Our Students: Movie Directors
Even young students understand the allure of movies. Even my third graders can grasp the concept that—with their pencil and their imagination—they can recreate the magic that happens on the big screen. But children who are too used to the “traditional” form of telling a story just need to be prodded a bit.
Too often, students gloss over the big-impact moment of their story and just continue on, failing to utilize the power their story could have. Their dog was given away by their aunt, unbeknownst to them…then they cried and went to bed. Before their car drove away to their new apartment, they said good-bye to their best friend…then they started their new school and started making new friends. Their parents brought home a new puppy…they saw it, and then started taking care of it.
Showing them how they could slooooow down the saddest part, the happiest part, the most triumphant part of the story is easy. Just choose the right movie.
I’ve used snippets from several movies with my third graders. The Natural has a sequence towards the beginning when the Robert Redford character is challenged by a star batter he meets on the train. The end of the movie Seabiscuit has a slow-motion sequence at the end. Hoosiers has several spots that would be wonderful models.
Since I don’t want to lose my job and have to end up working the slurpee machine at Walmart, I only show the excerpt; we don’t want the entire movie. I give minimal background information, and then we watch the minute or two from the film—several times.
We watch it first to just enjoy the experience. Then, each time it’s replayed, the students jot down things they see, the sounds they hear and the things they imagine the characters are feeling. After watching it four or five times, the whole class comes together and as a group, we “write” that scene down on paper. You could then compare it to a simple—but boring—sentence which says the same thing as the lengthy paragraph the class just created. “The guy threw the ball and struck the batter out.” Or, “The horse won the race.” It’s glaringly obvious to students, when asked which is the most engaging version. They know…
Of course, the next natural step is having the students highlight a part of their memoir they can rewrite in slow motion. They can then become movie-makers when writing a research report. They’re working on a paper about wolves? After watching some online videos of a wolf pack stalking their prey, they can jot down the details of what they see and draft a rich account. They’re in the process of writing a report on Matthew Henson? They can imagine the pride he felt being the first one to reach the North Pole. Then, that moment can stand in sharp contrast with the disappointment and anger he felt being shoved aside and forgotten by Robert Peary.
If you haven’t tried it already, transform your classroom into a movie screening room…and watch your students become transformed into movie makers.