There are seasons of our life when we watch more television. Then there are seasons when the kids are outside all day and watch hardly any TV. It balances out, and I try not to stress too much about screen time.
But, I don’t want to just mindlessly watch TV. I want my kids to be thinking about what they’re watching. To think about the plot and the characters.
Remember that television shows follow many rules of literature. Writers paid attention to the plot, setting, and characters. With a few guided questions, you can help your child build literacy skills by discussing the show you are watching. It’s a fun way to connect over your favorite shows AND do something educational at the same time.
Here are three questions that will help develop literacy while watching tv:
1. What do you predict will happen next?
This one is best asked during a commercial break. It requires your child to connect the events that have just happened, and to think about possibilities. What do they think is going to happen next? That’s all a prediction is – taking the information they have and making an educated guess.
This question has no correct answer–it’s just a prediction.
You can keep an eye on how well your child is following along by listening to their answers. You may find that some time spend reviewing plot is important, to give them the skills they need to follow along better.
Use plot points as discussion points. You can integrate literary terms like conflict, protagonist, and theme.
Literary Connection: Prediction is crucial in literature, as it helps your child to begin painting a mental image, and taking the characters to where he imagines they should go. Creative writing skills and reading comprehension are some areas addressed by this process.
2. Who is your favorite character, and why?
Ask this question after the show is over, so your child has all of the information she needs to make a decision. Listen for details about why your child selected this character.
Does everyone in the house agree on a favorite? Why or why not? (Great way to discuss opinions!)
A follow up question could be which character was your least favorite?
Literary Connection: Character analysis is a skill used all the way through high school in English. Help you child grow comfortable discussing characters now. You can discuss character traits (looks, habits, activities, etc.) as you talk about why each character is a favorite. Being able to describe growth in a character is also important. Did this character learn and grow during the show? What events caused that growth?
3. Did this TV show remind you of any other show?
Were there any scenes that made your child think of a different show or movie? Did the voice actor for a character remind your child of a character in another movie? Was the setting similar to another program?
These questions all help the child to think critical. Encourage your child to notice anything that made him say, “That reminds me of…” Then ask why. What was it about this show that made you think of that other one?
Literary Connection: You’re helping your child to make connections between two or more programs. This can easily be changed to connections between two or more books. Being able to take information from one source and relate it to another is essential.
Other Questions You Can Ask
Depending on the age and ability of your children, here are five other questions about the show that can spark critical thinking, creativity, and discussion:
- Why did this setting work? What would happen if this show took place in a distinctly different place?
- How did the main character overcome the problem? Is that what you would have done?
- What is one different choice you would have made if you were that character?
- If this show was set in early American history, what would have to be different about it? (Clothes, house style, food, etc.)
- If you were asked to create a trailer for this show, what elements would you definitely want to include?
My family has enjoyed some great discussion around the television. Don’t be afraid to hit pause while you discuss and connect. The show will still be there waiting for you when you hit play again.
Some of Our Favorite Family Television Shows
We don’t have satellite TV anymore, so the television shows we watch are either available from Amazon Prime, or they are ones we own on DVD. Here are some of the ones we always seem to have fun discussing:
- Wild Kratts (Prime)
- Team Umizoomi (Prime)(Love that this focuses on math!)
- Odd Squad (Prime)
- Clifford, the Big Red Dog (Prime)
- Scorpion – with our teen
- Stargate SG-1 (Prime) – with our teen
Make the Most of Your TV Time
These questions won’t take much time, but they will help turn a passive activity (watching TV) into an educational opportunity. It makes it more active.
Watching the shows with your kids is a great way to ensure you can talk about the characters, setting, and plot. I don’t always have time to sit down with them and focus on the show, but I often set up my laptop at the table. Then I can listen and work at the same time and have at least a basic understanding of what is going on.