Being a Screenwriter Part 2: Writing Your Screenplay Course Kit for Grades 6-8

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This 10-unit, project-based screenwriting curriculum is designed to enrich the writing and language skills of students in grades 6-8. This fun, engaging course gets right down to the business of developing scripts and encourages learners to brainstorm their experiences for a story idea. Students will then translate their ideas into a authentic script through in this fun curriculum. They'll learn how to mesh characters, dialogue and scenes into an interesting and entertaining short film!

The critical thinking skills essential to successful communication get a workout in real-life screenwriting tasks. Learners’ activities focus on extending ideas, leveraging creativity, encouraging conceptual development, and putting writing into a context of fun and imagination. Students use reflective journaling techniques to “freewrite,” practice dialogue, storyboard and sketch scenes, and to practice criticism and evaluation of their own work and the work of their peers. 

Working from clips of an actual movie, Being a Screenwriter 2 also provides young writers with real-world examples of the concepts they are trying to master. Young writers come to grips with the notion of a screenplay as a plan, and learn to recognize the skills and attitudes of negotiating, flexibility and adaptation as fundamental to writing success!

In Part 2, Writing Your Screenplay students armed with loglines, pitches and treatments are ready to jump right in to the work of turning their initial sketches into fully conceptualized and workable screen instructions. Step-by-step, they master the tricks of the trade, compiling ideas, shaping dialogues, creating fascinating personae, and investigating how conflict drives a story into production territory.


Course Outline

Lesson 1: Screenwriting 101 - Keys to a Great Script
A quick review of the screenwriting basics - genre, theme, setting, protagonist and antagonist - reinvigorates classroom excitement about the screenwriting enterprise. Students use a "Three-Act Structure" poster to launch their writing progress.

Lesson 2: Understanding Scenes - The Building Blocks of a Screenplay
Using a logline, learners begin the process of sketching the fundamental scenes of a hypothetical movie. Next, students apply scene structure diagramming to their own exciting movie ideas.

Lesson 3: The Scene Outline - Planning Your Screenplay
Students create their movie "blueprints" in Lesson 3, sketching up to fifteen different scenes for their upcoming blockbusters. Working with a partner, learners exchange ideas and get their frameworks for success down on paper.

Lesson 4: How Screenwriters Write - Screenplay Formatting
Form and function of the parts of a screenplay become abundantly clear to learners as they participate in a "table reading." Students have fun as they channel Pitt and Jolie in an exercise that helps them differentiate the unique purpose of individual script elements.

Lesson 5: How to Start a Screenplay - Writing Slug Lines and Transitions
Getting from one scene to the next is one of the most challenging tasks for screenwriters. In this lesson, learners get acquainted with the "fade," "cut," and "dissolve" techniques and begin to see the shape of their storylines.

Lesson 6: What Your Characters Do - Writing Action
From a raised eyebrow to a high-speed chase, all action in a screenplay can be scripted, and its relationship to character is critical. Learners develop "action points" in two activities in this lesson.

Lesson 7: How Characters Talk -The Importance of Dialogue
Dramatic language - the language that moves both stories and audiences - gets its due in this intriguing experiment with dialogue. Learners also test their knowledge of hallmark movie moments in a game of "Name That Quote."

Lesson 8: Writing Dialogue - Deciding What Their Characters Will Say
Before diving in to their own dialogue, learners practice dialogue formatting. Then they begin to reveal their quirky, evil or brainy characters for each scene developed earlier in Lesson 3’s "blueprint."

Lesson 9: Bringing It All Together - Finishing Your Screenplay
Great writers, and even screenwriters, know that sharing their work with others helps them identify their script’s greatest strengths and weaknesses. Feedback from fellow screenwriters in this peer review helps students put their best foot forward - before the cameras roll!

Lesson 10: Your Script Comes to Life - The Table Reading
Scripts at the ready, learners take on the roles of actors and hear the results of their hard work in this culminating activity. Even a "director" gets to participate. Ready? Lights, camera, action!


Instructor’s Guide 

Every step is taken to provide an easy-to-follow format and informative, fun-to-read instructions for each lesson. In addition to a brief listing of objectives, materials, and set-up procedures, useful icons point the instructor to a number of key elements:

Notes for the Instructor: Brief instructor notes introduce the subject matter and challenges presented in the particular lesson. They often contain real-life, age-appropriate examples from movies that most students have seen.

Notes for the Students: These notes “set the stage” for each lesson by presenting brief material to read, listen to, and discuss.

Vocabulary: New and relevant terms are defined here. Note, too, the comprehensive “Glossary” at the end of the Instructor’s Guide and Student Books.

Activity Description: Here, step-by-step procedures are provided for both the instructor’s demonstration and the students’ immersion in the activity.

Wrap-up: Discussion-provoking questions and summary-type activities are designed to revisit the day’s learning and help students take their inquiry further.

Clean-up: Clear instruction on preserving and storing materials is provided to ensure kit longevity and cost effectiveness.

Other Destinations: To extend lessons and deepen understanding across disciplinary and cultural divides, relevant links to multimedia, web resources, and fun at-home or extension activities are provided here.

Student Books

Designed for students to record their writings class after class, the Student Books acquire a quality that keeps the young screenwriters engaged in their project over time. The books serve as companions to the Instructor’s Guide and contain activity worksheets, questions to spark the imagination, and are a tool for students to brainstorm their screenplay ideas.  

Companion Resources

When you adopt Being a Screenwriter2, your instructors will have access to a number of companion resources. The Resource CD includes tutorials for each lesson, lesson extensions, and other great ideas for the classroom. Word search and crossword puzzles help reinforce newly learned and used vocabulary. Links to other multimedia resources provide authentic lesson extensions. If your organization does not have access to CD drives we can substitute a USB thumb drive with all the electronc resources at no extra charge. 


Tools for Teaching

Quick Start Tips for Teachers

Preparing Staff to Teach “Being a Screenwriter”

Welcome to the staff training notes for Being a Screenwriter, a series of 10 hands-on lessons in creativity and literacy. This program is ideal for after-school programs, summer and vacation camps, scout troops, church youth groups and anywhere that young people gather.

The challenges in teaching Being a Screenwriter are unique, and the success of each lesson depends on teaching with clarity, listening attentively, being ready to help students understand new information, and encouraging productivity.

This course requires that students write in response to a series of activities. Although students’ ideas are produced in their activity books or journals, it’s critical not to make them think that their writing will be judged. We are not interested in spelling or grammatical correctness or the “right” answers in this course. Instead, we want students to feel empowered in their writing; we want their ideas to be uncensored.

Who can teach Being a Screenwriter?

Any responsible, enthusiastic and well briefed group leader, teacher, volunteer, parent, or other motivated adult can teach Being a Screenwriter. The text is easy to read and understand, the set-ups are detailed and uncomplicated, and the processes and procedures are clearly explained in the Lesson pages. Adults act as coaches and mentors, and guide learners as they proceed through the lessons.

What special skills does the instructor need to teach Being a Screenwriter?

No special technical (or theatrical) skills are necessary to teach Being a Screenwriter. Instructors should be well organized, motivated and observant individuals. Volunteers--such as other instructors or parents--can be helpful in ensuring that all students are proceeding through their roles and making progress in their understanding. Being a Screenwriter is fun, so enthusiastic and positive instructors are essential "cheerleaders" in the learning process.

Being a Screenwriter seems to contain a lot of film terminology and procedures. Wouldn’t it be better if we had a real filmmaker helping out with the project?

If you’re like most Americans, you’ve seen thousands of movies, videos, commercials and television shows.  You know more about how a film is made than you think you do—and now you’ll have the tools and vocabulary to discuss them.

We’ve designed each activity to teach an important lesson in the structure and development of storytelling through film. These activities promote both fun and learning, and the Notes for the Instructor (provided in each section) offers the "context" in which learners’ understanding is scaffolded and strengthened.

How can instructors most effectively deliver the lessons in Being a Screenwriter?

Teaching any lesson in Being a Screenwriter is easy if the instructor is well prepared. Follow these steps before every lesson.

  • Read the entire lesson before you teach so you know what sort of outcome you are trying to achieve.
  • Familiarize yourself with the vocabulary and background information.
  • Identify the corresponding pages (where appropriate) in the Student Activity Book and review them so you know how to guide students to "fill in" their part of the activity. This step is essential because much of what students accomplish in their books will ultimately contribute to putting together their final “treatment” for a screenplay presentation.
  • Open the Course Kit and locate all of the materials you need for each lesson.
  • Set up your classroom so that it s easy for students to work in groups of 2 or 4.
  • Set up your demonstration area with all appropriate materials at hand.

Review the entire lesson with any volunteers who will help you teach the lesson.

You can start every class with “shaking loose”

Before a class starts, try this exercise to help your young writers getting their “writing juices” flowing:

  • Gather all of your class members in a circle. Tell them “I know you are all powerful and capable writers, but sometimes getting the words out of your head and onto the paper can be a challenge. So, for the next two minutes, we are going to shake your ideas loose.”
  • Ask all of the students to sit down. Turn down the lights, and if you have some soft, meditative music, allow it to play in the background. Explain:
  • “If you are right-handed, then you are left-brain dominant. That means you think logically. If you are left-handed, then you are right-brain dominant, which means you think holistically and creatively. But you need both parts of your brain to make a movie. You must think how a story proceeds in an orderly fashion, but you also have to think visually, about scenes, and color, and symbols.  
  • So, close your eyes. Slowly stretch your non-dominant hand over your head, then bring it back to in front of you. Now gently shake it. Remember, don’t shake the hand you write with—you need to get the “other” side of your brain going!
  • Close your eyes, empty your mind, and shake that hand. You don’t have to shake it hard. But for the next minute, keep silent, and focus just on shaking your hand.”
  • After one minute, ask students how they feel, what they saw in their minds, or if they got any new ideas. This way of beginning a class allows students to feel that they are preparing to write, and it underscores the idea that writing is a deliberate and cognitive activity.
  • Have students return to their seats and start the lesson.

Think of teaching “Being a Screenwriter” as running an “idea factory”

Being a screenwriter is about helping students discover their ideas and get them down on paper in an organized way.

Start your class with “shaking loose” (see above).

After students return to their seats, review what you accomplished in the previous class, and ask whether or not students need more review or clarification before proceeding with the new material. Don’t hesitate to review some of the vocabulary at the beginning of the lesson.

When you introduce new material and procedures, take a moment to assess how much students already know. For example, in a lesson on settings, ask students to name the setting of a show they may have seen on television in the past few days. Students will be stimulated and excited when they get a chance to "show off" a little of their cinematic knowledge.

Keep a stack of “Journal Kickstarts” at the ready

Some students are simply faster or more prolific writers than others. Getting the writing started is sometimes the most difficult part of a writing lesson.

You can facilitate a student’s writing by offering a “kickstart”—a writing prompt or unfinished sentence which the student completes in his or her journal.

For example, try these kickstarts for Lesson 8: The Hero/Heroine’s Journey

Complete the following sentences:

  • I suddenly realized that I had a challenge before me: How would I …..
  • An ordinary day for me looks like this:
  • My clothes always say something about me. When I got up this morning, I put on ….
  • I could not have succeeded without the help of …..

Extend your lesson

Instructors--particularly those with access to computer labs--can extend their lessons by reading through many of the activities described in the Other Directions, Discussions and Destinations section at the end of each lesson. Even if there's no computer available in the classroom, many activities can be adapted by an instructor who takes the time to visit the recommended websites before delivering a lesson.

Consult your colleagues

Many lessons in Being a Screenwriter have cross-disciplinary applications. Talk with other teachers in your school or program about the ways in which what they are teaching might connect to your lesson. As you plan and prepare, ask your colleagues for good “discussion starters.” Show them the activity sheets and materials you are using, and ask for their experience in teaching about narrative processes. Being a Screenwriter is a great jumping-off point for lessons in character education, too!

Be safe

All of the materials and activities in Being a Screenwriter have been prepared with the greatest concern for student and instructor safety. Please read safety precautions closely before every lesson and make sure that when you are working you have provided adequate light, space, and information to ensure that all participants are afforded the highest level of safety possible. Always know where emergency help and supplies are located.

And don’t forget to have fun!

Customer Quotes

“Great of the best curriculum's out there, great help for teaching our video class”

- Christine R., Principal, Trinity Lutheran School, Kalispell, MT

“Screenwriting was awesome, our kids really loved these activities. It was also really nice to provide such a creative curriculum that addresses the standards in such a fun way.”

- Heather S., Director, After School, City of Fairfield, CA

“Having taught at the high school and college level, I was impressed with this curriculum. The materials and guidance were well put together and very thoughtful.”

- Michael L., Artist, Shea After School, Syracuse, NY

“This amazing program has enabled my students to comprehend the process of forensic science as well as the sophisticated vocabulary encompassed in the program's lessons.”

- Erica T., Freehold Public Schools, Freehold, NJ

“This is a well organized course that I would highly recommend to other programs.”

- Chad S., Teacher, School #18, Buffalo, NY

“The program is awesome! I’m doing it as part of an after school enrichment time. Our kids really enjoy the projects and it’s wonderful to use as everything is provided.”

- Karen S.,Teacher, Olympic Middle School, WA

“This is the perfect kind of activity for afterschool. It’s fun; students learn by getting involved. Everybody wants to be a part of it!”

- Kim L., Program Leader, Child and Adolescent Treatment Services, Buffalo NY

“They love it…it’s awesome. Kids are dying to get in it!”

- Audrey A., Teacher, Clifford Marshall Elementary School, Quincy, MA

“The Missing Money Mystery was very easy to follow. The children had such a great time at it, we even allowed our group to re-enact the entire mystery. This mystery was fantastic, and we are looking forward to our next exercise!”

- Jackie. J., Director/Detective, Hempstead P.A.L., Hempstead, NY

“The students were engaged and enjoyed the experiments. The story keeps the activities meaningful and provided an interested way to connect Florida Standards. The teacher’s manual was easy to follow and materials in the kits made it very convenient for set up. Overall, this is a great thing to do in afterschool and during the summer!”

- Betty C., Teacher, Genesis Center, Leesburg FL

“Playing with Percussion offers an exciting doorway to exploring percussion, communication skills and learning about different cultures.”

- Sheila K., Site Leader, Accord Corp, Youth Services Division, Belfast NY

“Our kids enjoyed making their own instruments, especially sanding. Playing all those grooves at the end was a lot of fun!”

- Nina P., Music teacher, Napa, CA

“The Cookie Jar Mystery was such a big hit at the middle school…which has been tough.”

- Charlie E., Teacher, Lexington County Schools, SC

“The Cookie Jar Mystery went really well, the kids talked about it for weeks. They were very excited and intrigued with the hands-on activities and I really enjoyed teaching it!”

- Brook T.,Teacher, Lincoln Middle Schools, TN