Write Your Own Screenplay
- Grades: 6–8
- Unit Plan:
Students look at the transition of Holes from novel to screenplay. They consider how the details in a book are brought to life in a movie. Then they choose a scene in a book and transform it into an original script.
- Discover how details in Holes are brought to life in the movie by examining movie stills and corresponding passages in the book
- Consider what kind of book passages make good screenplay scenes and brainstorm favorite books to translate into scripts
- Creatively transform a detail from a favorite book into a script for a screenplay
- Computer access (activities can be modified from one computer to a whole computer lab)
- Holes Flashlight Readers Activity
- Holes by Louis Sachar
- Idea Web Graphic Organizer (PDF)
- An assortment of novels that could be transformed into screenplays
- Optional: Poster board, markers, and other art supplies for Lesson Extensions
- Optional: Projector to display online activities
Set Up and Prepare
- Bookmark the Holes Flashlight Readers Activity on the computers students will use.
- Make copies of the Idea Web Graphic Organizer (PDF) (each student may need more than one copy to complete his or her screenplay brainstorming).
Note: If students have limited access to computers, you can print hard copies of the activity screens or complete the activity as a class using the projector.
Step 1: Have students view movie stills alongside related passages from the book (see below). As your students examine the "Snapshots from the Movie" (link located in the drop-down "Explore" menu in the Holes Flashlight Readers Activity), ask for volunteers to read the related book passage aloud. Encourage students to explain how the movie brings scenes from the book to life. Ask them to consider whether the images they see in the stills are how they imagined them based on the descriptions in the book. Have them explain why this is or isn't what they'd imagined in their minds. Ask students what qualities make a good scene for a movie. Have students brainstorm books they have access to that might make a good movie.
Here are some suggestions for passages to highlight:
Photo 1: Stanley Yelnats is wrongly sentenced to Camp Green Lake, where he has to dig holes all day.
Descriptions of Stanley that are scattered throughout the book. Here are some examples:
- page 7: "He didn't have any friends at home. He was overweight and the kids at his middle school often teased him about his size. Even his teachers sometimes made cruel comments without realizing it."
- page 7: "Stanley was not a bad kid. He was innocent of the crime for which he was convicted. He'd just been in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was all because of his no-good dirty-rotten pig-stealing great-great-grandfather! He smiled. It was a family joke. Whenever anything went wrong, they always blamed Stanley's no-good dirty-rotten pig-stealing great-great-grandfather."
- page 23: "As Stanley tried to turn over on his cot, he was afraid it was going to collapse under all his weight. He barely fit in it."
Photo 2: Does this smell funny to you? Mr. Yelnats experiments with old sneakers, much to the dismay of his wife and Grandpa Yelnats.
- Description of the Yelnats' apartment on page 9: "...they were crammed into a tiny apartment that smelled of burning rubber and foot odor. ... The apartment smelled the way it did because Stanley's father was trying to invent a way to recycle old sneakers."
Photo 3: Stanley is scolded by the Warden's henchman, Mr. Sir.
- Description of Stanley's arrival at Camp Green Lake on pages 13–15
Photo 4: Mr. Sir, the Warden, and Mr. Pendanski run the camp. These guys are up to no good.
- Description of Mr. Sir on page 12: "A man was sitting with his feet up on a desk. He turned his head when Stanley and the guard entered, but otherwise didn't move. Even though he was inside he wore sunglasses and a cowboy hat."
- Description of Mr. Pendanski on page 16: "Mr. Pendanski was younger than Mr. Sir, and not nearly as scary looking. The top of his head was shaved so close it was almost bald, but his face was covered in a thick, curly black beard. His nose was badly sunburned."
- Description of the Warden on page 66: "A tall woman with red hair stepped out of the passenger side. She looked even taller than she was, since Stanley was down in his hole. She wore a black cowboy hat and black cowboy boots which were studded with turquoise stones. The sleeves on her shirt were rolled up, and her arms were covered with freckles, as was her face."
Photo 5: Everyone calls Hector Zeroni by his nickname: Zero. He and Stanley become friends.
- This is a good photo for pairing with a description of Zero's smile on pages 56–57: "It was the first time Stanley had ever seen Zero smile. He usually had such an angry expression on his face. Now he had such a huge smile it almost seemed too big for his face, like the smile on a jack-o'-lantern."
Photo 6: X-Ray is the unofficial leader of the D tent campers.
- Description of X-Ray on page 18: "He wore glasses, but they were so dirty that Stanley wondered how he could see out of them."
Photo 7: The Green Lake campers cheer after Stanley drives Mr. Sir's truck into a hole.
- Passage about this event on pages 147–148
Photo 8: Stanley comes face to face with deadly poisonous yellow-spotted lizards.
- Passage on page 205 about Stanley's discovery that he is surrounded by lizards in the hole with the treasure.
Photo 9: After overcoming grueling obstacles, Stanley and Hector triumph and justice prevails.
- Passage on pages 220–221 when the other campers greet Stanley and Zero when they return to camp.
Step 2: In preparation for a future part of the lesson, have students bring to school a book they think would make a good movie.
Step 3: Read aloud, or ask a volunteer to read, the following passage from Louis Sachar explaining what's hardest about transforming a book into a screenplay. Tell students Louis Sachar wrote the screenplay for Holes, as well as the book, although this is not always the case with movie adaptations.
What were some of the challenges of adapting Holes for a screenplay?
The hardest part for me was just being able to see it as a movie... to get the rhythm of the movie in your mind instead of the rhythm of the book. And a lot of people, when I mentioned that [Holes was made into] a movie, say to me, "Oh, that's perfect! You know, I visualize it so well when I'm reading the book." But it's different, because a lot of that visualizing they're doing is in their minds. I might have just given a few little clues — saying it's hot, he's thirsty — and then they draw from that this whole picture. But for the screenplay you have to describe every picture, and you have to do it in a very succinct [brief] way. It's not left to the imagination. You have to tell the director and the actors and the camera what they're looking at, what they're actually seeing. So that was more difficult.
Ask students to explain what they think Louis Sachar means by "the rhythm of the book." Give students the definition of the word visualize ("to picture something or to see something in your mind"). Discuss the difference between visualizing a book and visualizing a movie.
Step 4: Have students find a short scene in the books they brought in that would transfer well into a one or two page screenplay. Supply books to students who were not able to find an example. Remind students that their chosen scene should include dialogue and really show what the characters are like. Distribute the Idea Web Graphic Organizer (PDF) for students to use to organize ideas about their scene. Students may use it, for example, to jot down the behavior, language, costume, etc. for a particular character. Students may use as many Idea Webs as they need.
Step 5: Allow students time to write the scene as a script (one page or longer). Remind them that the Holes script does not use the exact same words from the novel. Their script should capture the characters' personalities and the point of the scene. In addition to the words the characters say, instruct students to include, in parentheses, descriptions of what the characters are doing, where they are, and how they are expressing emotion (e.g., shouting, being calm).
Step 6: Working with partners, have students exchange their screenplays along with the books they are based on. Partners should read the original passage in the book, then read and critique each other's adaptations, making suggestions for improvement. Students will then revise their screenplays.
Step 7: Invite students to perform their revised scenes for the rest of the class. Students may assign parts or act out all parts on their own. Ask the class what about each scene would make them want to see the movie.
- Have students draw pictures of the scene for their screenplay. Just as in the slideshow of Holes, have students illustrate how certain settings, objects, etc. will look in the movie.
- If students enjoy turning one scene into a script, encourage them to make the whole book into a screenplay with an accompanying story map of illustrated scenes.
- Supply students with poster board, markers, and other art supplies and have them create a movie poster to advertise their screenplay.
- Invite students to discuss books that have been made into movies, and share with the rest of the class which they liked better — the book or the movie — and why. Ask them to consider why some books make good movies while others do not.
- Review students' scripts to assess their ability to transform a scene or description in a book into a screenplay. Do not evaluate this assignment for grammar, spelling, or mechanics.
Language Arts Standards (4th Ed.)
- Evaluates own and others' writing (e.g., determines the best features of a piece of writing, determines how own writing achieves its purposes, asks for feedback, responds to classmates' writing)
- Drafting and Revising: Uses a variety of strategies to draft and revise written work (e.g., analyzes and clarifies meaning, makes structural and syntactical changes, uses an organizational scheme, uses sensory words and figurative language, rethinks and rewrites for different audiences and purposes, checks for a consistent point of view and for transitions between paragraphs, uses direct feedback to revise compositions)
- Editing and Publishing: Uses a variety of strategies to edit and publish written work (e.g., eliminates slang; edits for grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and spelling at a developmentally appropriate level; proofreads using reference materials, word processor, and other resources; edits for clarity, word choice, and language usage; uses a word processor or other technology to publish written work)