Imagine your students’ faces when you open class with a simple directive: “For your book club projects, I want you to make me one of these…”
You press play on the trailer for The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe:
And once the drums slow, the narrator’s voice quiets, and the action scenes fade, you hold up one of your class’s current books and add, “for this.”
As teachers of literature, we are always looking for ways to truly engage our students with their texts. Movie preview projects allow us to take students from reading the literature on the page to showing us the literature brought to life in all its nuanced complexity, on the screen!
In order to make certain your students get the most from their preview projects, and you get the most from the class time spent, let’s launch into that ever-indispensable step and quick-check formative assessment of storyboarding.
Across any project, storyboarding is implementing a graphic organizer to help students sequence out and plan the events in their stories. Depending on the complexity of the project, student storyboards can range from a hand-drawn sequence of blocks containing stick figure representations, speech bubbles to film technology that builds our digital, playable movie frames.
Here’s An Example:
No matter what method you choose for your classroom’s movie preview projects, there are 7 essential elements that will ensure your students’ storyboards align with project success. After reviewing the 7 elements listed below, you’ll leave with a workable storyboard to use today in class (aka on set)—and when your students are actually ready to film, they’ll have a clear plan and process in place.
With any novel or piece of literature your students choose, planning is key for literacy activities that hinge upon technology, and with movie preview projects, planning is greatly enhanced through the use of storyboarding. Without preplanning and troubleshooting via storyboards, students can get lost in the endless drop-down of menu options (“Should we 2.39:1 aspect ratio?!” *wailing*) or stuck in the freeze frame of indecision (*crickets*).
In the planning phase, your two primary tasks are to target your students’ focus on deep analysis of the literature and to pull the most critical thinking gusto out of every project aspect. Storyboarding is the ideal vehicle for both, so to help ensure these goals are met, incorporate a set of symbols in your storyboards that will work for you in multiple ways:
1) By streamlining and enhancing the student experience,
2) Offering ongoing assessment at a glance for you, and
3) By making the most of every precious class minute.
The symbols below can be added per frame or scene, depending on your project:
Incorporate this symbol in storyboarding to direct student focus to character dialogue. When students must select speech from a novel’s plot for something as brief as a movie preview, they are making active decisions to discern the words and phrases that best represent pivotal moments, key character traits, or major plot conflicts. Having students write dialogue on the storyboard allows you the chance to troubleshoot any misunderstandings or discuss the relevance of chosen lines before filming.
Start the discussion: Why is this line important to include in your movie preview? What does this line help viewers understand about this story? How does the audience learn about your character’s needs or situation from these lines?
*Remind students there should be scenes—or even flashes of scenes—that include no dialogue or that are shown as the off-camera narrator is speaking.
2. Music Note
Incorporate this symbol to direct student focus to selecting the accompanying music and sounds for the preview. Your students’ choices can give you a glimpse into how well they understand the novel’s pacing, mood, and tone.
Start the discussion: Tell me why you chose this type of music. How does this music match the mood of the novel? How does it match the mood of the scene being shown? How does it align with the part of the plot you have depicted in this frame?
*This may be as simple as “no music, slow footsteps,” “heavy drums here,” “slow and eerie”—or perhaps even “louder/faster.”
We know that the order of scenes is important, but don’t forget that the timing of each scene can also give you a good indication of the students’ clarity on pacing, plot movement, foreshadowing, and exposition. If students are neglecting formative scenes or including superfluous detail, you’ll be able to spot it in their decisions for time allocation.
Start the discussion: I see that you have a scene that is ___ seconds—first, why did this scene make the cut for this preview? Second, why did you decide to show the entire scene/cut the scene in half? How do the scenes around this one provide the viewer with enough understanding for it to make sense?
*This may also be where you address the use of transitions. Are the students’ scenes fading to black each time, cutting away, or cascading slowly? Have them consider how any transition choice might impact viewer understanding of the novel’s tone and pacing.
Allowing both you and the students to have an awareness of the setting plan for each scene will not only save you time (and sanity) on filming days, but it gives you a good indication of a student’s visualization skillset and overall grasp of the novel. If they are picking up on tone and mood, these elements will be incorporated in their scene depictions.
Start the discussion: What should this scene look like to a viewer? What clues does the author give you on how to present this scene accurately? How will you communicate that to the viewer?
*This is the perfect time to address the realities of filming in school versus filming on a set (with a large budget and plenty of crew). Encourage students to be creative in the settings that are critical to the preview but that are impossible to create. Could they project backgrounds via green screen? Or might they simulate the setting another way?
5. Speaking Head
Overlying narration is your check on student ability to adequately summarize the plot of the novel. When you can take a quick glance at the narrator’s scripted speech via storyboard, you can instantly recognize many typical errors—such as too much detail or over generalizations—and discuss how they can lose or confuse viewers.
Start the discussion: If I asked you to give me the short version of your book, what would you say? Why is this part of the narration important to my understanding of the book?
*This is an ideal moment to remind students not to give away the ending. Have them think about previews they’ve seen before that left them aching to see the movie. If the narrator had given away the ending, would they have been as interested in seeing the film? What did the narrator actually say that had them wishing so badly for a ticket?
6. Video Camera
This is a time saver in regard to camera angle on filming day. If they’re intending on hovering a camera drone above a scene, you want to know long before the camera starts rolling…er, flying. You also want to make certain the students are considering what the most critical takeaway is for each scene, and that they are focusing the camera to make sure that element comes across.
Start the discussion: From what angle do you want to film this scene and why? Will you show the entire set or zoom in on someone or something? What is the most important takeaway for your viewer to catch in this scene?
*Encouraging creative depiction here can drastically change the students’ perceptions of their final preview. If students are planning on filming each scene in the same manner, have them justify why. Suggest variation by demonstrating if needed—perhaps zoom in on just one character’s reaction to another’s powerful dialogue, or have students watch a sample (real) movie preview—and discuss the impact of variation.
When students begin drawing out storyboards on paper or software, they may need more than just arrows (alongside the mandated stick figures) to indicate complex action. Beside this symbol, students can indicate what action is happening in each scene, and you can instantly see if students are indeed applying a heightened awareness of pivotal event impact. They can script out character or setting movements—from the most basic, “Anna turns away from camera” to the more involved, “Man leaves. Matthew slams fists onto table after door closes.” With either, by writing out these actions, you can save the time needed to draw out more detailed depictions.
Start the discussion: What is important for a viewer to see happening in this scene? Why is this action necessary for viewer understanding?
*This is a good place to discuss what action is necessary versus what is superfluous. In a novel, detailed descriptions of character actions abound, but in a preview, the action often needs to be fast-forwarded to show what the viewer needs to know.
A general rule to keep in mind when introducing these storyboards to your students is that each frame equals one scene from the book (make exceptions as needed). Also, remember that the final movie previews will be comprised of many of these printable storyboards, and as such, you may wish to provide your groups with a method for organizing and housing them. Whether or not your students’ completed previews capture a new audience for their blockbuster-book (as they often will!), with solid storyboards that illustrate the depth of their novel knowledge, your crew will experience a memorable and transformative literature study.