling for Columbine, in which the director uses Louis Armstrong’s song while displaying images of war and violence.

Step 6: Ask students, “How do you feel now?” Write their responses on the blackboard. 

Step 7: Have the students work in pairs/small groups to discuss the director’s possible reasons for choosing to use the song What a Wonderful World while showing these images.

Step 8: Allow students in small groups to present the results of their pair or small group discussion to the class.


The activity could be aimed towards more advanced English-language learners. Depending on student level, time could be allotted to allow more advanced discussion of how media images influence how we perceive the world and others.


In addition to building English-language skills, this activity can be a useful and interesting exercise that challenges students’ initial perceptions and interpretations of movies and music. Activities of this kind seek to foster critical inquiry of the commonplace, everyday media that surrounds students’ lives. Further material that might evoke a critical response from students can be found in journals such as Adbusters <www.adbusters.org>. 



Name: ____________________________________

Date: _____________________________________


What a Wonderful World
by Louis Armstrong 


I see trees of ______________,
_________________ roses too

I see them bloom for me and you

And I think to myself what a ________________________ world.

I see skies of ________________
and clouds of ______________

The_________________ blessed day,
the _____________ sacred night

And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

The colors of the rainbow so ___________________ in the sky

Are also on the faces of people going by

I see friends shaking hands
saying how do you do

They’re really saying I love you.

I hear babies crying, I watch them grow

They’ll learn much more than I’ll never know

And I think to myself
what a _______________________ world

Yes, I think to myself what a wonderful world.


  • green pretty red
  • dark white wonderful
  • wonderful bright blue


The world is…