post by Jackie Epler, 2018-19 Associate of The Educator Collaborative
Studying Films Encourages Elementary Writers
I have used the Writer’s Workshop model in my elementary classroom for many years. This approach has helped me guide writers of all abilities. To provide my students with the best exemplars, I model, present student-published work, and share mentor texts. Mentor texts are a bit of a sticking point for me though: are they enough? They have been a mainstay in my classroom, but do published texts provide enough of a model for elementary learners, or can we better incorporate other mediums too? So, recently, I experimented with introducing films as an additional mentor medium. I know this approach is sometimes used in the secondary setting, but I have not seen it readily employed at the elementary level.
I argue that studying film can equally encourage elementary writers, especially for students who require visual learning tools. When students watch a film, they are viewing a published piece. The many drafts of the script are not available, but we, as writers, know that there were many iterations of the film’s story before it was released.
I’ve used films to enhance the learning of all my writers, but I was most inspired to incorporate them because of my ELL and classified student populations. As a class, we usually watch a Pixar short and analyze how the final product came to be. We focus on how writers may have brainstormed the original idea, how they crafted characters, if they may have used storyboards, and how many times they may have edited and revised all components of the film before we watched the final product. I discuss how the writing process in school is very similar to not only the writing process used by published authors, but also by screenwriters.
We then include some of our discussion points into our writing process. Rather than only writing out our ideas, we use sketch notes or storyboards to help brainstorm. When drafting, some students elect to sketch the entire story before putting a single word on their page. Developing the visual helps them to better imagine the story. This process has been remarkably beneficial to students who have limited vocabularies and/or many grammatical errors because they can share their story ideas with their peers and receive peer feedback without worrying about word choice and mechanics. Their peer conferences also help them better craft their characters’ development. The visual representations of their stories act as the building block. Then, the next steps in the writing process begin.
I’m not saying to skip mentor texts and simply use films as mentor pieces. Rather, I believe using them in tandem helps to elevate the quality of the writing experience. Students who sometimes have difficulty with the writing process are able to view it through a different lens and develop complex plots and characters.
For your next writing unit, search for short films that can enhance your writers’ pieces. There is a wide range of choices out there that you can turn to which will act as a bridge for all of your writers.