Laurie Sanders, a pretty girl with short brown hair, sits in the publications office at Gordon High School and works over the next issue of The Gordon Grapevine, the school paper. All the other desks in the room are empty although there should be other students writing articles. Since its creation The Grapevine has always been late and now since Laurie is the new editor-in-chief, there is not any difference.
She leaves the publications office to go to her next class. When Laurie walks through the corridors she stops outside a classroom and peers through the
windows. Her best friend Amy Smith is trying to endure the last moments of Mr Gabondi’s French class. Laurie starts making faces and for Amy it
is very difficult not to start laughing. Finally, the bell rings and the two girls go to their history class together. Inside, Ben Ross is already waiting. He tried to
thread a film through the film projector but it didn’t work and thus Ben decided to ask a student afterwards to get the machine going. Some of
the faculty members are sceptical about his way of teaching, but the students are very happy about his easily understandable way of teaching them. Ben Ross
remembers his time as a student because in those days students were not allowed to come to class late and they also had to do their
homework. Once he asked a student for his homework and he replied: "Sure I know homework is important, Mr Ross, but my social life comes first."
Ben starts handing out the homework papers whose marks have become predictable: Laurie and Amy wrote the two A papers like usual and Robert Billings, the class loser, wrote the D paper and the rest consists of the normal bunch of B’s and C’s. Ben asks a student to get the film projector set up and for David this is no problem.
Ben starts the film about the cruel atrocities the Nazis committed in their concentration camps. The students see so severely starved men and women that they appear to be nothing more than skeletons with skin. Ben tells the class about the brutal German leader Adolf Hitler who has seized control of the German government in 1934. The film shows the gas chambers and the huge oven in which dead people were disposed of. The death camps were what Hitler called his "Final solution of the Jewish problem". After the film most of the students look stunned and then they start a long discussion about the responsibility for those terrible offences. Amy for example wants to know if all Germans were Nazis. The student and even the teacher can not understand that a minority of ten percent of the German population could stop and intimidate the rest.
At the end of the lesson Ben reminds Robert that nobody expects him to be like his brother, who was a perfect student several years ago. The problem is that Robert - seeing he will never repeat his brother’s achievements - had apparently decided it is better not even to try.
David Collins sits in the outdoor courtyard next to the cafeteria when his girlfriend Laurie comes, followed by Amy and a friend of David called Brian. They talk about Robert who sits alone at a table next to them and about the terrible film they have seen that morning. Later Amy and Laurie sit in the office of the school paper. Amy is smoking her cigarette when somebody knocks on the closed door. A deep voice says that it is Principal Owens who wants to enter immediately, there are just two friends, Carl Block and Alex Cooper, waiting. Amy is very upset because she has thrown her cigarette out of the window.
Tonight Ben Ross is sitting at his kitchen-table reading a book about the "Third Reich" because he doesn´t understand why he wasn’t able to answer the student’s questions. He cannot imagine that the behaviour of the majority of the German population is really so inexplicable. When his wife Christy arrives home from a tennis game with a friend her husband is still involved in his books. Therefore she goes to bed because she knows very well that as soon as Ben has started a new topic he forgets about the rest of the world.
The next day, Ben writes the following sentence on the blackboard: STRENGTH THROUGH DISCIPLINE. The students are a bit worried when Ben informs them that he is going to talk about discipline. He remembers that it usually takes much discipline and energy to be successful. Then he proposes to play a little game: Everybody has to sit very straight on his seat. Then the teacher asks them to stand up and to wander around the room, when he suddenly announces: "Take your seats!" The students run back to their seats in a very disorganised way. After many other tries and advice of Ben the class can do this little exercise within only sixteen seconds.
Ben continues the game asking them questions about the Second World War, which they have to answer in a certain way: "Eric, who died in the death camps?" -- "Mr Ross, the Jews!" The class and the teacher are fascinated with this new game and their reactions. When he comes home he tells his wife what has happened but the next day he will not continue this game.
When Ben arrives at school the whole class is already waiting for him. Every student is sitting stiffly in the posture Ben taught them the previous day. Ben decides to continue the exercise and so he goes to the blackboard and adds "COMMUNITY" underneath the large "STRENGTH THROUGH DISCIPLINE" from the day before. Then Ben tells his students that the new organisation that they are just going to create will be called "The Wave", its motto will be "Strength Through Discipline, Strength Through Community" and they also creates a special salute for all members.
Brian is still a bit sceptical about "The Wave". In the afternoon David meets the football-team and they talk about the fact that they never win. After that, David starts telling them about "The Wave".
In the evening, Laurie tells her parents about he last two days of history class. Both her mother and her father are very sceptical about this and Laurie tries to convince them that it is not dangerous. The history teacher is the only teacher in the school who makes the course interesting. In her opinion a bit of community spirit isn’t bad either.
Ben doesn’t stop reading books about World War II. and as soon as he arrives at home he sits down at the kitchen-table and nobody is able to interrupt him.
The next morning, when David picks up his girlfriend, they discuss the objection of Laurie’s mother that Ben is manipulating his students. In class, every student receives a membership card and some of them are marked with a red X on the backside. This means that he/she is a monitor and has to report the others if they don’t obey their rules. At lunch time all of the group sit together at one table, even Robert, and they talk about their new unity.
Laurie and some other reporters of The Gordon Grapevine are sitting in the school publications office discussing the main topic of the next issue. After a while, someone proposes to take "The Wave" because at the moment everybody in school is interested in it and nobody really knows what it is.
Someone comes to the cafeteria and tells Ben to come to Principal Owens who wants to see him in his office. Ben assumes that it has to do with "The Wave" and he is afraid that Principal Owens might order him him to end this experiment. But when Ben enters his room, Principal Owens greets him in a very friendly way. Ben starts explaining to Principal Owens the idea behind "The Wave".
The Principal replies that those mottoes and this saluting bother him, but Ben manages to reassure him by explaining that this is just a part of a game. Principal Owens tells him that as long as he is not going to have a parade of parents in his office complaining about Mr Ross, everything is all right and he can continue his exercise.
When Laurie opens the door of the publications office the next day, she finds a white envelope on the floor. Inside is a sheet of paper with a handwritten story. It comes from a junior who doesn’t want his friends to know that he wrote this. The anonymous author informs Laurie about an incident just a few days ago: When he and some friends heard about "The Wave", of course they wanted to know what it is. Therefore they went to one of Mr Ross’s classes and when they left, a senior asked them to become a member. Two friends immediately agreed, two others were interested but he refused. The senior convinced the two other friends and told the author of this letter that if he didn’t become a member he would lose all his friends. A few days later the senior asked him again if he had changed his opinion because if he didn’t join soon it would be too late. All he asks himself now is: Too late for what?"
Ben agrees on Robert’s entreaties to become his bodyguard, although he doesn’t think that it is very necessary. He just remembers that for Robert this might be a part of the game to show that he is important.
Laurie observes a fight between Brian and the junior named Deutsch who has been after Brian’s position. After a while, a teacher comes and separates the two to take them to Principal Owens. Laura can’t understand the reason for such an aggression and when she talks to David she becomes more and more sure that "The Wave" is developing too much power. In the publications office she meets two friends, Alex and Carl, and they agree that it is absolutely important to stop the expansion of "The Wave" - the sooner the better. Therefore they decide to have an emergency meeting at Laurie’s house only for non-Wave members.
At night Laura stays alone at home and doesn’t receive any visits of her mother. Later her father comes and they talk about what’s going on at school. On the golf course, he has heard about a boy who was beaten because he didn’t want to become a member of "The Wave" - and he is Jewish! Mr Saunders also tells his daughter that a couple of parents will talk to the Principal soon.
During football games Laurie usually meets with Amy to talk about several things they are interested in. Today, she wants to talk with her about her liking for "The Wave" and about her relationship with David that seems to be over.
When she arrives she sees Amy’s head almost at the top row. Suddenly a loud voice orders her to "STOP!" It is Brian who does "The Wave" salute and expects the same of Laurie. Brian informs her that unfortunately she cannot pass if she didn’t give him the salute. But finally, Brian lets her pass without the salute.
On Sunday afternoon, Laurie and some of the staff of The Grapevine turn the Saunders’ living room to a newsroom. They put together a special edition of the paper devoted almost entirely to "The Wave". After hard hours of work the paper is finished and it includes the story by the anonymous junior and a report on the sophomore who has been beaten up. The extra issue of The Grapevine is to be printed until lunch time on the following day.
On Monday morning, Laurie goes directly to the school library to show the story that will be published in The Grapevine to Amy to warn her in advance so she can get out of "The Wave" in case there is a trouble. But Amy doesn’t believe her and says that Laurie is just doing that because she doesn’t like all students being equal. So far she has always been the best and the most intelligent but now this will be over. So Laurie has no chance to convincing her to leave "The Wave" as soon as possible.
The copies of The Grapevine are scooped up very fast. When Mr Ben Ross reads the paper he is very disappointed because he didn’t expect such consequences when he invited his class for a little game a week ago. On the corridor, he suddenly hears two men talking about their unhappiness with what Mr Ben Ross has done.
The members of "The Wave" also are very upset about the articles published in the schoolpaper. They decide to stop Laurie because it can’t happen that she is allowed to publish such lies. David will talk to her as soon as possible.
After a party with The Grapevine staff Laurie decides to leave the building and to go home. A few feet from her locker, Laurie freezes because someone has painted the word ’enemy’ on itin red letters. Laurie starts running and leaves the building. On the way home, David waits for her and tries to convince her to stop her fight against "The Wave". But it is absolutely impossible to convince Laurie of that. Then David starts to threaten her and he even throws her to the ground. In the same moment he realises that he has done something wrong. What has made him beating up the girl that he loves? It must be wrong, there is no doubt about that!
At home Christy Ross tries to convince her husband that he has to finish "The Wave" the following day if he doesn’t want to lose his job. Ben answers that it is not so easily executed as said but he promises that he will develop a plan to stop it. Later in the evening, the doorbell rings and Laurie Saunders and David Collins come in. They apologise several times for coming so late but they have to discuss something very important.
At the end of their conversation, all three decide that they will stop "The Wave" but they agree on doing it with Mr Ross’s plan and they promise not to say to anybody that they were there. Laurie points out two other boys who are not involved in "The Wave", Alex Cooper and Carl Block.
The next morning, Ben shows his plan to end "The Wave" to Principal Owens and he trusts his idea. But in the classroom, Ben surprisingly does not stop his speeches, he continues as if nothing had happened. After a while, Laurie and David stand up and interrupt their teacher but he just takes them to the Principal. It seems to be a part of his plan not to change immediately. The two leave the building and remember the day when everything started.
At the doors of the auditorium two of his students are sitting on a table checking membership cards. When Ben enters the hall it becomes silent, there is not a single voice to hear. He tells them about the real leader who is going to adress them in a moment from the screen. After they have starred at the blank screen of the TV for some minutes, Ben says that they should realise who their leader is. On the wall suddenly appears the picture of Adolf Hitler projected by Alex Cooper. When Ben tells them just a few more stories about the terrible offences and atrocities Hitler has committed in the concentration camps they calm down. In that very moment everybody realises that the period of "The Wave" is over.