I found a project through Twitter for teaching students to think like a filmmaker. The project, for grades 6 to 8, is written by Judy Storm Fink and is published at the NCTE website, readwritethink.org. The project title is You Know the Movie is Coming—Now What?.
This is a complex project with lots of supplementary material. As someone who sees very few movies I think that the ability to teach this as written would depend in part your own familiarity with the books and movies discussed. Some experience as a filmmaker would also be helpful. That said, this is a well thought out project which will, at the least, offer you lots of ideas for getting your students to think about the difference between telling a story with words and telling a story through video.
The hook for the assignment as Fink proposes it is that there will soon be a movie released based on a familiar book. Given how easy it is to show a movie in class I don’t think it necessary to tie this project into a topical new release.
Perhaps my biggest critique of this project is that its goals are too narrow. I see this project as a way of getting kids to understand that thinking about filmmaking helps them think about the mechanics of storytelling in general. It teaches that your perspective as an author changes as you change formats of any kind, whether that is a change from poem to short story — short store to novella — novella to novel — or words to video. Along with changes in perspective that format changes entail, so too there are changes in the literary devises used to tell the story.
Fink’s project focus on the technical devices of moviemaking. This is the project’ s strength but also I think its weakness. To teach the methods of filmmaking without being a filmmaker will be difficult. Two lists are provided, one (the online list) more detailed than the other. Many of the terms are complex in that they suggest a world of possibilities. From the online list I offer ellipsis by way of example:
A term that refers to periods of time that have been left out of the narrative. The ellipsis is marked by an editing transitions which, while it leaves out a section of the action, none the less signifies that something has been elided. Thus, the fade or dissolve could indicate a passage of time, a wipe, a change of scene and so on. A jump cut transports the spectator from one action and time to another, giving the impression of rapid action or of disorientation if it is not matched.
You could spend many writing projects on the ellipsis in a written narrative. The transposition to film is clearly complicated. This brief introduction to the concept lists five different cinematic techniques for implementing an ellipsis.
Overall, I’d slow this project down, and simplify the exploration of cinematic technique. I’d work with one scene in one story and explore different ways — different cinematic techniques — that could be used to tell that story. In the same way, one might take that same passage and turn it into a poem which would make it possible to speak about the techniques of poetry as a literary form in the context of this project which requires students to think about the how of storytelling more than the what of the story.
Lastly, making a film ought to be one of the possible products of the assignment. Take a look at our resources for young filmmakers pages to give your students some ideas about how they might do this.