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“Movie-Proofing”: An Engaging Way to Build Transliterate Connections Between Page and Screen

When I took my kids to the new Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie this past weekend, I was actually working. Allow me to explain…

For nearly a decade I’ve been movie-proofing the reading assessments developed and provided by the Scholastic Reading Counts! program. Not familiar with SRC? Well, you’ve probably heard of, or even use, the market leader in this area, Accelerated Reader. Kids answer questions based on books they’ve read, and the results can be used for a variety of purposes, sometimes just to confirm that kids have in fact read the books in question. (Yes, there is some controversy with this approach, especially when it becomes a main pedagogical tool in reading/literacy, not a supplemental one as it should be.)

So what happens when Tim Burton comes out with a new take on Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or when Wes Anderson’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox hits screens? How to make sure that someone with a movie ticket who’s never cracked open these novels can’t get a decent score on the corresponding quizzes?

That’s where I come in—I see the movie and then determine which questions can be answered as a result, rewriting them as needed by returning to the book to mine the text for story elements that the film doesn’t give away. Over the years I’ve movie-proofed everything from Cold Mountain and Friday Night Lights to Because of Winn-Dixie and The Polar Express (as you can imagine, picture books are tough to mine for new quiz questions as there’s not much text to them). It can actually be a really fun process, coming up with multiple-choice questions that address key parts of a book that aren’t conveyed in the Hollywood version. It’s a bit of a brain teaser. A puzzle.

…so it occurs to me that this same approach can be used to build greater engagement with books of merit by encouraging close and repeated readings. Here are some top-of-head steps to consider if you think that this might be a neat way to enhance transliteracy by comparing the same story across two media.

1. You’ll need an initial quiz, preferably in m/c format, about the book—it’s up to you whether it’s 10 or 20 or 30 questions long. The quiz can be one you write yourself, obtain from a professional source/service, or even have kids themselves compose (perhaps working in teams to make the process go faster). The questions should be “straight-recall” in style, and therefore focus on plot, character, setting, and so on.

2. Have students view the movie version after having read the book. Then ask them to identify which questions can be answered as a direct result of seeing the movie only. An interesting thing happens at this point: they’ll notice that for many questions seeing the movie provides an advantage even when it doesn’t provide an outright answer. That’s because quiz-takers will be able to eliminate some of the incorrect options from the multiple choices provided if they clearly refer to things that were not in the movie at all.

3. Challenge students to formulate brand new replacement questions for the quiz as needed. But also coach them to tweak the “distractors,” as the incorrect choices are known, so that most or all of them might seem more feasible to a movie-goer who hasn’t read the book. Bear in mind, though, that it’s neither possible nor desirable to movie-proof every single question in a quiz: you don’t want to end up over-emphasizing minor details just because the major elements of the story were covered in the movie. As a compromise, then, you’ll want to work with students in advance to determine a suitable number of “gimme’s” in any quiz—perhaps three or four for one that has 15-20 items, maybe five or six for a 25-item quiz. (This will in turn set up a form of strategizing: students will have to decide which movie-answerable questions deserve to be retained as part of this handful of gimmes.)

4. Finally, field test the revised quiz by having students administer it to peers who have seen the movie but not read the book. Does the quiz really assess reading recall/comprehension? If not, further revision might be necessary…


I’m sure I’ve gone through this too quickly and/or superficially, so if you have any questions, please leave a comment and I’ll be sure to answer.

About Peter Gutierrez