Have you ever seen extremely motivated student writers? The opportunity to bring their writing to life on the big screen is highly engaging and meaningful for students. Read on to learn how my kindergartners wrote the script for our class movie, with attention to "showing" and "telling" writing, and how we storyboarded it out to assist us in the next step — filming our movie.
Writing and creating a movie is one of the best ways to teach the journey a writer goes through, called the writing process.
Writing should always start with some reflection and planning. Even writing my blog posts here on Scholastic.com, I research and plan.
I have found that when students are writing scripts for movies, this planning stage is a lot more meaningful. Students take a lot more time making sure they know the facts and deciding how to organize their movie so their audience can follow easily. They start to understand the significance of knowing their writing purpose and their audience.
During the research stage of the writing process, the writer gathers facts or other ideas to help shape their thoughts. As a writer, I love to read other blogs and Web sites on my topic. It really helps me to organize my own thoughts.
To make it more manageable, we broke our apple tree movie into five segments: roots, sprout, trunk, branches, and leaves. Once the students selected the segment they wanted to work on, they were ready to research. Because of my students’ young age and beginning reading skills, we use a lot of video clips when researching. Thanks to Web sites like Discovery Streaming, YouTube, and TeacherTube, to name a few, students have access to a wide variety of videos for research. Students will typically take notes on a recording sheet that helps to guide them when researching.
Now we are ready to write! The biggest challenge in writing this script was showing the passage of time. An apple tree takes about ten years to grow, so it would be unrealistic to have the tree finish growing during their kindergarten year. We decided that we would spread the growth out over their K–12th grade years and make it seem as though the tree was growing with them.
So here was the challenge: How could my kindergarten students make themselves seem older? We broke the parts of the movie down so that 5th grade was the sprout; middle school, the trunk; high school, the branches; and senior year, the leaves and seasons. I posed the question to my students: How do we make the viewers think you are growing up with the tree? I actually had several students respond that we could just stretch their bodies out on the computer. These students showed a good understanding of the possibilities of technology and movie magic! We decided to use more showing writing and costumes to assist our viewers, but we still might use the "stretch out" idea, too!
Showing Writing, Not Telling Writing
As a class we started talking more about the difference between showing writing and telling writing. Often in their kindergarten writing, they are telling what is happening. We discussed how we wanted the audience to guess our age by the clues we give, including how the actors walk, what they wear, and what they say. This would also help our audience stay interested.
Because the purpose of our movie was to teach about the growth, needs, and parts of plants, along with seasons and weather, the students decided they needed some telling writing as well. They decided after they showed the audience the time change, they would then tell facts about the parts of the tree.
Students continued to write in groups as I circled around to listen to their writing. It was interesting hearing their discussion about the different age groups and how they act. At the end of our writing time on the first day, we listened to and evaluated the writing done by each group so far. I was so excited to see how the students were able to put all the pieces together and make the story line flow.
Once the students had finished writing their scripts on paper, we typed them up and were ready to storyboard. The storyboarding stage of filmmaking is important and should not be skipped. Storyboarding gives the students a chance to plan out their movie more so it makes sense to their viewers. We took some time to look at different types of camera shots and at how to frame pictures.
Using a variety of camera shots helps the filmmakers to emphasize something in their writing. You might want to get a close-up of the person’s face when they hear good news or a further away establishing shot to show the setting.
Storyboarding is a wonderful way to practice story sequencing. I love to show my students the bonus features on the Disney movie Monsters, Inc. It shows the storyboarding room and demonstrates how the storyboard helps filming.
Many teachers think that making a movie comes after the learning takes place, that it's an end product showing the learning. This is when they question how much class time a project like this takes up. Instead of using the movie to show what we learned, we create the movie while we are learning. It takes a lot less time this way and is more purposeful.
While working on the script and storyboard, it is important to tag all pages that will need a green screen and what the background should be. You will also need to start making a list of the necessary props and costumes. We like to tag the props needed on the storyboard pages as well so we don’t forget them when filming.
Taking your students' writing to the next level by letting them bring it to life on film is worthwhile. Students learn so much about writing, about the content, and about themselves when making films. Please share with us your tips and your experiences with writing scripts and storyboards for films. If you’re new to filmmaking, we would love to hear from you, too, and see how we can help!