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February 16, 2011 Digital Communication: Student-Designed Commercials By Brent Vasicek
Grades 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

    Being able to effectively communicate in the 21st century is essential. Advertisers have efficient communication down to an art. (And at $3 million for a 30-second Superbowl slot, they'd better!) They must pick the perfect story, image, background, words, and music to engage an audience and sell a product in under a minute. By creating their own commercials, students learn to pay attention to detail and discover some fun technology.  


    Photo courtesy of Salvatore Vuono.


    In our classroom, a.k.a. Studio 24, we produce two types of commercials: 

    #1 The Movie Trailer

    One commercial is a movie trailer for a book the students have read. Basically, the assignment is, "If this book was made into a movie, what would a commercial promoting that movie look like?" The students then envision the movie and create a storyboard for the commercial. Upon storyboard approval, they receive a Flip Video camera for recording their footage. Then, using Movie Maker, they download and edit their clips into a one-minute commercial. Although my district does not use Apple products, I will say Apple's iMovie is a more user-friendly moviemaking program.

    #2 The Public Service Announcement (PSA)

    The second type of commercial is a PSA on one of the life skills we discuss in class.  I devote about six hours to this project. I prefer to have only half of the class working on movies at a time as it seems easier to manage. 

    We were excited this year because a compilation video of our classroom TV spots was posted on the Foundation for a Better Life Web site, not as an actual TV spot, but as something worth passing on. Also, in a prior year my students were inspired by the Discovery Channel "Boom De Yada" commercial. They made their own version seen here, and Discovery actually used a portion of our version in the second run of the commercial (click on "commercial" in the middle of the page).

    The Flow of the Lessons

    • Lesson 1: Show students these awesome commercials from the Foundation for a Better Life. Discuss how the message is conveyed in so little time. Replay them and listen to the music. Notice the camera angles. Notice there is NOT a transition between every shot. Homework: Think about one of the life skills and how you would make a PSA on it.
    • Lesson 2: In groups of two or three, have the students choose a life skill and create a storyboard for their PSA. For each shot they should include dialogue, a list of props needed, and the filming location.
    • Lesson 3: Film. Using the storyboard as a guide, the students should get the footage they need. Make sure there is good lighting and do several takes. It is nice to have options when editing. Some students must film on location. The Flip Videos are pretty sturdy cameras, so I allow them to be checked out for the evening.
    • Lessons 4 and 5:  Edit footage with movie editing software. If you wish your students to include music, you can download royalty free music online for them to use.
    • Lesson 6: Showcase the movie to the class. After the presentation, I give suggestions on lighting, audio, video, music, and editing. If time permits, I allow the highly motivated students to reshoot their movie. The second version always turns out ten times better.

    Watch three student sample commercials (2 minutes).

    Another Idea: Booktalks

    Fellow blogger Mary Blow shared another great idea for using these Flip Video cameras: book talks. Check out her post and her sample videos. I have tried this, and the students really enjoyed it.

    Benefits of Student-Made Videos

    • Communication: Students must learn to successfully communicate their message to a target audience using images, words, and music.
    • Summarizing: Students must be able to summarize their book or capture the essence of the life skill without droning on and on. This lesson is good practice for those students that are great at retelling a story, but need practice summarizing.
    • Debating: The students inevitably have disagreements about how the video should turn out. They must be able to state their opinion with good supporting details to try to persuade their peers that their idea is a good one.
    • Sorting Details: With only 60 seconds to tell the story, students must be able to sort through many ideas and choose the most important details to include. It's a great lesson on prioritization!
    • Budgeting: There are several steps in the process of making a video. Students must learn to set a time line and adhere to it to ensure the project is completed on time.
    • Teamwork: The students practice working together to achieve a common goal.
    • Technology: Students learn how to use movie editing software and handheld video cameras.

    An Authentic Audience

    It is always nice to have an audience to present to. In Chippewa Valley this year we held a technology showcase for the public. Students from elementary to high school from around the district participated in this science fair-esque display of technology. In the pictures below you see my students talking about what they learned to other students, parents, and administrators. The kids love showing off their work to interested people. We will also be showcasing the commercials during breaks at our upcoming poetry night. Here is an idea for schools with video morning announcements: feature a life skill commercial once a week.

    Vasicek Technology Showcase Board   Vasicek Students Working 2011


    What projects do you do that incorporate the use of movie editing software?

    2I2 Trademark 2010 Vasicek That's a wrap!


    2i2 is a trademark of Mr. Vasicek's classroom. It means going above and beyond every day and doing so with integrity.




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