For One Brief Shining Moment

For One Brief Shining Moment
Jackie Kennedy: First Ladies' Lives

Skill: High School/College
Time Required: nine weeks


One week after the funeral of President John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy met with Theodore H. White, a Kennedy confidant and Life magazine writer. In that meeting, Mrs. Kennedy mentioned that a song from the musical Camelot kept playing in her head.  The song was a favorite of her deceased husband; a sad song that he often played in their bedroom.  The song ended with the words, “Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.”


In this lesson, students will examine the power of myths and legends by visiting King Arthur’s Camelot and writing a screenplay about a historical era, event, or person.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet, access to a public library and/or access to the books and movies identified below.    


Week I: Begin this lesson by playing the game "telephone" in class.  Prior to beginning the game, ask students to try and repeat exactly what they hear.  Whisper in a student’s ear the following statement:            

"For the next nine weeks we are going to explore myths, legends, and heroes.  By the end of this nine week period, each student will have written a screen play.  Then at the end of this quarter, we are going to submit our screenplays to contests and/or producers.  Maybe someone in this class will win an Oscar.  Do you think his or her acceptance speech will include me?"  

Then have students pass this story, through whispers, from student ear to student ear.  The last student to hear the story in the class will report what he or she heard.  

Ask students how hard they tried to repeat exactly what they heard.  Then have a general discussion about gossip.  Is it important to determine the truth of gossip?  How does one determine the truth in gossip?  What is the difference between gossip and history?  

After this discussion, provide students with a brief history of oral legend and the written word.  Make sure to explain that unlike gossip, oral legend passed down from generation to generation often occurred between individuals trained since childhood to be historians as conveyors of oral legend.  Also explain to students that, though highly trained, individual historians who impart history can make mistakes regardless if they are using oral legend or the written word.  

For the remainder of this week, if students have access to the Internet, have students explore the legend of King Arthur through the websites indicated below. Tell students to answer the following questions while exploring this legend:  

1. Who was King Arthur; was he real or fictional?

2. Who are the other main characters in the King Arthur legend?  Do they represent actual historical individuals or are they fictional?

3. What morals are taught through the King Arthur legend?

4. What role does each character play in forwarding the King Arthur legend?

5. Why are we attracted to the King Arthur legend?  

Week II:  Begin the week by watching the movie Camelot.  After watching the movie, ask students to get out the notes they took the previous week when doing research on the King Arthur legend and have a class discussion using the following questions:  

1. Were all of the main characters you identified when researching the King Arthur legend in the movie?  Who was present; who was not?

2. Were the characters that were in the movie as you imagined when doing research?  How were the characters different or similar to what you imagined while researching the legend of King Arthur?

3. In your research, what did you determine are the morals of the King Arthur legend?

4. What is the moral of the movie Camelot?

5. How is the moral of the movie different from the morals taught in the King Arthur legend?

6. Try to imagine that it is the early 1960’s; to some it was considered a time of innocence.  President Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. are still alive.  The Vietnam War protests and the “hippies” have not reached the height of their movements.  Watergate, Irangate, and Monicagate have not occurred.  Did the music enhance the message or take away from the message of the movie?

7. Did the music of the movie teach morals?  

At the end of this discussion, show students the image of the Kennedy administration through pictures (available from the websites indicated below) and music.  The teacher can put together a PowerPoint of photos of President and Jacqueline Kennedy by cutting photos from the web and pasting them in a PowerPoint presentation.  Then, when showing the photos, have the theme song from the movie Camelot playing in the background of the classroom.  Or, the students can be shown the videoThe Kennedy Mystique – Creating Camelot.  

After watching the video or PowerPoint explain to students how Camelot became the mystique of the Kennedy Administration (see introduction).  

End this week by having students explore, via the Internet, the Kennedy administration.  While engaging in this research, students should be given the following questions to guide their research:  

1. What are the similarities and differences between President John F. Kennedy and King Arthur?

2. What are the similarities and differences between Jacqueline Kennedy and Guinevere?

3. Could the years that Kennedy was in office be described as magical or could they be described as an age of innocence?

4. If the years Kennedy was in office were magical or an age of innocence, for whom was this the case and for whom was this not the case? (i.e. European Americans and African Americans.)   

Weeks III and IV: Prior to these weeks, the teacher should work with the local library to obtain the books and movies indicated in the chart below.

Begin this week by discussing the questions students were to explore while researching the Kennedy administration as well as the following question:  Why do we need or enjoy myths and legends?  

At the end of this discussion, explain to students that Camelot is not the first movie of myth and legend in which traces of the story can be found in history.  Then provide students with the list below (first delete those books and movies that the local librarian is unable to locate for students to use) and tell them that each student is to choose a different book and movie and will be researching the historical accuracy of the original book, the accuracy of the movie in representing the book, and the historical accuracy of the movie.  At the end of their research students will write a report of their research. 



Book Title


Sir Thomas Mallory

Le Morte d'Arthur

The Egyptian

Mika Waltari

The Egyptian

To Kill a Mocking Bird

Harper Lee

To Kill a Mocking Bird

I, Claudius

Robert Graves

I, Claudius & Claudius the God


Howard Fast



Leon Uris



Nicholas Gage


Barry Lyndon

William MakePeace Thackeray

Barry Lyndon


Michael Sharra

The Killer Angels

Gone With The Wind

Margaret Mitchell

Gone With The Wind

Hard Times

Charles Dickens

Hard Times

The Leopard

Giuseppe de Lampedusa

The Leopard

All Quiet of the Western Front

Erich Maria Remarque

All Quiet of the Western Front


Omar Bradley

A Soldier's Story

A Night to Remember

Walter Lord

A Night to Remember

The Great Escape

Paul Brickhill

The Great Escape

Schindler's List

Thomas Keneally

Schindler's List

Full Metal Jacket

Gustav Haford

The Short Timers

The Grapes of Wrath

John Steinbeck

The Grapes of Wrath

The Searchers

Allan Le May

The Searchers

Raging Bull

Jake La Motta

Raging Bull

Laurence of Arabia

T. E. Lawrence

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Mutiny On the Bounty

James Nordhoff, James Norman Hall

Mutiny On the Bounty

The Sound of Music

Maria Augusta Trapp

The Story of the Trapp Family Singers

The Killing Fields

Sydney Schanberg

The Life and Death of Dith Pran

A Place in the Sun

Theodore Dreiser

An American Tragedy

During these two weeks of research, students should be taught the different components of writing a research paper (see web sites below for more information).  
At the end of these two weeks, a general discussion should occur.  The following questions could be used for this discussion:
  1. How accurately did the movie portray the book?
  2. How accurately did the move represent history?
  3. How accurately did the book represent history?
  4. What did you learn about myths, legends, and history while doing research and writing papers?

Weeks V through IX:  By the fifth week of this project, students should have a fairly good understanding of myths, legends, and history in books and movies.  Students will use this knowledge to create a screenplay.  This screenplay, however, should be based on a book as well as historical research. 
First have students select a historical novel that has not been turned into a movie.  Next students should read their novel and take notes regarding the book that they might use in a screenplay. 

To assist students in writing their screenplays the teacher should guide them through the websites indicated below.

Extending the Lesson:

To extend this lesson, have students analyze the legend of Robin Hood as well as the King Arthur legend.

Sources & Resources:

Bradley, Omar. A Soldier's Story. New York:Henry Holt and Company, 1951.
Paul Brickhill. The Great Escape. Reissue Edition. New York: Fawcett, 1986.
di  Lampedusa, Giuseppe. The Leopard. New York: Random House, 1958.
Dickens, Charles. Hard Times: For These Times. New York: Penguin Putnam, Inc., 1997.
Dreiser ,Theodore.  An American Tragedy. New York: Penguin Group, 1964.  
Fast, Howard. Spartacus. Reprint Edition. Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, 1996.
Gage, Nicholas. Eleni. New York: Random House, 1983. 
Graves, Robert.  I, Claudius. New York: Harrison Smith and Robert Haas, Inc., 1934.
Graves, Robert.  Claudius the God: And His Wife Messalina.  New York: Harrison Smith and Robert Haas, Inc., 1935.
Haford, Gustav. The Short Timers. New York: Bantam, 1983.
Keneally, Thomas. Schindler's List.  New York: Simon & Schuster, 1982.
La Motta, Jake.  Raging Bull: My Story. New York: Da Capo Press, 1997.
Lawrence, T. E. The Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph. New York: Doubleday, 1926.
Le May, Allan. The Searchers. New York: Curtis Publishing Company, 1954.
Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mocking Bird: The 40th Anniversary Edition of the Pulitzer Prize – Winning Novel.  New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1993.
Lord, Walter. A Night to Remember.  New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Wilson, 1955.
Malory, Thomas. Le Morte d'Arthur (King Arthur and the Legend of the Round Table).  New York: Penguin Books, 2001.
Mitchell, Margaret. Gone With The Wind. New York: The MacMillan Company, 1936.
Nordhoff, James and  Hall, James Norman. Mutiny On the Bounty: A Novel. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1932.
Remarque, Erich Maria. All Quiet of the Western Front. Reissue edition. New York: Ballantine Books, 1987.
Schanberg, Sydney.  The Life and Death of Dith Pran. New York: Viking Adult, 1985.
Sharra, Michael. The Killer Angels. New York: Random House, 1974.
Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath: (Centennial Issue). New York: Penguin, 2002.
Thackeray, William MakePeace.  Barry Lyndon: The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon, Esq. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Trapp, Maria Augusta. The Story of the Trapp Family Singers. New York: Lippincott Company, 1949.
Uris, Leon. QBVII.  New York: Doubleday, 1970.
Waltari, Mika. The Egyptian. Chicago: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1949.

King Arthur Legend: (Camelot Project) (FAQ) (audio) (Le Morte D’Arthur)

Historical Novels: 
How to write a screenplay: 
History and movies: 
Kennedy Administration Photos: 
Kennedy Administration: (biography of Jacqueline Kennedy) (biography of Jacqueline Kennedy) (Jacqueline Kennedy, White House years) (biography of President Kennedy) (biography of President Kennedy)  (Kennedy years) Rights) (Cuban Missile Crisis) (Bay of Pigs)
Writing a Research Paper: 
Writing a Screenplay: 
Logan, Joshua (Dir). Camelot. Warner Home Video, 1998.
National Geographic Video: The Kennedy Mystique – Creating Camelot.  Winstar Studio, 2004.
This lesson was written by Debra L. Clark, Kent State University.