The Elephant Man

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The 1980 movie The Elephant Man is the basis for this engaging student activity for a lifestyles course. Key concepts of independence, interdependence, codependence, and power are explored in both a small- and large-group format.

I use a "carousel" activity with the movie The Elephant Man (1980, Paramount Video, 125 minutes) when teaching my lifestyles course. It works like this. After viewing the movie, I ask the students to call out the names of all the characters in the movie, and I list them on the board. That list serves as a catalyst for the next part of the activity and saves time for people who say, "Who WAS that guy?!"

I have several pieces of paper prepared, each with a term at the top: independence, interdependence, powerlessness, nurturing power, shared power, and other like terms from chapter 1 of Creating Christian Lifestyles. I then divide the class into groups of 3-5 students, each group getting a term and a different color marker. Each group must write down ONLY ONE example from the movie that illustrates the meaning of the term they were given. For example, John is dependent on Bytes for food and a place to live. Nora shows nurturing power to John by bringing his dinner tray.

When a group has their example written down, they pass it on to the next group. That group adds another example (in their own color marker) and so on. No group may repeat another group's example. No group may write more than one example at a time. Some papers may go around the room several times, some may not even make one tour.

After the examples are exhausted, the groups stick their papers up on the board and go through them together, evaluating which ones are accurate and which are not (always putting a positive spin on less-than-great answers, of course, suggesting how that particular answer might fit better on another sheet).

This activity helps students to see the differences among independence, interdependence, powerlessness, nurturing power, shared power and so on, and the differences in the varieties of power. It also illustrates how relationships change as people get to know one another better, and how individuals grow from (or are damaged by) their relationships.

This is usually a well-received activity, and students have said that it helps them to understand some of these rather complex concepts.


Published July 1, 2001.