There are a surprising number of students who have never seen The Wizard of Oz, and so as an introduction to the freshman (9th grade) unit dedicated to the power of “The Story”, we showed the film in class. However, in order to keep students engaged and focused on the lessons objective, a software program (G-snap) was set up to allow students the opportunity to live blog during the film.
Our students are fortunate enough to have the use of net books in class or they may bring their own digital device in order to access the materials used in class. G-snap is a free website that allows anyone to set up a live blogging event; access to the event can be posted by a link or directly embedded on a webpage. There is no registration required, comments can be saved, and the event can run for several days. During an event, questions can be posted and participant responses can be moderated before they are shared.
Students were engaged in the film from the moment the opening soundtrack began and several students joined Dorothy in singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Then Almeria Gulch appeared to take Toto away in her bicycle basket and, despite my best efforts to keep everyone quiet, the comments began:
“I was so scared of her on her bike!”
“She is so mean!”
“I can’t watch her change into the witch…I just can’t watch!”
The tornado scene that followed kept them speechless. When the house landed, there was an audible “oh!” from Dorothy. Students flinched as well; they had arrived in OZ.
The lesson’s objective was to have students identify character motivation, specifically motivation that reveals a character’s weaknesses and strengths. We wanted students to recognize that in very often in stories, the qualities that character thinks he or she lacks is exactly the unrecognized quality the character possesses. Of course, the film makes this objective easy to meet. Frank Baum’s story is all about motivation and character qualities.
For some students, there was a sense of nostalgia as they watched the film. Lines that they missed as children suddenly made sense (“Oil can? Oil can what?”). Other students finally caught on that the doorman, carriage driver, doorman and Wizard were played by one actor. As for the students who had never seen the film, they were both engaged with the film and the enthusiasm of their more knowledgeable peers.
Using G-snap software, I posed a series of questions at different times during the film
What motivates Glinda to place the ruby slippers on Dorothy’s feet? Is this in Dorothy’s best interest?
What happens when one strays off the path of The Yellow Brick Road?
What qualities does the Scarecrow exhibit? How is this connected to his motivation?
I also wanted them also to reflect on the intensity of the Wicked Witch’s dialogue. For example: “those slippers will never come off . . . as long as you’re alive!” or “The last to go will see the first three go before her.”
I posted: Was this film appropriate for children? Was the film too scary?
In responding to this question, their responses were mixed. Many felt the film was fine for children, but some students had second thoughts as they considered that the dialogue was really much more frightening then they had remembered:
“I do think some parts are scary for children. I think I was about 5 years old and I remember hiding under a blanket when the flying monkeys came on TV.”
“No I don’t think that children should be protected from watching this movie. There are many violent movies that children shouldn’t see but this movie is classic.”
“Well most Disney movies kill the parents so this isn’t too bad compared to that plus a lot of people saw this when they were really little and didn’t scare them.”
“I was about 6. I think they should watch it. It is ok if they learn about death because it is a part of everybody’s life at any age.”
“I saw this film when I was a little kid, and I was frightened for days, I had nightmares about this horrible witch, so I think it might be a little extreme for little kids.”
“I saw it when was like 4 and no its not that bad, they will get over it. It’s not like a death threat, well it kinda is but never mind. I don’t think it’s that bad.”
“I saw this film first when I was 4 and it was my favorite movie, EVER.”
Overall, the screening of the film was a success and the use of live-blogging allowed students to stay focused on noting character motivation. Their responses included:
“The Tinman does have a heart. He is the most ‘emo’ character of them all!”
“Scarecrow has a brain and when Dorothy says she will miss him the most she means being smart is what people should look for in friends.”
“The companions represent different things: Lion-Courage, Tin Man-Heart/Love. So it shows that even though you don’t think you have it you still do because the Lion still stood up for himself. And Tin Man loved his friends, so they just thought they did not have them when they really did.”
The power of The Wizard of Oz makes it an ideal classroom tool, and character motivation is only one of the lessons that can be learned. Is it any surprise than that Margaret Hamilton who played the Wicked Witch of the West was a school teacher by profession?