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Grid Analysis Group Activity

Carrying out a Grid Analysis on a short film is one of the best ways to engage your class and make them think more deeply about the structure and themes of the narrative they have just watched.

The Grid Analysis technique was developed by the British Film Institute from Aiden Chambers 'Tell Me' Questions for use with English texts and is very useful to encourage open group discussion about a narrative. The aim here is not to secure right or wrong answers, but to encourage participation, discussion and creative thinking.

To carry out the grid analysis draw a cross on the black/white board and name the four quadrants as shown in the following diagram.

Before showing or reviewing the short film you should explain clearly what is meant by each heading.

Similarities

This refers to texts that have some similarity to the text that has been watched. Put simply: What does the film remind you of? This can be in terms of genre, tone, character, story world, storyline, plot, themes, narrative techniques, particular events or outcomes, or some other tiny detail that the student finds interesting. Similarities may refer to the complete narrative or a specific element from the text. So, while the plot from ‘Billy Elliot’ is like ‘Rocky’ in ballet shoes, the character of Billy is like the lead character from ‘Empire of the Sun’, and the miners’ strike sequence might be compared to a G7 protest.

Surprises

These are the main surprises (reversals/revelations) in the film, in the order that they come: What happens that you were not expecting?

Ask the class to note down in order anything that surprises them as they watch the text (or surprised them the first time they watched the text).

Puzzles

Unlike surprises, this refers to any questions that remain unanswered by the end of the narrative. These may be things that remain genuinely unanswered, such as what happened to a secondary character, or what they did with the money, but it may also refer to elements of the narrative, e.g. character motivation, backstory or theme that students did not understand. Sometimes a pupil may suggest one of these puzzles during the ‘Surprises’ part of the analysis in which case note it down unders ‘Puzzles’ and explain the difference.

Patterns

This refers to patterns (or sometimes juxtapositions) of recurring actions, situations, shots or camera movements, compositions, narrative devices, design elements, colour or sound in different locations, the use of lighting, where music is used (which may be themed to the plot, setting or individual character), types of settings, character portrayal, use of specific words, etc, etc. You will quickly discover that the patterns often intensify and reveal the themes of the text, thereby helping to answer some of the questions raised in the ‘Puzzles’ quadrant.

How the class are likely to react

Grid analyses are easy to do and do not require superior knowledge from the person holding the chalk.

The board becomes the focus of the activity and the person holding the chalk is merely the mediator. As mentioned before there are no right or wrong answers, merely suggestions supported by observation.

Thus if a child says that a film reminds them of spaghetti, don’t be phased, simply ask them why. They will usually provide a good reason like commenting on the tangled ambitions of the characters or the confusion of a comic chase sequence. In fact as long as an opinion can be supported, it is a valid contribution in the context of this type of activity.

For example, a grid analysis on the film ‘Le Cheval 2.1’ might produce something like this:

Once you have carried out this collective analytical work, the class will be in a much better position to discuss the meanings and themes in the short film and to carry out follow up activities.

*You can find more 'Tell Me' grids here: http://www.bfi.org.uk/education/teaching/storyshorts2/teaching/tellme.html

We strongly urge you to try this exercise for yourself. It is easy to do and you will be amazed at the responses it generates. It may also change the way you look at films forever.