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Year 6 Exploring poetry through film

This week Year 6 reached the end of the Narrative Filmmaking unit which I have been developing over the last four years. In fact, this particular cohort of children is the first to have completed four years of the media literacy programmes I introduced when I joined the school.

This term’s curriculum focus was WW2 and so decided the context for the final film project. However, in the preliminary stages of the unit, I took the opportunity to introduce film grammar using Majid Majidi’s Children of Heaven. This film has become a staple ‘text’ when studying film literacy in the classroom as it’s a beautifully told story which is full of human values centred around children. The film also represents cinema in it’s purest form minus CGI and other such distractions; it’s beautifully shot and as it’s told in Persian (there isn’t actually a great deal of dialogue), illustrates the power of visual literacy. It also represents an authentic opportunity to expose children to an intimate view of another culture. As a side note, I have now shown the film to 800 Year 6 children at Tanglin and only one has ever seen it which raises questions about viewing habits in this age of endless choice.

I was very pleased to discover a brilliant set of resources for the film at Journeys in Film here.

I used Intofilm’s 3Cs and 3Ss literacy tool to instigate discussion based on the opening sequence of the film in order to unpack some of the cinematic methods a director uses when establishing the story.  Next came activities aimed at developing an awareness of film grammar. I have found that a good grounding in composition is crucial in order to develop a working knowledge of shot types/angles.  I have developed a technique which I’ve called ‘screenshot storyboarding’ to help children understand how a director visualises a scene. This involves the children screenshotting consecutive shots in a given sequence and then arranging them in order before labelling and annotating. Building on real examples from cinema, the children then create their own screenshot storyboards for simple stories using their ipads. This allows them to apply their theoretical understanding of film grammar whilst getting a ‘feel’ how different shots are composed.

Composition and framing are constantly referred to when describing the purpose of a particular shot in relation to the story. Being members of the most visually literate generation in history, the children are very quick to describe what they see and enjoy using the terminology. However, composing shots to effectively communicate meaning takes practice.

Production is next. I have written a number of simple screenplays usually featuring interaction between two characters, which can be quickly rehearsed and blocked then filmed in a one-hour session. The children in groups of four (camera/director/cast) shoot these scenes in an environment in which exploration is encouraged but discipline maintained through the use of film set protocol. The pattern for the next four sessions involves an hour of production, an hour of editing/screening followed by an open critical discussion.  This shoot/edit/critique cycle creates powerful circumstances for the children to learn from their mistakes and make discoveries about what works and what doesn’t. iPads are used for this shoot/edit cycle for convenience, footage from the iPad used to film can be quickly airdropped to peers for editing and then screened via airplay.

After a couple of rounds of this shoot/edit cycle, the children were briefed with a final project which involved the children collaborating to present a WW2 poem.

Master shot technique

For the children’s first experience of production, I use a simple screenplay which has been become known as “Outy Outy”. It features two students, one of which is intent on irritating the other. It’s easy to compose and shoot in terms of blocking with one static potentially seated actor and the other moving into the frame.

The scene is learnt easily quickly rehearsed by the actors and then the director and camera operator block the scene. I’ve had great success with this production which can be completed within limits of an hour session.

Shot 1

Shot 2

Shot 3

Final film

My whole approach to classroom filmmaking is to allow children to learn film through carefully chosen mentor texts followed by activities in which they can practise, experiment, make mistakes and get a feel for the process. The sessions are structured carefully to introduce key concepts of both learning to read a film and then draw on this knowledge in guided production sessions. The ultimate aim is that children will be inspired to create their own films in their own time.

The Final Films

Film, Media Literacy