Screenwriting for Short Video Classroom Course Kit for Grades 9-10

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Screenwriting for Short Video is designed to systematically and creatively immerse students in the craft of video storytelling. Students will explore the three-act structure, developing characters, writing dialogue and planning. Each student will work on a script idea of their choosing and see it come to life in the final "table reading."  Great fun and a test of both students' imagination and writing skills!

The powerful engagement of short video fascinates teenagers, who find endless opportunities to laugh, remix, and share their social capital through the Internet, on YouTube, and through many other video-sharing sites. But, as many a young person armed with a video camera has discovered, finding the magic of great storytelling isn’t nearly as easy as it looks. With an emphasis on meaningful, focused writing tasks in every lesson, Screenwriting for Short Video is a standards-driven course that encourages students to write creatively, but also to the highly prescriptive standards that films require.

Screenwriting for Short Video is designed to immerse high school students in the craft of video storytelling. Learners begin in familiar territory, exploring the concepts of genre and theme in movies they already know. Step-by-step, they master the tricks of the trade, compiling ideas, shaping dialogue, creating fascinating personalities, and investigating how conflict drives a story into production territory.

Learners experiment with the creation of compelling characters,and use clever dialogue exercises to unpack how dialoguebrings their characters to life. Storyboarding activities also promote scene creation that propels simple scripts into moving images. The course covers concepts such as sluglines, loglines,formatting, treatments, and even publicity!

This course also invites learners to put on their “film critics’ hats” and practice high-level evaluation skills. Every lesson features a new student-made film, selected for its power to illustrate new concepts supported by instruction.


Course Outline

Lesson 1 – Get Your Act Together
Students get settled in and receive an introduction to the sophisticated form of writing known as the “Screenplay.” They’ll learn about three very important concepts of screenwriting: genre, theme and the three-act structure. Students will work on developing an idea that’s close to their hearts and experiences. Learners try their hand for the first time at movie criticism with the delightful short “Oscar and Violet.”

Lesson 2 – What a Character!
This lesson explores character in a unique way in the film, “The Drum Set.” Characters make a student movie tell a story. In this lesson, students zero in on how to build compelling characters. Activities address characters’ habits, fatal flaws, catchphrases, quirks and physical attributes. Learners also explore what makes an audience care about characters, including heroes and villains, romantic leads and their foils, sidekicks, mad scientists and more.

Lesson 3 – Scene by Scene
All films—whether long or short—are built on a series of “scenes”: encapsulated depictions of action or exchanges of dialogue that take place in just one location. How many scenes does a 5-minute video need? In this lesson, students spend some time shaping their stories to fit a small time frame. Learners will laugh out loud at this lesson’s student film, “Dan and the Red Sea.” .

Lesson 4 – Storyboard
“Better Days”—an action packed film of family conflict—is a great example of a film that needs extensive storyboarding. Movie producers “get the picture” when screenwriters present their ideas in the form of storyboards—simple visual tools that provide the shorthand necessary to visualize the action. Students learn how storyboards help facilitate plotting as well as to help identify gaps in their storytelling plans.

Lesson 5 – Let’s Start Talking: Dialogue I
Call it what you will—chitchat, blather, gossip, or yakking—dialogue reveals critical information, moves story action and shapes the ways in which audiences understand character. This lesson provides ample opportunities for students to experience the effect of voice (how does a doctor say a phrase differently than a hairdresser?) on character motivation and development. “Falling Asleep for Her” provides an instructive illustration of the lesson.

Lesson 6 – Where the Action Is: Getting Your Story Moving
Yelling “Action” sounds like fun, but learners come to understand action as a key component of moving their story forward. Action is not just about car chases, it’s what happens in a space of time that provides the audience with new information about the characters. In “The Kid and the Cone”, we see how a very small event can still hold a lot of dramatic value. This lesson also covers “complicating” action.

Lesson 7 – Set Design and Story
“Sparks in the Night”—this lesson’s film, sets the stage with an elaborate gangster-filled milieu as students grapple with the meaning of “set design” …it’s not about carpentry! Students get briefed on how set design will determine the “look and feel” of their movie. They’ll use templates to “dress their sets” and see how the objects they choose in each shot will establish the mood of their video.

Lesson 8 – Talk Is NOT Cheap: Dialogue II
In this lesson, students return to the problem of creating dialogue. The film, “Transatlantique” highlights the special challenges of the use of a foreign language in film, and how hard dialogue must “work”—even when we don’t understand it! Most writers find that dialogue makes up the bulk of their creative work. Students also learn the old adage, “writing is re-writing”: how working hard to refine dialogue is a great investment for their final products.

Lesson 9 – The Buzz: Coming to a Theatre near You
Designing a publicity campaign for their own films helps students understand the broad scope of the movie-making process. A zombie fan favorite, “Brains,” perfectly illustrates the many opportunities for publicity, from the right title, to poster, to product placement. Students discover how knowing their audience helps shape their campaigns and converts interested consumers into the ticket-buying public.

Lesson 10 – Premiere Night
It’s showtime! In this final lesson, students both act and direct in portions of each others’ screenplays. Ballots for the “Frannie” awards (our version of the Oscars) will be distributed before our proud honorees step to the podium to accept their statuettes and thank their mentors. Parents and friends can also participate! This wrap-up activity provides great fun, feedback and a sense of accomplishment to all of the participants.

Training Tips

Preparing to Teach

Welcome to the staff training notes for Screenwriting for Short Video, 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 Screenwriting for Short Video 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 films 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 creativity; we want their ideas to be uncensored.

Who can teach Screenwriting for Short Video?

Any responsible, enthusiastic and well briefed group leader, teacher, volunteer, parent, or other motivated adult can teach Screenwriting for Short Video. 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 Screenwriting for Short Video?

No special technical (or theatrical) skills are necessary to teach Screenwriting for Short Video. 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. Screenwriting for Short Video is fun, so enthusiastic and positive instructors are essential "cheerleaders" in the learning process.

Screenwriting for Short Video 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 Screenwriting for Short Video?

Teaching any lesson in Screenwriting for Short Video 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.

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 Screenwriting for Short Video 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. Screenwriting for Short Video is a great jumping-off point for lessons in character education, too!

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