Writing Movie Reviews: Lights, Camera, Publish!
- Grades: 3–5, 6–8
- Unit Plan:
Students will explore writing movie reviews as part of a larger unit of study on review writing. Ongoing formative assessment will guide the way in helping the teacher and students study, evaluate, and write their own reflections of literature and the world around them.
1. Students read a wide range of print to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world.
2. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
3. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print.
1. Evaluate and thoughtfully respond to literature and products through the craft of study.
2. Read, review, and reflect on a variety of written works by professionals and peers.
3. Understand the importance of written reviews in our literate lives.
4. Recommend and persuade peers to read and try out different products and book selections.
5. Use self-reflection and formative assessment to improve their quality of writing.
- Snippets of various movies geared for students. Important Disclaimer: Legally, you are not allowed to show entire movies in school without a license. My school, like many others, does not have one. A legal alternative is to show short clips (10-15 seconds) for stated learning purposes.
- Movies = popcorn!
- Sample Movie Reviews (PDF)
- I'm Noticing Chart (PDF)
- Movie Review Rubric (PDF)
- Optional: movie camera, green screen, and a free trial of ULead Video program for a class production.
Step 1: Lights — Setting Up the Scene
Assessment Note: This lesson builds on writing food reviews, which progresses in difficulty. You may find that less time is needed for modeling movie reviews vs. food reviews. Use formative assessment, body language, and level of interest as an indicator for time needed.
Also, know that the work you are displaying and discussing to your students serves as a model for what you will be assessing. Pick reviews that will inspire your students but also be attainable when it comes to assessment!
- Review what makes a good food review by having students turn to a partner and discuss. Take a moment to record your thoughts and ideas as a class. Informally, you can assess what was retained from the last lesson.
- Set the stage by telling students that they will be venturing into the world of movie reviews. Ask students to raise their hand if they have ever read a movie review before. Have those students share their experience with the class.
- Introduce the popular site www.rottentomatoes.com. If you are not familiar with this site, it combines many of the national reviews onto one page. Each review has an option for visitor comments, making this a wonderful resource for reviews. As with any site, I recommend looking for specific content before hand.
- You may use my copy of student friendly movie reviews (PDF) or take some time to find movies that meet your students' interest, but pass out a movie review that will interest your students.
- Ask students to read and record their observations on the article, on post-it notes, or on the back. If you are completing the full unit, consider review unit folders for your students to place the article in.
- Hold a discussion on what elements are present in this type of writing. Your students will notice setting, character development, and plot in most movie reviews.
- Create a chart with the class to record and organize this information. You may want to use this movie review chart (PDF) to organize your ideas. You can also create a Venn-diagram for comparison.
- Use this time to re-read the review and model your observations of the movie review. Use the language that you would like your students to be using for discussion.
Step 2: Camera — Narrowing the Lenses
Assessment Note: This step will vary greatly depending on your students' level of success with the food reviews. You may find that your students are ready for independent review writing quickly, so be ready to modify that based on your observations and student recordings. In addition, your expectations should be building from the food review writings. Individual conference notes will help document the growth through the unit study.
- Share your observations from the previous lesson by reading through some of the notes students recorded the day before. Emphasis the qualities they exude.
- Share a movie review that students are familiar with. Ask students to work in pairs to use their "lenses" for a discussion on what the author includes and does not include in their writing review. Students can record their findings on the I'm Noticing Chart (PDF). Use this time to informally assess your students' understandings. Their conversation should show growth from their work on food reviews.
- Because you have read the review before hand, have the actual movie available for viewing. Due to license laws, start and stop portions of the movie to support the reviewer's writing. For example, if the movie reviewer points out a scene that is particularly well written (or poorly written), you can show this scene for discussion. If the author says a character is not believable, demonstrate a scene where the actor has important lines. Ask their opinion on whether they agree with the reviewer or not.
- Read through the I'm Noticing charts to gage where you need to go next. If you are happy with the responses, your students are ready for some independent writing. If not, try writing a movie review together, or in a small group, focusing on the elements of setting, character development, and plot.
- Ask students to start thinking about a movie they would like to write a review for.
- Optional- If students need more time and exposure to writing, build that time in and share peer reviews for examples.
Step 3: Publish! — Ready for an Audience
Assessment Note: Traditional worksheets are not present in this unit of study. Instead, a focus on higher order thinking skills and assessment through application has been made. The premise being that some students can complete a skill in isolation but not carry it into application. Writing rubrics assess the application of learned skills through authentic pieces of writing.
- Ask students to share what movies they are interested in writing a review for. Decide, as a class, if there should be a limit to reviews per movie. Set guidelines on appropriate movies, such as having a "G" rating.
- Ask students to write freely for five minutes on their movie of choice. After five minutes are up, ask students to make sure setting, character development, and plot are included in their writing. Allow a few more minutes for students to build on what they have or include an element that is missing. Inform students that this is a form of prewriting and that it will be used for gathering and organizing their ideas for a published review.
- Later on you will want to pass out a movie review rubric or create a rubric together. For conventions, narrow your guidelines to 2-3 items that you have taught and students have had time to improve on (see movie review rubric (PDF)).
- Provide time for students to write a quality movie review. Use your writing conference time to meet with students individually, one on one.
- Include some time for peer review. Have students try the two stars, one wish method (two things they like, one thing to work on).
- Take the completed reviews and place them in a class magazine (PDF). Share your reviews in class with some popcorn. In the process, categorize movies by their genre during presentations.
- Print and publish your movie reviews in your next newsletter. Assess the reviews with a review rubric (PDF).
Supporting All Learners
I hold individual conferences with my students as a resource to support differentiation for each student. Taking the information gathered from these conferences, as well as personal observations and student work/reflection, assessment is modified to meet individual needs.
- Allow students to create a movie poster with their review and post them around school.
- Video tape movie reviews with a blue screen and incorporate the setting into the background of an oral movie review.
- Have students with the same reviewed movie hold a debate in the style of Thomas and Ebert and Roeper. Give the winner of the debate (of course voted by a thumbs up or thumbs down vote) a bag of popcorn.
- Work with your local video store to see if movie reviews can be put on display.
We have a weekly newsletter and updated web site that contains all of our class happenings. A majority of my students have internet access at home, so I provide some of the online resources we view in class as an at home activity. Reviews will also be printed up for each student to take home to their family.
- Using the gradual release of responsibility model, allow your students to show growth throughout the unit of study. Heavier consideration of learned skills will be placed on final versions after time has been given to experiment with conventions, style, and layouts.
- Provide flexibility in your schedule. If your students take the interest somewhere not planned, be open to shifting reviews. E.g. Students prefer to write about another form of entertainment.
- Does the student writing sound authentic? In other words, does it sound like they really have an opinion they want to share with you?
- As a whole, what does your class present as a strength and weakness? Use this information to further your lessons and areas of assessment.
- Observation of language used at the beginning and end of the unit. Has it improved?
- Various responses on post-it notes, self-reflection sheet, and tips learned in class.
- Small group instruction and one on one conferences
- Peer review
- Review rubric with an option for student and teacher rating, as well as an area for written feedback.
- Oral reading of reviews. Does the student read with confidence?