Every year, I look forward to sharing The Hobbit with my fifth graders. It’s a rite of passage to experience a work that has influenced so much of the fantasy genre. This is especially true since most of them consider fantasy their favorite pleasure read.
My students are strong readers, but I usually leave this book until the end of the year. By that time, they are better at handling the complexity and length of The Hobbit. Since the movie debuts in December, though, I knew I couldn’t leave it until the spring. My hope was that by sharing my excitement about the movie I could help them overcome the challenges of the text.
Pairing movie adaptations with novels is not a new teaching technique. I often show a movie after we read a novel, and give the students the chance to discuss how the adaptation fits with their own visualization. This time, thanks to many of the things I’ve read here at Connect the Pop, I decided to change my strategy of attack. Along with using the trailers to build enthusiasm, I set out to teach them to analyze a trailer itself.
Introducing the Unit with Trailers
My students began the unit with a range of background knowledge. One had seen The Lord of the Rings movies with his family. One had seen the animated version from the 1970s. Another had read the novel over the summer, encouraged by a parent who is as excited about the movie as I am. Most of them, though, had no prior knowledge other than pop culture references.
We began with the first of the full length trailers.
I’d seen it many times, but I still got goose bumps and teary eyed as the dwarves began to sing. As I glanced around the room, though, I noticed looks of confusion instead of awe. The trailer ends with a glimpse of the One Ring and Gollum’s creepy voice. I was hooked, but I could sense they didn’t feel the same way.
One student, a boy who had seen The Lord of the Rings, looked less confused than the others. Another, a girl who had already read the book, raised her voice and asked, “There are no women in this book. Who is she?”
While I was pleased she had noticed, I held off the questions for a moment. I was determined to have them view both trailers before we began to talk about them. I had noticed some distinct differences between the trailers, and I was curious to see what they would observe.
After we watched the second trailer, I began the discussion by asking a simple question,
“What did you notice?”
The students with limited background knowledge about Tolkien all expressed confusion over both trailers. They didn’t understand why the dwarves were singing in the first one. They felt the second trailer was more appealing, because there was a lot more action and exciting music. However, it moved too quickly for them to really get an idea of what was happening.
The girl who had already read the Hobbit interjected. She liked the second trailer better than the first, but again mentioned her observation about the woman. “I bet they put her in there so there would be a woman in the movie,” she stated.
We often discuss how women and girls are portrayed in the things we read in class, so I was pleased she made this connection. The students spent a few minutes talking about why the creators might adapt a book to include more women.
At this stage, the boy who had seen the entire LOTR trilogy couldn’t wait his turn any longer. He burst out with, “Her name is Galadriel, and she’s in the other movies!” With a short reminder to avoid spoilers, he also pointed out that the ring in the trailers is the main part of the plot in the other trilogy.
Let’s Talk About Audience
His comment was a perfect way to transition into considering a target audience, and how the trailers were designed to appeal to that audience. The class concluded the audience for the first trailer was people who had seen The Lord of the Rings, since there was an emphasis on the ring itself. The second trailer, they decided, had a broader appeal. Since they felt confused by it, though, they thought that adults who had read The Hobbit were the target audience. Several students again mentioned the action and upbeat music in this one. Strangely, none of them commented on the humor in the second trailer. I’m pretty sure they all heard me laugh several times! Still, I was impressed by how much they were able to glean from a few minutes of video.
A year ago, I wouldn’t have considered examining trailers in a reading group. My students surprised me with the depth of their observations, as they explored how creators use their insights about a target audience to craft a persuasive product. I decided to revisit the lesson once we read the book. Would they then feel like part of the target audience?
[Hey, here's the second part of the post, where you can find out what happened during the post-reading phase of this rather perfect way to combine media literacy and the reading curriculum... -Peter]