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January 5, 2010 Movie-Making in the Classroom By Beth Newingham
Grades 3–5

    In our classroom, we enjoy making movies to extend our learning.  Writing scripts and working together to display our knowledge in a creative way are both benefits of movie-making in the classroom.  We use the movie-making process to help us understand, reinforce, and review new concepts we are learning in different areas of the curriculum.  We also make creative movies to enhance our ability to write interesting stories. I have found that movie-making is a great way to build community among students, hone students’ writing skills, engage students’ creative imaginations, and instill confidence even in those students who might begin the school year afraid to be in front of the camera. Movie-making is a certainly a collaborative and exciting way to make learning come alive in your classroom!

    READ ON to learn how to start making movies with the students in your classroom.  You will find software suggestions, tips for using a makeshift green screen, and examples of creative movies we've made in our classroom!



    What You Need to Get Started


    • Video Camera: You will need a digital video camera to shoot the scenes and then capture the scenes onto your computer for editing.  We use a Sony Handycam and also my Flip Video camera to shoot scenes of my students when making movies in our classroom.




    • Computer With Ample Hard Drive Space: Video takes up a great deal of space on your computer's hard drive, so it is important to use a computer with adequate hard drive space.



    • Green Screen (optional): If you are planning to create movies in which students will pretend to be in places other than your classroom, you may choose to use the green screen/chroma key effect. (You can read more about this later in my post.)  In order to do this, you can create a makeshift green screen using a green or turquoise blanket or sheet.  (Pinnacle Studio Ultimate version 12 comes with a green sheet that is approximately 6 ft x 5.5 ft.)



    • Costumes (optional): Over the years, I have gathered many costumes and accessories that students have used in many of our class movies.  Hitting post-Halloween sales or using old clothes of my own have helped me add to my ever-growing costume boxes.  My students also often put together their own costumes using clothing and props from home.



    • Tripod (optional): It is often helpful to have a tripod when filming scenes in your classroom.  This will ensure that your footage is not jerky or blurred. By using a sturdy tripod, students can also take turns being the camera operator.





    The Process of Making a Class Movie


    Madi Take One I know going in to any school year that I will make at least two movies with my entire class.  Whether we make the movies to promote a schoolwide event or as a culminating activity for a unit of study, the goal is to involve my students in a collaborative and purposeful activity.  The steps below explain the process of making a class movie.






    IMG_0265[1] The process begins at our class meeting where we decide on a topic or theme for a class movie. Oftentimes an idea has already surfaced during a learning experience in our classroom, and we gather together to brainstorm and develop specific ideas as a class. This is a way for all students to be involved in the planning process. Students take turns explaining their ideas to the class, and I list all of the ideas on chart paper. Movie ideas in my classroom have ranged from a creative adventure that highlighted places in our local community to a fun yet informative reenactment of a day aboard the Titanic.  We have also created commercials promoting our schoolwide skating party. The options for movie topics are endless!




    Developing a Plot and Assigning Roles


    Storyboard Once we have decided on a plot, we then create a rough draft of a storyboard on chart paper. Using PowerPoint, I type the agreed upon scenes into PowerPoint slides on my computer and project them on my TV for the entire class to see.  The storyboard helps us organize and sequence our ideas to determine the different scenes that will ultimately be part of the movie.  PPT Once we determine the scenes we will need, we then list all of the acting parts in the movie and add parts (if necessary) to be sure that all students will have a role. I have yet to have a student who does not want to be in a movie, but, if this is the case, stage hands, camera operators, and set or costume designers can also be listed. I then type up the list of roles and have students rank their role choices on their own copy of the list. I try to give each student one of their top five choices. Students can even write a persuasive paragraph to let me know why they think they would be good in a certain role.



    Writing the Script


    IMG_0590 Once the roles are assigned, students work in small groups with the other students in their scene to write their script. Writing workshop mini-lessons focus on scriptwriting and how this genre of writing includes stage directions as well as indications of who is speaking each line. Students may even type up their scene on a PowerPoint slide. All of the slides are combined into one slide show and rearranged in the order they will be performed as I project the slide show on the large TV in my classroom for the entire class to see. The storyboard view helps us organize and sequence our ideas to determine the final order of the scenes that will ultimately be part of the movie. Each student receives a copy of the PowerPoint slides (printed as handouts).


    Planning & Practicing the Scenes


    P1010943 After all scenes are written, students make a list of props that they will need to make or bring from home. This also includes costumes. Although I have collected quite an array of costumes over the years that are often used, students also enjoy designing their own costumes by gathering materials and clothing from home. Students also determine if their scene will need to be taped in front of a green screen and decide whether or not they will need certain pieces of furniture or other props in their scene. Actors then memorize their lines and practice their scene to make sure it is ready for filming. 





    Filming the Scenes/Using a Green Screen


    Titanic Sometimes we film scenes in front of our makeshift "green screen" using a turquoise blanket and sheet.  This allows me to project images behind the students when editing the video on the computer.  For many movies, students look like they are in different states and countries.  I am lucky to have an entire wall in my classroom that is a bulletin board.  I use tacks to pin up a large fleece blanket behind students when we are filming these scenes.  If it is a full-length scene, I will also put a turquoise blanket on the floor.  The photos below show you the original video footage before editing and then the scene in the final movie once the chroma key effect has been applied in Pinnacle Studio.







    Both Pinnacle Studio and iMovie provide users with the capability to create a green screen effect.  It is called chroma key.  Many people ask where I find the backgrounds that are placed behind the students when I use this effect.  You can choose to put either a picture or a video behind students when using the chroma key effect.  I use my own pictures or pictures from Google Images to find appropriate backgrounds for my videos.  I have also purchased animated video backgrounds from Digital Hotcakes and ActionBacks to create very realistic backgrounds for my class movies. Helpful green screen/chroma key tutorials include Pinnacle Studio Green Screen Tutorial and iMovie Green Screen Tutorial.




    Editing the Video


    Pinnacle The scenes are captured onto my computer and edited using Pinnacle Ultimate Studio version 12. It is a user-friendly program that includes many great features including built-in music, titles, 3-D transitions, and DVD menus. While it can be difficult to put the editing in the hands of my 3rd graders, I do try to make them a part of the process. One way to do this is to allow them to determine the mood of the music for their scenes.  Pinnacle Studio allows you to search for music loops by determining the theme or mood of the music.  Students love choosing their own music and selecting sound effects for their scenes.  Students can also create their own music using kid-friendly software programs like Super Duper Music Looper.


    This post is not intended to teach you how to edit your video footage.  However, if you are new to video editing, you can find tons of great video tutorials online. The Pinnacle site provides a list, and a California school district put together another good list of Pinnacle tutorials. has this list of iMovie tutorials. You can also find many video editing tutorials on YouTube if  you do a search for the title of the video editing program you are using on your computer.



    Sharing the Class Movies


    When a class movie is completed, I burn the final movie to a DVD and send a copy home with students as a traveling DVD.  This way students can enjoy a “movie night” with their families and friends on the evening they get to bring it home. I only make a few copies of the DVD, so a different student can take it home each night.  We also show some of our best movies to the entire school on the morning announcements.  This makes my students feel like celebrities at school!

     DVD Label Travel DVD


    Another option is to have a movie day in your classroom where parents are invited to watch the movies your students have made.  We invite parents to take part in this fun activity, and we also create a montage of pictures and video footage set to music as a way to highlight the special times we have spent together during the school year.  We turn our classroom into a movie theater and serve popcorn and pop.  The parents love the special event!



    At the end of the school year, I put the movies on a single DVD and make a copy for each student as an end-of-the year gift.

    DVD Case DVDS in case



    All of the class movies I have made with my classes over the past seven years can also be viewed in Windows Media Player on our class Web site.

    Watch them HERE!


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