Case Study: Writing for film

John Roberts

John Roberts is a teaching advisor at A Tale Unfolds. With over 40 years experience as a primary teacher and headteacher, during his career, John’s great passion was for creative writing. As video technology became more commonplace in schools, he used his passion for creative writing to produce films written entirely by the student’s themselves.

Follow @ATaleUnfolds

Website: ataleunfolds.co.uk/ Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

During my primary-teaching career of over 40 years, I found that making films with pupils was a perfect way to increase engagement and progress through what becomes covert learning, as they get completely wrapped up in the excitement of having a real purpose for their work; a film premiere in their school or even the local community. For children who live in today’s digital age, it is the perfect way to combine the school’s primary agenda (to show improvement) with that of a child; to have as much fun as possible.

Suzi’s take on Ann’s Last Day


Suzi (Y5) was writing a script for a short film about a girl in our school who had drowned in the nearby River Lyne one winter’s day in 1934. Not the cheeriest of storylines, I thought, but she had different ideas.


“I’m not writing about the drowning,” she said in a low voice, “that would be manky.”
“Try morbid, it’s a better word.”
“That would be morbid. I’m writing about her returning.”
“Returning?” I tried to keep my voice low like hers.
“Returning. Here. Now. Here in our school to talk to us.”
“About?”
“The run up to the accident. What life was like in 1934, how bad the winter storms were, what she ate for dinner, why she went home that way, what was in her mind.”
“Tell me what’s in your mind Suzi.”


“Well, I see her and I can describe her to you, and she comes here quite quietly into our class and tells us all about her day. Her last day. I’m calling it ‘Ann’s Last Day’. She takes us down to the river and we follow and she describes everything she sees. She takes us to that last step near the ford - we see her face and she looks so sad. We say ‘goodbye’, and she says ‘goodbye’, and I think that’s what she needed, just to say ‘goodbye’.”


“You see this?”
“I see it all.”


"We talked about camera angles and light. We noted the close ups and the music to set the mood. We talked about what the director wanted us to feel."


Suzi saw the picture of the story long before she chose the words. She saw the development of the story, saw the main character, even empathised with her and saw the ending. The script painted the picture in her head. After she wrote the script which she completed at home, we discussed close ups, long shots, panoramic shots, even music…all the things necessary to do justice to the images in her head.


Suzi was already an accomplished writer. She had all the skills to know when to use powerful verbs, adverbial clauses, smart connectives. She could sit a Y6 SAT paper and breeze a level 5 but that would mean nothing to her. Her writing needed to have more purpose. Films gave her that purpose.


I used films a great deal to improve creative writing with my mixed-age class (Y3 to Y6) in my small rural school in north Cumbria. We watched and analysed short films and excerpts from various movies. We talked about camera angles and light. We noted the close ups and the music to set the mood. We talked about what the director wanted us, the audience, to feel. Two boys in year 3, who struggled to read words, had immediate access to the story and felt that they ‘got it‘ just as much as the older and more capable pupils. Using film to analyse a story line is something that all children can do. Getting them to make their own film is something that drives them forward and gives them a goal.


"Once a child realises that their ideas, images and writing will be presented to an audience, the drive for them to improve what they do is tangible"


Writing for film has two defining aspects. The first is the manifestation of the child’s creative ideas written down in the form of a script. The second is the realisation that this film will be shown for others to see, and this in itself brings about improvement in writing. Once a child realises that their ideas, their images and in particular their writing will be presented to an audience, the drive for them to improve what they do is tangible. They have the self motivation to search for better ways to express themselves, look for more powerful words, empathise more with the characters, making the teacher’s job more to do with guiding than instructing. The exciting fact that their creative ideas will be presented in the form of a film for anyone to see spurs them on to produce writing that gives them a sense of purpose and fulfilment.


Suzi completed the film of ‘Ann’s Last Day’, though she wasn’t happy with the first draft which she shared with the class.


“There’s something not right,” she said. “Something at the end of it all. The last scene. It doesn’t say what I want it to say.”
“Well OK, Suzi”, said Sam, one of the boys in year 3 who had difficulty with reading… “why did she come back to see us then?”
“Erm….” Suzi was struggling with her reply. I let the silence linger in the class.
“I know why,” said Sam with the slightest of twinkles. “She wants us to remember her. There you go, Suzi, there’s your last scene.”
“Brilliant Sam, cheers,” laughed Suzi. “The last scene… she turns to look at us all and whispers ever so slowly in the dying light, ‘please remember me’.”
I turned to the class and said, “Looks like you’ve done exactly that.”


[Written with the assistance of
Dominic Traynor]


Have you used film-writing in your school? Let us know in the comments.

Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support us.
When you register, you'll join a grassroots community where you can:
• Enjoy unlimited access to articles
• Get recommendations tailored to your interests
• Attend virtual events with our leading contributors
Register Now
Login

Latest stories

  • How to handle stress while teaching in a foreign country
    How to handle stress while teaching in a foreign country

    Teaching English in a foreign country is likely to be one of the most demanding experiences you'll ever have. It entails relocating to a new country, relocating to a new home, and beginning a new career, all of which are stressful in and of themselves, but now you're doing it all at once. And you'll have to converse in a strange language you may not understand.

  • Is Learning Fun for You, Teacher?
    Is Learning Fun for You, Teacher?

    Over the weekend, my family of five went to an Orlando theme park, and I decided we should really enjoy ourselves by purchasing an Unlimited Quick Queue pass. It was so worth the money! We rode every ride in the park at least twice, but one ride required us to ride down a rapidly flowing river, which quenched us with water. It was incredible that my two-year-old was laughing as well. We rode the Infinity Falls ride four times in one day—BEST DAY EVER for FAMILY FUN in the Sun! The entire experience was epic, full of energizing emotions and, most importantly, lots of smiles. What made this ride so cool was that the whole family could experience it together, the motions were on point, and the water was the icing on the cake. It had been a while since I had that type of fun, and I will never forget it.

  • Free recycling-themed resources for KS1 and KS2
    Free recycling-themed resources for KS1 and KS2

    The Action Pack is back for the start of the brand new school year, just in time for Recycle Week 2021 on 20 - 26 September, to empower pupils to make the world a better and more sustainable place. The free recycling-themed resources are designed for KS1 and KS2 and cover the topics of Art, English, PSHE, Science and Maths and have been created to easily fit into day-to-day lesson planning.

  • Inspire your pupils with Emma Raducanu
    Inspire your pupils with Emma Raducanu

    Following the exceptional performance from British breakthrough star Emma Raducanu, who captured her first Grand Slam at the US Open recently, Emmamania is already inspiring pupils aged 4 - 11 to get more involved in tennis - and LTA Youth, the flagship
    programme from The LTA, the governing body of tennis in Britain, has teachers across the country covered.

  • 5 ways to boost your school's eSafety
    5 ways to boost your school's eSafety

    eSafety is a term that constantly comes up in school communities, and with good reason. Students across the world are engaging with technology in ways that have never been seen before. This article addresses 5 beginning tips to help you boost your school’s eSafety. 

  • Tackling inequality in EdTech
    Tackling inequality in EdTech

    We have all been devastated by this pandemic that has swept the world in a matter of weeks. Schools have rapidly had to change the way they operate and be available for key workers' children. The inequalities that have long existed in communities and schools are now being amplified by the virus.

  • EdTech review & The Curriculum Lab
    EdTech review & The Curriculum Lab

    The world is catching up with a truth that we’ve championed at Learning Ladders for the last 5 years - that children’s learning outcomes are greatly improved by teachers, parents and learners working in partnership. 

  • Reducing primary to secondary transition stress
    Reducing primary to secondary transition stress

    As school leaders grapple with the near impossible mission to start bringing more students into schools from 1st June, there are hundreds of thousands of Year 6 pupils thinking anxiously about their move to secondary school.

  • Generation Z and online tutoring: natural bedfellows?
    Generation Z and online tutoring: natural bedfellows?

    The K-12 online tutoring market is booming around the world, with recent research estimating it to grow by 12% per year over the next five years, a USD $60bn increase. By breaking down geographic barriers and moving beyond the limits of local teaching expertise, online tutoring platforms are an especially valuable tool for those looking to supplement their studies in the developing world, and students globally are increasingly signing up to online tuition early on in their secondary education schooling. 

  • Employable young people or human robots?
    Employable young people or human robots?

    STEM skills have been a major focus in education for over a decade and more young people are taking science, technology, engineering, and maths subjects at university than ever before, according to statistics published by UCAS. The downside of this is that the UK is now facing a soft skills crisis and the modern world will also require children to develop strong social skills as the workplaces are transformed by technology. 

In order to make our website better for you, we use cookies!

Some firefox users may experience missing content, to fix this, click the shield in the top left and "disable tracking protection"