With so many great characters and plot lines in literature, how do we help our gifted students delve into the minds of those characters? How do we get students to think about plot development and storytelling? One surefire way is to put a camera in students’ hands. and get them out of their seats and creating. As a TV production and International Baccalaureate teacher coaching students in film and video production, I have some ideas for English Language Arts teachers who want to incorporate video in their curriculum.
How do you use video creation in your classroom?
Share with us below!
Make a “documentary” profile of a character.
What would it be like to interview Holden Caulfield of Catcher in the Rye or Starr Carter of The Hate U Give about their lives? What did both of them think about their private preparatory schools? What would they say about the friends (“phonies” in Holden’s world) who drive them crazy?
A great way for students to get to know fictional characters is to create a documentary-style profile on them. Documentaries require the following thinking skills that intersect with literary analysis skills:
- understanding story grammar—plot and story structure, character, and more;
- analyzing how tone, tension, and surprise can be used to structure a story; and
- analyzing cultural points of view and character perspective.
Tip 1: After students pick a character to create a profile video, they will need to think of questions to ask the character and what the character’s response to those questions would be. How can you take literary analysis questions that students need for writing tasks and use those as samples and guides for your students?
Tip 2: Students should think about what the character would wear in the interview, manner of speech, and body language. Those various threads of characterization you might be teaching are also explored in our Duke TIP lesson, Digital Tools + Creative Writing: Create a Compelling Character. The Six Threads of Characterization handout might be a good frame in order to develop interview questions.
Tip 3: In addition to the interview footage itself, students should shoot B-roll. B-roll is the footage you see during an interview that shows what the interviewee is talking about. Imagine what the phonies in Holden’s life would look like from his perspective? Would they look sad and pathetic or totally clueless? Challenge your students to visualize the character’s world and recreate it through choosing B-roll footage that enhances viewer understanding of character relationships, family, origins, and setting.This project is a simple video concept that encourages students to look deeply at a character. I find students get really creative with B-roll.
Tip 4: Students should be thoughtful about the background of the video. Where is Starr being interviewed, and how does the setting say something about her character? How might it impact her?
Tip 5: The color and the look of the video should match the theme of the story. Is the interview done in black and white because the character existed before color TV? Does the interview have a cheery tone or a somber tone?
Tip 6: For this assignment, and all other multimedia assignments, use the literary analysis skills as your rubric criteria. You can begin each skill statement with “Film elements demonstrate… a deep understanding of character/understanding of plot structure,” etc. While you want the films to be aesthetically pleasing and impactful, what’s more important is that footage and acting and shots illustrate literary understanding. You can give bonus points for your highly gifted filmmakers who can use all the tools and go above and beyond, but first and foremost, don’t feel pressure to test all things. You are assessing for your English Language Arts standards with multimedia elements as the engaging, creative vehicle for students.
Here are some examples of character interview questions:
Create a film trailer for the book
Book summaries might be boring, but video trailers for books are exciting. Why? In this exercise students will study the most crucial moments of plot of a book, choose the important scenes to feature and create a trailer for the book.
Creating a film trailer for a book requires the following thinking skills that intersect with literary analysis skills, specifically in the grade 8 English Common Core:
- Determine a book’s theme and how it is developed over the course of a text.
- Analyze how particular lines of dialogue or incidences propel a story forward.
- Analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including analogies or allusions to other text.
Tip 1: Have your students create a beat sheet for the book. A beat sheet lays out the important plot points in a film. There’s a whole philosophy behind it that connects back to Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey and the concept of the monomyth. Here’s another link for even more infographics on the monomyth.
I like to use Blake Snyder’s beat sheet format. Here’s a link where different films are broken down into a beat sheet.
Tip 2: After students create a beat sheet, have them plan out a trailer by creating a storyboard that features important moments in the book. Students can then use their phone or borrow video production equipment to shoot and edit their film.
Tip 3: Students should consider a voiceover narration like a film trailer would normally have to guide their book trailer. (Think “In a world where….”)
Tip 4: Students should use their beat sheets to identify the most exciting parts of their film.
Tip 5: Students should think about how the tone of their book will set the tone of the trailer.
Real Book to Film Trailers: (based on young adult novels)
- The Fault in Our Stars
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower
- The Hate You Give
- Everything Everything
- To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
Note: if students want to do a trailer for a book that already has a movie, you might challenge them to go in a different direction or focus on a different element of the book. Have them appeal to a different aspect of the plot or appeal to a different target audience in their trailer.
Make a Scene!
For this activity students will take an important scene in the book they are reading and transform it into a script format. This activity can work for students or teachers who don’t have access to video production equipment. If students have access to film equipment they can shoot and edit the film scene after writing it!
Transforming text to script format require the above Common Core skills, including “form and use verbs in the active voice,” which is the voice of scripts.
One of the cool challenges of writing in script format is that with scripts you can only write what can be seen or heard. You are not allowed to write people’s thoughts or feelings; you can only write their actions. To help students get started, suggest they find a dialogue scene and convert that to a script format.
Tip 1: For this activity, give a short lesson on how to write a script. Here is a great link on rules of writing scripts. Here are examples of what a script should look like.
Tip 2: The goal is to encourage your gifted students to think about scenes they’re reading in a visual way. How can we show the meaning of a scene visually? What visual clues has the author written that help us understand what the characters are thinking and feeling?
Tip 3: Students should think about sound. What sounds can be used to add tension to a scene? What sounds might help your viewer feel like they are present in the scene with your characters?
Some Tech Tips
- Use your school resources. If your school has a tech theatre or tech video teacher, see if they would be interested in having their experienced students help with the tech aspects of these projects.
- Having students shoot video on their phone is a great option.
- There are a few free editing software out there. Check out options with your school, many editing software is on a month by month basis.
These activities will have your students interacting with the books they’re reading and hopefully have them thinking and visualizing their books in new and exciting ways!
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