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    SUBJECTS — Health (Disabilities (deafness) & Non-verbal Communication);
            ELA (Characterization; Theme; & Complication);
    SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Disabilities (deafness); Mother/Son;
    MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Trustworthiness; Caring.

    Age: 12+; MPAA Rating -- PG-13 for language; Drama; 105 minutes; Color; Available from Amazon.com.

    Description:     Frankie is nine years old and deaf; he lives in Scotland with his mother and grandmother. As the movie opens, the family has just moved again. Frankie doesn't know why his family moves so frequently, nor does the audience, but it is slowly revealed that they are fleeing from domestic violence. To protect her son from the brutal truth and to provide him with a semblance of a nurturing father, Frankie's mother claims that his father is absent because he works as a merchant seaman on a ship named the Accra. Frankie has kept up a lively correspondence with his dad. However, Frankie's mother has been intercepting the boy's letters and writing responses, always signing, "Love, Dad."

    The deception threatens to unravel when the Accra actually docks at the seaport in the family's new home town. Frankie is overjoyed and tells his classmates that he'll soon see his father. One of the boys doubts this and Frankie bets his prized stamp collection that his father will show up when the Accra comes into port. Frankie's ever resourceful mother decides to hire a man to pose as Frankie's father. The moment is complicated by the fact that Frankie's real father, on his deathbed, has found the family and wants to see his son before he dies.

    This is a delightful and warmhearted film that will touch both children and adults.

    Benefits of the Movie: This film will be helpful in Health and ELA classes. Students will gain a deeper understanding of how to interact with non-hearing members of society. They will benefit from seeing a mother take unusual steps to protect her child, despite the fact that some of her actions are misguided. In addition, children will see a boy adjust to a serious life-long injury and retain his emotional stability. The film can also be used as an opportunity to teach the importance of non-verbal communication, demonstrate several literary devices, including characterization, theme, and complication, and provide opportunities for students to practice the writing and speaking skills required by most ELA curriculum standards.

    Possible Problems:    MINIMAL. Vulgar language is used in appropriate contexts, earning the film its PG-13 rating. NOTE: The actors in the film speak with a Scottish brogue that may not always be clear to audiences outside Great Britain. When showing this film in other parts of the world, turn on the English subtitles.

    Parenting Points:     Enjoy this movie with your child. For some interesting facts about sign language and deaf culture, check out TWM's student handout for this film.

    Selected Awards, Cast and Director:

      Selected Awards:  "Dear Frankie" won many awards from film festivals. The director, Shona Auerbach, was nominated for the BAFTA 2005 Carl Foreman Award for the Most Promising Newcomer and Jack McElhone (Frankie) was nominated for the Scotland BAFTA award for Best First Time Performance.

      Featured Actors:  Emily Mortimer as Lizzie; Jack McElhone as Frankie; Mary Riggans as Nell; and Sharon Small as Marie; Gerard Butler as the Stranger.

      Director:  Shona Auerbach.


Benefits of the Movie
Possible Problems
Parenting Points
Selected Awards & Cast

      ASL and Deaf Culture
            (ELA and Health Classes)
      Teaching the Importance of
            Non-Verbal Communication             (ELA and Health Classes)
      Literary Devices (ELA only)

Discussion Questions:
      Subjects (Curriculum Topics)
      Social-Emotional Learning
      Moral-Ethical Emphasis
            (Character Counts)
Bridges to Reading
Links to the Internet
Assignments, Projects & Activities are discussed in each section.

WORKSHEETS: TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students' minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film. Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM's Movies as Literature Homework Project.

QUICK DISCUSSION QUESTION:   Frankie's girlfriend tells him that the truth is tricky. In a conversation about whether or not Frankie's father will want to see him when the Accra comes into port, she says, "You want to know but you don't want to know." The girl then equates the truth about Frankie's dad with learning the truth about whether or not mermaids are real. How does this idea relate to the film as a whole?

Suggested Response: Frankie stands to be badly hurt if his father doesn't want to see him. The reference to the disappointment that the girl felt when she learned that mermaids weren't real implies that for young children belief may be more important than fact. And this is exactly Frankie's situation. One of the themes of the film is that his belief that he has a loving father is more important than the brutal truth. It allows him to develop into the wonderful child that he is and to find a friend in the stranger hired to pose as his father. Query students on whether, in their own lives, they have seen people who had questions about something but weren't at all sure they really wanted to know the truthful answer. Sometimes fear of the truth keeps individuals from pursuing it even when the truth is very important.

    Using "Dear Frankie" to Introduce a Unit on Hearing Impairment
    (For Health classes and to drive assignments in ELA classes)

    The movie can stimulate student interest in hearing impairment and deafness. See TWM's student handout, American Sign Language, Deaf People as a Linguistic Minority, and Deaf Culture. The information in the handout can also be presented verbally as an introduction to the unit.

    Other important points to note in such a unit are that:

      •  People can lose their hearing as a result of genetics or because of disease, such as measles, mumps or fetal alcohol syndrome. Deafness can also be caused by a reaction to medication or it can be the result of trauma that damages the inner ear or brain. Deafness can also develop from long-term exposure to loud noises; this is referred to as acoustic trauma. Researchers estimate that nearly 15 percent of young people between the ages of 6 and 19 have permanent partial hearing loss from long term exposure to excessively loud music. Sound is measured by decibels with music played under 85 decibels considered safest. Some rock bands have reached 130 decibels in performance, a noise level closer to jack hammers or jet engines, neither of which continue for hours.

      •  Families and teachers are often not aware that children are suffering from hearing loss. For this reason school systems test children's hearing in elementary, middle, and high school.

      •  For deaf people, the degree of loss and the age when hearing loss occurs are the two most important factors in determining the extent to which the condition will affect their lives. Making the sounds that hearing people will recognize as speech is extremely difficult for people with prelingual hearing loss, i.e., hearing loss that occurs before the acquisition of language.

      •  Children who suffer any degree of deafness face special problems beyond simply the mechanics of hearing and communicating; therapy to help deaf children adjust must often also address social skills. Deafness that occurs after language has been acquired may not affect the ability to speak at all and is ordinarily dealt with through hearing aids and other technological devices.

      •  The most common adaptation to profound hearing loss involves learning to communicate through sign language, a combination of body language, facial expression, signs, and signals. American Sign Language is most commonly used in North America and is not compatible with British Sign Language, which is seen in "Dear Frankie." Both, however, emerged from the debate over whether oralism, the use of rudimentary voice, or manualism, the use of visual language employing signs, was the best way to enable deaf people to communicate and function effectively in society. In the mid-1950s, manualism grew to be the dominant system used by the deaf.

    Assigments on Deafness and Hearing Impairment

    Health Classes: Projects for research on issues facing the deaf may be helpful to a Health class dealing with social issues faced by disabled persons. In ELA classes, the following topics for research leading to written papers or class presentations may be of benefit. If students are required to comply with the rubrics used by their English teachers for writing research papers or making presentations in class, these assignments will have substantial cross-curricular benefits.

    ELA Classes This film will interest students in writing research papers or making oral presentations on the following topics which provide cross-curricular benefits with subjects covered by many Health curricula:

    • Causes of and treatment of hearing impairment;
    • A history of approaches to dealing with deafness in society;
    • Ways in which our educational system approaches teaching children who are hearing impaired;
    • The development of sign languages and finger spelling;
    • Advances in technology that affect the deaf; and
    • The development of Deaf Culture.


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Click here for TWM's lesson plans to introduce cinematic and theatrical technique.

BUILDING VOCABULARY: profound deafness; hearing impaired; prelingual, post lingual; paralinguistic; oralism; manualism;

One of the necessary breakthroughs for any child is understanding the basic concept of language, that certain signs refer to things in the real world. This understanding is necessary for the development of language, whether spoken or manual. The importance of this moment for a profoundly deaf child who is also blind is shown in the film The Miracle Worker, when Anne Sullivan helped Helen Keller come to the understanding that signs pressed into her hand were symbols of things in the outside world.

The following information, or portions of it, can be given to the class as a lecture after the movie or turned into a student handout to be read as homework.

    Teaching the Importance of Non-Verbal Communication

    "Dear Frankie" can offer the opportunity to teach the importance of non-verbal communication in the life of every individual. For example, every day students telegraph to teachers their eagerness to learn or their disinterest in what is occurring in class. Those eager to learn lean forward, assume good posture, and make eye contact. Disinterested students will sit back in their desks, put their head down, or look away from the teacher.

    The following exercises are fun and can be used to point out the value of non-verbal communication.
    First, students need to hear how intention is communicated in many ways other than by mere choice of words. Ask students to say the word "so" all together, in choral. This may take practice until students are accustomed to reciting as one unit. Then ask them to shift their voices to communicate the following:

    • as if the word "so" had a question mark at the end;
    • as if the word were said after a thumb had been hit by a hammer and pain was felt;
    • as if the speaker were angry; and
    • as if the speaker were in love.

    Ordinarily, the class will end the first recitation with a high-rising terminal, the second with a shout, the third with a verbal scowl, and the fourth with a sweet, sugary tone.

    In the second exercise, write the following words on the board: "This desk is Carol's."

    • Call on one student to read the sentence aloud, placing emphasis on the word, "this."
    • Call on another student to read the sentence, placing emphasis on the word, "desk."
    • Call on another student to read the sentence, placing the emphasis on the word "is."
    • Call on another student to read the sentence, placing emphasis on the word "Carol's."

    Discuss with the students how each shift in emphasis changed the implied meaning of the sentence. They will hear how meaning changed dramatically because of the emphasis.

    Emphasis can be supplied with gestures as well as with sound. Students are quite familiar with the following emphasis on gestures commonly seen in classrooms.

    • Ask the students to raise their hands, asking to be called on.
    • Ask them to raise their hands in answer to the question, "Which of you did not do your homework?"
    • Ask them to raise their hands as in response to the statement, "Which of you wants to go to lunch early?"

    Students will be aware of the matter-of-fact attitude expressed when they first raised their hands; the effort not to be noticed when asked to admit something about which they feel guilty; the eager wave of the arm when they want to be noticed.

    One more worthy exercise can show them the importance of body language in terms of space. The unwritten rules about where to stand in an elevator are known by all and can give the students an amusing look at the experience. Begin by setting parameters of an elevator at the front of the class. Select a student to enter the elevator, push the button to indicate his or her floor and then find a place to stand for the ride. Continue calling students into the elevator until it is full. What will be seen is the desire to find distance between other people in the elevator. The corners will fill first. Discomfort will set in when crowding occurs. Ask the students to imagine how strange it would be were someone to enter the elevator and face the back, looking at the other individuals in the face and smiling or frowning. When the rules about the territorial imperative are broken, tension is felt.

    Sometimes intention is inferred when the space rules are broken. Often fear is generated. Ask the students what they would do were they to be happily sitting at a window seat in an empty bus, listening to their iPod, when a stranger gets on, moves down the isle, and sits in the seat next to them. How many would change seats or get off the bus or simply sit there feeling uncomfortable?
    Deaf individuals "read" their environment, behavior, facial features and gestures with a great deal more intensity than hearing individuals. Their social skills depend on an accurate reading of visual cues.

    Using "Dear Frankie" to Teach Literary Devices

    The discussion questions set out below include questions that will demonstrate how literary devices such as characterization, theme and complication are used in the movie. See also, Assignments, Projects, and Activities for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.

Select questions that are appropriate for your students.

Give us your feedback! Was the Guide helpful? If so, which sections were most helpful? Do you have any suggestions for improvement? Email us!

Reminder to Teachers: Obtain all required permissions from your school administration before showing any film.

Teachers who want parental permission to show this movie can use TWM's Movie Permission Slip.

    Social-Emotional Learning Discussion Questions:


    See Discussion Questions #s 3, 4 and 5.


    See Discussion Questions #s 8, 9 10, 1315, 16, 18, 19, 20 & 21.


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    Moral-Ethical Emphasis Discussion Questions (Character Counts)

    Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.


    (Be honest; Don't deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable -- do what you say you'll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal -- stand by your family, friends and country)

    See Discussion Questions #s 16, 20 and 22.


    (Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)
    See Discussion Questions #s 8, 17, and 20.

Teachwithmovies.com is a Character Counts "Six Pillars Partner" and uses The Six Pillars of Character to organize ethical principles.

Character Counts and the Six Pillars of Character are marks of the CHARACTER COUNTS! Coalition, a project of the Josephson Institute of Ethics.

    Bridges to Reading: None.
  MOVIES ON RELATED TOPICS: See The Ox-Bow Incident. For another movie discussing the debate on the proper way to treat delinquent youth, see Boys Town.


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