Students in the grammar stage typically enjoy repetition and memorization. Often, they especially enjoy the repetition and memorization of books or movies that, while not particularly noteworthy, are significant to them. Right now, my daughters are listening to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat soundtrack over and over because my oldest was recently in the Christian Youth Theater production.
Whenever my girls repeatedly read the same book, watch the same movie, or listen to the same song, I use the opportunity to create conversation, both to connect with them in their enthusiasm and to gently help their budding dialectic abilities unfold. When they are passionate about something, they do not tire of discussing it, so together we begin to hone our dialectic skills with the cheapest and most effective educational technique available—questions. The kinds of questions I ask and the kinds of conversations we have evolve over time. I begin with simple grammar-stage comprehension questions that an attentive listener or observer should be able to answer without difficulty. My questions soon head in a more dialectic and rhetorical direction, and lively discussions ensue. We may not be able to answer some of the questions right away, but we return to them over the course of the next days and weeks as a source of deep connection and rich conversation. No matter what my girls are reading, listening to, or watching, together we are cultivating an extended conversation and developing habits of thought and analysis that will serve our family well for many years to come.
Since you have probably seen the movie Frozen, I thought I would use it to demonstrate how to watch Frozen—or anything else—classically. Here are some questions to ask your students:
- Who are the main characters/protagonists?
- What is the setting?
- When and where do you think the story takes place?
- They mention fjords in the story. Where are the fjords?
- Who is the antagonist?
- What is the climax (the highest point in the story where things are resolved)?
Those are basic grammar-stage questions. Notice that they have a basic right or wrong answer. If children are not able to answer these questions, they probably have not understood the movie, book, play, or musical. Unless it was read or viewed exclusively for entertainment, they should probably review it.
- Is the resolution surprising? Why or why not?
- What do the colors represent within the context of the movie? Why are there so many blues?
- How does the character of Olaf fit into the movie?
- Why is there the motif of doors within the movie?
- Were Anna and Elsa’s parents right to keep Elsa’s gift from Anna and the rest of the world?
- Would the movie be the same without the soundtrack? Would it still be so popular?
- Why (besides Disney’s great commercial machine) was this movie so popular?
- Was the movie targeted at younger ages? How does it appeal to parents?
- Why was “Let It Go” so popular with so many people?
These are more dialectic questions. The answers are more open-ended and could be dialogued. Students need to think more in a more in-depth way.
- Was Anna psychologically ready to handle having a relationship with Hans?
- How was Anna setting herself up for failure?
- After reading “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Andersen, how loosely is Frozen based on this story?
- How does this story compare to other princess stories?
- The parents are usually dead or absent in princess stories; is that true here? Why is this a common motif?
- What other stories feature sisters/siblings? What comparisons can you draw and what contrasts can you highlight?
- Should we think on this movie if measured by Philippians 4:8? Does it reveal Truth to us?
These questions are dialectic and rhetorical in nature. Students need to compare and evaluate this story compared to others.
Clearly, some questions on the list could be answered the very first time children watch the movie. However, younger students would probably need to see the film a few times in order to answer all of these questions, and may not be ready for all of them yet. Feel free to select among them. Whether your family tackles every question from this list or only a few, the principle remains the same: consistently incorporating dialectic conversations with your children will help them delve deeply and critically into all subjects that they encounter, and the thinking and communication skills they develop will translate easily to other academic disciplines and every area of life.
I try to ask questions like these any time my daughters want to listen to or watch something repeatedly. It keeps them engaged, keeps us connected, and helps develop their thought processes as well. Will you join me? Let’s watch Frozen—and everything else—classically!