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Making Movies in the Classroom
Watch your student stars shine with these A-list moviemaking ideas.
- Grades: 3–5
From the Director’s Chair
Teacher Kara Andrews and her fifth-grade students at Glen Forest Elementary School in Falls Church, Virginia, just wrapped up their latest film projects. Students reported their findings “live” from ancient China, offering updates on inventions, religion, and transportation from thousands of years ago. Andrews’s top three tips for fellow directors:
1. When setting up small groups, clearly define what each person’s role will be so that one student isn’t doing all the work.
2. Allow time for several trial runs so kids are comfortable with performing and hearing their own voices on camera.
3. Provide students with a rubric beforehand so they’ll know exactly what you’re expecting from their projects.
Feature Film Idea: The Interview
Behind the Scenes: Watch TV interviews, such as segments of Al Roker’s “Book Club for Kids” on msnbc.com. Help students analyze the interviews: Which questions elicited the most in-depth responses? Which questions required only a yes-or-no answer? Take a look at follow-up questions. How do they reflect the research the interviewer did prior to the interview?
And … Action! Have students research their dream talk-show guest—a fictional character, historical figure, or modern-day hero. Model how they can use their findings to craft questions for a mock interview. For example, they might ask George Washington how he kept his troops’ spirits high during the long winter at Valley Forge, or ask the Time Warp Trio where they might travel on their next adventure, and why. Then turn on the camera and shoot.
Feature Film Idea: Field (Trip) Correspondents
Behind the Scenes: Before your next field trip, give students a map or brochure of the various places they will be visiting. Have each student or team of students choose one element of the trip they want to cover. Watch clips of sample newscasts and put together a list of commonly used phrases like “Let’s go to Anna, who’s on location at the Children’s Museum,” “This is Bradley, reporting live from City Hall, downtown,” or “Now back to you in the studio, Ryan.”
And … Action! Bring along a video camera to capture students’ thoughts on the field trip, and help them shoot footage of the locations themselves. Back in the studio, film student anchorpeople as they introduce each correspondent’s report. Use Windows Movie Maker or iMovie to sequence the footage. Put it all together to create a news report on what students learned.
Feature Film Idea: The Sequel
Behind the Scenes: Have the class choose a favorite book and brainstorm what might happen to the characters after “the end.” Students can write their own ready-for-prime-time sequels, which might be a short scene or a complete story. For longer projects, create a storyboard template on chart paper, with one square for each scene, then let students map out the setting, action, and dialogue.
And … Action! For students who are camera-shy, use a program like Microsoft Photo Story to turn photos or scanned illustrations into a narrated slide show. Students can manipulate the images by cropping or rotating them or adding special effects. Then they can lay in a musical sound track or dub in their own narration.
Feature Film Idea: The Commercial
Behind the Scenes: Watch several examples of commercials and help students analyze them. For example, does wearing a doctor’s white coat increase an actor’s credibility? What role does music play in funny commercials? How about serious ones? What else makes advertisements effective and memorable? Have students invent their own products, then brainstorm what they want to say about them in their commercials.
And … Action! Before filming, have students create slides that display selling points for their products, such as graphs, statistics, a pretend website, or prices. Project them so they appear in the background as the students act out their commercials.
Feature Film Idea: Destinations
Behind the Scenes: Turn your students into travel guides and help them explore different historical eras and cultures. Have them research any place you’re studying in your social studies curriculum, from ancient Egypt to Renaissance Italy to the world of present-day politics at the White House in Washington, D.C.
And … Action! Film students against a blue screen (a backlit blanket or paper background will do) as they pretend to report from their destination. They might also interview a student pretending to be a “local.” Later, using a program like Pinnacle, you can replace the blue background with photos of the actual location. For photos of historical scenes, mine the Library of Congress’s vast online digital collections at loc.gov.
Feature Film Idea: Tour Guides
Behind the Scenes: Plan a school tour for new students and parents. Begin by brainstorming a list of key places within the school building and on the grounds (playground, cafeteria, gym, auditorium, etc.), as well as a list of VIPs (e.g., principal, school nurse, librarian). Using a map of the school, have students determine a route that starts at the front door, winds its way through the hallways, and ends
at your classroom.
And … Action! Let pairs of students choose either a location to film or a school VIP to introduce. One student can operate the video camera while the other narrates. If possible, have students rest the camera on a tripod for a steadier shot. Once the film is completed, ask your technology specialist if it can be placed on your school’s website as a resource for families that are new to your school.