SUBJECTS — Health (Disabilities (deafness) & Non-verbal Communication); ELA (Characterization; Theme; & Complication);

SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Disabilities (deafness); Mother/Son; Parenting;

MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Trustworthiness; Caring.

AGE: 12+; MPAA Rating — PG-13 for language;

Drama; 105 minutes; Color.

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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.


Film Study Worksheet for ELA Classes and

Worksheet for Cinematic and Theatrical Elements and Their Effects.


Teachers can modify the worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Movies as Literature Homework Project.


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.


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.



Shona Auerbach.


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.


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.


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.


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 diseases, 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. The 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 jackhammers 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.


Assignments 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.

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.

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1. Discussion Questions for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.


2. In the beginning of the film, Frankie’s voice-over introduces the fact that the family — Frankie, his mother, and grandmother — are moving again. What is implied, other than the simple fact that the family moves often, in the use of the word “again”?

Suggested Response:

This word hints that there is a problem in the family’s situation that results in instability. Possibly the family is fleeing an untenable situation. This is the beginning of the unfolding of the story of the family and how Frankie became deaf. It is part of the setting for the story. [Setting]


3. Frankie’s character is revealed in his interaction with Marie, the waitress at the fish and chips shop. What do we learn about Frankie from this exchange?

Suggested Response:

Frankie is a confident boy who feels free to challenge. His deafness does not hold him back from getting what he wants. [Characterization]


4. What is revealed about Frankie when his mother finds his hearing aid in his pocket and tells him that he must wear it?

Suggested Response:

Frankie does not seem to feel handicapped by his hearing impairment to the point that he needs an aid to make his life easier. This implies that he has accepted his condition with a degree of comfort. Another, equally valid response, is that like many other kids with disabilities, Frankie wants to be just like other kids and doesn’t want to wear the hearing aid. [Characterization]


5. Frankie’s teacher tries to prepare the students in the class to accept a deaf student. How might the teacher have done a better job in her exchange with the kids?

Suggested Response:

Answers will vary. The teacher did not seem to know about Frankie’s ability to read lips and behaved in a way that was unnatural and seemed to bring undue attention to Frankie’s impairment. She failed to introduce him as an individual, focusing instead on his deafness. [Characterization; Theme]


6. What is revealed about Frankie’s character and interests in the opening scenes?

Suggested Response:

Frankie loves geography and the ocean. He appreciates the mural in his apartment building showing boats and fish. He enjoys seeing the fish in the tanks at the pet store. He is interested in books and learning. [Characterization]


7. The bet Ricky makes with Frankie is a turning point in the film. It advances the plot, sending Lizzie in search of someone to impersonate Frankie’s father. In literary analysis, the bet is called a complication, sometimes defined as an event which intensifies the conflict in the story. A complication builds up, accumulates, and develops the central conflict in a work of fiction. Complications often, but not always, occur from the characters’ attempts to find solutions to their problems; they can also simply be events that affect the characters. Complications always result in changes in the lives of the characters and advance the plot. Name another complication in the story.

Suggested Response:

There are at least two other complications in the story. One is the arrival of the Accra at the port in the town to which Frankie and his family have just moved. Another is Davy’s desire to see his son before he dies. [Complication]


8. What is Lizzie feeling when she catches Frankie snooping in her room looking for information on his Dad? She says to him, “I’m the one that’s here, Frankie. I’m the one that’s still here?”

Suggested Response:

Despite the fact that Lizzie is totally devoted to her son, he seems to think that his father is more important than his mother. This often occurs in situations in which one parent is absent from the family. In truth, the parent who is present is more important to the child. However, the child’s thoughts turn to the dead or absent parent because of the child’s unfulfilled need for that parent. This hurts the feelings of the parent who is present, and Lizzie is expressing her hurt. [Theme; Characterization]


9. What idea is Lizzie trying to impress on her son when he asks who he looks like?

Suggested Response:

Lizzie tells her son that he looks like himself. She is trying to press upon him a sense of individuality that transcends the influence of a father or a mother. [Theme]


10. When Lizzie attempts to find a man to pretend to be Frankie’s father she goes into a bar and is accused of being a prostitute. What is the author saying?

Suggested Response:

The author is telling us that Lizzie is now embarked on a perilous course. What if the man that she chooses to play Frankie’s father is as crude as the men in the bar? What if he is a sexual predator? This incident could be seen as a symbol of the risk that Lizzie is undertaking. [Symbol; Theme]


11. After Frankie watches his mother, grandmother, and Marie singing, he seems happier. He then leaves and Marie finds him sitting on a hill overlooking the bay. She confides in Frankie that this is her favorite place in the whole world. What seems to have provoked Frankie to run off?

Suggested Response:

Answers will vary. Students may think that Frankie sees his mother happy for a moment and wants a moment of happiness himself. He wants to find his father. [Theme; Characterization]


12. The relationship Frankie develops with his ersatz father seems to work on several levels. What seems to make the two comfortable with one another?

Suggested Response:

Answers will vary. The two seem to have in common the sea, an interest in fish, and a love for boats and skimming rocks. They both have an underlying loneliness that is mitigated a bit in their relationship. When Marie tells the man that Frankie is a vegetarian when the two come into the fish and chips shop, the man says, “No fish for me” in respect for Frankie’s values. [Characterization]


13. When Frankie and the stranger playing his father go out for a walk, Lizzie follows. What is her worry?

Suggested Response:

Lizzie realizes the risk she has undertaken by entrusting Frankie to a stranger and telling him that he can trust the man because the man is his father. [Theme; Complication]


14. What irony can be found in Lizzie’s challenge to the man she has hired to play Frankie’s father when he wants more time with the boy?

Suggested Response:

When Lizzie says, “Who gave you the right to come in here. . . .?” the stranger says, “You did.” This is irony because it points out to Lizzie that the entire business in which they are engaged is completely her own fabrication. She must assume full responsibility for this. He then tells her she must trust somebody, someday, further adding to the irony because she apparently hired him without trusting that he would do a good job. [Irony, Theme]


15. When Lizzie learns that Frankie’s real father is dying and wants to see Frankie, she refuses. What do you think about this decision?

Suggested Response:

Answers will vary. Years later, after his father has died and Frankie learns the whole truth, he may resent the fact that his mother never let him see his father. However, it is clear that once again Lizzie is trying to protect her son. In the encounter with Davy in the hospital his violence is seen and later Lizzie reveals that Frankie is deaf because of that violence. Lizzie says to Davy’s sister that he had nearly killed both Frankie and her. This news may or may not influence a student’s answer to the question. [Theme]


16. The stranger and Lizzie seem to be developing a relationship of their own, to the delight of Frankie. In a conversation between the two of them, the stranger says that Frankie is a lucky boy. Lizzie says, with regret, that she lies to her son every day. The stranger replies that she protects him every single day. What attitude toward the truth is revealed in this exchange?

Suggested Response:

Answers will vary. Students should note that the man is expressing the idea that some things are more important than the truth, a position held by many people who believe firmly in ethics but who believe that a given situation shifts the value of truth. In this case, protecting Frankie is paramount. Lizzie is feeling the fact that dishonesty, even a ruse to protect a child, has a tendency to separate people from each other. Lizzie always has to filter what she says to Frankie to make sure that it doesn’t contradict the deception; she can never be truly open with him. [Theme]


17. When the stranger is in Frankie’s room, Frankie gives him a sea horse that he has carved and speaks for the first and only time in the film. He says, “You’re coming back” in a tone that is more a statement than a question. The man tells Frankie to remember, “We’re all connected.” What values are illuminated here?

Suggested Response:

Answers will vary. Students should consider the idea that connections between individuals are not forged by blood ties alone, that the power of love is transcendent. [Theme]


18. At the hospital, Lizzie tells Davy, “He’s not your son, he’s mine.” She tells him that he doesn’t deserve Frankie’s forgiveness. This may seem harsh, considering the man is dying. What do you think about Lizzie’s reaction to Davy?

Suggested Response:

A good response will note that being a parent is more than just a biological relationship. It’s being there for your child, day-in and day-out; caring for the child; controlling your anger in the child’s presence, etc. Students may note that even on his death bed, Davy is violent and that Lizzie returns later with a picture of Frankie. This shows that her interest is not in getting back at Davy but in protecting Frankie. [Theme; Complication]


19. In the denouement of the film, Lizzie tells Frankie that his father has died and she learns that the stranger was Marie’s brother, suggesting that their relationship can easily develop further. Frankie skims a rock, reminding the audience of what the stranger had tried to teach him, and writes another letter in which he says his real dad has died. He signs the letter, “Your friend,” rather than “Your son.” What do these elements of denouement serve to communicate?

Suggested Response:

Answers will vary. The end of the film raises several questions. Did Frankie know all along that the stranger was not his father? Was he trying to protect his mother by responding to the letters? At the end of the film, Lizzie and Frankie are sitting in silence at the special place overlooking the harbor. There seems to be no need to discuss how the truth has come out or what the future may bring. Hope is represented in the act of skimming the rock and the fact that they are on the hill together. [Theme; Complication]


20. If Frankie did know that the stranger was not his real father but went along with his mother’s ruse, what does that say about Frankie?

Suggested Response:

There are several good responses: that he is wise beyond his years; that he loves his mother so much that he is willing to go along with her subterfuge so that she can feel that her efforts to promote his happiness are succeeding or, following a different theory, that he so desperately wants a father that he will take anything that his mother can provide, be it a fake letter or a stranger. [Characterization; Theme]


21. A particularly risky thing that Lizzie did was to put her son in the control of a complete stranger. What does this tell us about the risks of deception, even deception that is intended to protect someone else?

Suggested Response:

Lies often lead to more lies and sometimes people are led into dangerous situations to keep the lies from being discovered. Lizzie had not expected the Accra to dock in the town and she had not expected Frankie to make the bet. The only way that she could think to solve the problem was to add another deception to the ruse and find someone to play the part of Frankie’s father. She was lucky that the man turned out to be helpful. [Theme]



See Discussion Questions #s 3, 4 and 5.



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


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.



The websites listed in the Links to the Internet Section.

This Learning Guide was written by Mary RedClay and James Frieden. It was published on August 10, 2010.

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