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Movie-Making in the Classroom

By Beth Newingham on January 5, 2010
  • Grades: 3–5

In our classroom, we enjoy making movies to extend our learning.  Writing scripts and working together to display our knowledge in a creative way are both benefits of movie-making in the classroom.  We use the movie-making process to help us understand, reinforce, and review new concepts we are learning in different areas of the curriculum.  We also make creative movies to enhance our ability to write interesting stories. I have found that movie-making is a great way to build community among students, hone students’ writing skills, engage students’ creative imaginations, and instill confidence even in those students who might begin the school year afraid to be in front of the camera. Movie-making is a certainly a collaborative and exciting way to make learning come alive in your classroom!

READ ON to learn how to start making movies with the students in your classroom.  You will find software suggestions, tips for using a makeshift green screen, and examples of creative movies we've made in our classroom!



What You Need to Get Started


  • Video Camera: You will need a digital video camera to shoot the scenes and then capture the scenes onto your computer for editing.  We use a Sony Handycam and also my Flip Video camera to shoot scenes of my students when making movies in our classroom.




  • Computer With Ample Hard Drive Space: Video takes up a great deal of space on your computer's hard drive, so it is important to use a computer with adequate hard drive space.



  • Green Screen (optional): If you are planning to create movies in which students will pretend to be in places other than your classroom, you may choose to use the green screen/chroma key effect. (You can read more about this later in my post.)  In order to do this, you can create a makeshift green screen using a green or turquoise blanket or sheet.  (Pinnacle Studio Ultimate version 12 comes with a green sheet that is approximately 6 ft x 5.5 ft.)



  • Costumes (optional): Over the years, I have gathered many costumes and accessories that students have used in many of our class movies.  Hitting post-Halloween sales or using old clothes of my own have helped me add to my ever-growing costume boxes.  My students also often put together their own costumes using clothing and props from home.



  • Tripod (optional): It is often helpful to have a tripod when filming scenes in your classroom.  This will ensure that your footage is not jerky or blurred. By using a sturdy tripod, students can also take turns being the camera operator.





The Process of Making a Class Movie


Madi Take One I know going in to any school year that I will make at least two movies with my entire class.  Whether we make the movies to promote a schoolwide event or as a culminating activity for a unit of study, the goal is to involve my students in a collaborative and purposeful activity.  The steps below explain the process of making a class movie.






IMG_0265[1] The process begins at our class meeting where we decide on a topic or theme for a class movie. Oftentimes an idea has already surfaced during a learning experience in our classroom, and we gather together to brainstorm and develop specific ideas as a class. This is a way for all students to be involved in the planning process. Students take turns explaining their ideas to the class, and I list all of the ideas on chart paper. Movie ideas in my classroom have ranged from a creative adventure that highlighted places in our local community to a fun yet informative reenactment of a day aboard the Titanic.  We have also created commercials promoting our schoolwide skating party. The options for movie topics are endless!




Developing a Plot and Assigning Roles


Storyboard Once we have decided on a plot, we then create a rough draft of a storyboard on chart paper. Using PowerPoint, I type the agreed upon scenes into PowerPoint slides on my computer and project them on my TV for the entire class to see.  The storyboard helps us organize and sequence our ideas to determine the different scenes that will ultimately be part of the movie.  PPT Once we determine the scenes we will need, we then list all of the acting parts in the movie and add parts (if necessary) to be sure that all students will have a role. I have yet to have a student who does not want to be in a movie, but, if this is the case, stage hands, camera operators, and set or costume designers can also be listed. I then type up the list of roles and have students rank their role choices on their own copy of the list. I try to give each student one of their top five choices. Students can even write a persuasive paragraph to let me know why they think they would be good in a certain role.



Writing the Script


IMG_0590 Once the roles are assigned, students work in small groups with the other students in their scene to write their script. Writing workshop mini-lessons focus on scriptwriting and how this genre of writing includes stage directions as well as indications of who is speaking each line. Students may even type up their scene on a PowerPoint slide. All of the slides are combined into one slide show and rearranged in the order they will be performed as I project the slide show on the large TV in my classroom for the entire class to see. The storyboard view helps us organize and sequence our ideas to determine the final order of the scenes that will ultimately be part of the movie. Each student receives a copy of the PowerPoint slides (printed as handouts).


Planning & Practicing the Scenes


P1010943 After all scenes are written, students make a list of props that they will need to make or bring from home. This also includes costumes. Although I have collected quite an array of costumes over the years that are often used, students also enjoy designing their own costumes by gathering materials and clothing from home. Students also determine if their scene will need to be taped in front of a green screen and decide whether or not they will need certain pieces of furniture or other props in their scene. Actors then memorize their lines and practice their scene to make sure it is ready for filming. 





Filming the Scenes/Using a Green Screen


Titanic Sometimes we film scenes in front of our makeshift "green screen" using a turquoise blanket and sheet.  This allows me to project images behind the students when editing the video on the computer.  For many movies, students look like they are in different states and countries.  I am lucky to have an entire wall in my classroom that is a bulletin board.  I use tacks to pin up a large fleece blanket behind students when we are filming these scenes.  If it is a full-length scene, I will also put a turquoise blanket on the floor.  The photos below show you the original video footage before editing and then the scene in the final movie once the chroma key effect has been applied in Pinnacle Studio.







Both Pinnacle Studio and iMovie provide users with the capability to create a green screen effect.  It is called chroma key.  Many people ask where I find the backgrounds that are placed behind the students when I use this effect.  You can choose to put either a picture or a video behind students when using the chroma key effect.  I use my own pictures or pictures from Google Images to find appropriate backgrounds for my videos.  I have also purchased animated video backgrounds from Digital Hotcakes and ActionBacks to create very realistic backgrounds for my class movies. Helpful green screen/chroma key tutorials include Pinnacle Studio Green Screen Tutorial and iMovie Green Screen Tutorial.




Editing the Video


Pinnacle The scenes are captured onto my computer and edited using Pinnacle Ultimate Studio version 12. It is a user-friendly program that includes many great features including built-in music, titles, 3-D transitions, and DVD menus. While it can be difficult to put the editing in the hands of my 3rd graders, I do try to make them a part of the process. One way to do this is to allow them to determine the mood of the music for their scenes.  Pinnacle Studio allows you to search for music loops by determining the theme or mood of the music.  Students love choosing their own music and selecting sound effects for their scenes.  Students can also create their own music using kid-friendly software programs like Super Duper Music Looper.


This post is not intended to teach you how to edit your video footage.  However, if you are new to video editing, you can find tons of great video tutorials online. The Pinnacle site provides a list, and a California school district put together another good list of Pinnacle tutorials. About.com has this list of iMovie tutorials. You can also find many video editing tutorials on YouTube if  you do a search for the title of the video editing program you are using on your computer.



Sharing the Class Movies


When a class movie is completed, I burn the final movie to a DVD and send a copy home with students as a traveling DVD.  This way students can enjoy a “movie night” with their families and friends on the evening they get to bring it home. I only make a few copies of the DVD, so a different student can take it home each night.  We also show some of our best movies to the entire school on the morning announcements.  This makes my students feel like celebrities at school!

 DVD Label Travel DVD


Another option is to have a movie day in your classroom where parents are invited to watch the movies your students have made.  We invite parents to take part in this fun activity, and we also create a montage of pictures and video footage set to music as a way to highlight the special times we have spent together during the school year.  We turn our classroom into a movie theater and serve popcorn and pop.  The parents love the special event!



At the end of the school year, I put the movies on a single DVD and make a copy for each student as an end-of-the year gift.

DVD Case DVDS in case



All of the class movies I have made with my classes over the past seven years can also be viewed in Windows Media Player on our class Web site.

Watch them HERE!


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Comments (21)


The song you are asking about is called "Read a Book" by Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer. You can find it on iTunes.



Many of the images I use for my greenscreen backgrounds are actually pictures that I have taken myself. The animated backgrounds are listed in the "Using a Greenscreen" section of the post.

Here is a link to a website with a ton of great sites to find Public Domain, Copyright Free, Open Source, and Student Use Images and Media: http://eduscapes.com/tap/topic98.htm

I hope this helps!


I love the music you add to your videos, especially the one with lyrics "read a book, read read a book". Where could I get that song? Is it part of Pinnacle Studio?

Love your ideas Beth!

Are all of your images copyright free, and if so where are you finding them? Our district is pretty strict with copyrights, and it is making finding images really tough!

Thanks, Zoe


Thanks for your insight and for providing us with the link to your resources. Very interesting stuff!


While making digital movies is great, I want to urge all educators out there that it is only HALF the equation. Today, we must also teach our students how to analyze media. Production is not enough. Want to know more? Take a look at the MEDIA LITERACY resources here: www.frankwbaker.com/motion_pictures


When using a green screen, you want to make sure that you are in a brightly-lit room. If you can actually shine lights directly on the green screen you will have much better results when editing.

Also, when you open the chroma key dialog box in Pinnacle Studio, you can also use the controls to improve how the image appears in your movie. Adjusting the tolerance, minimum saturation, softness, and spill suppression can really help! You will just have to play around with your chroma-keyed image to see which of these features you need to tweak.

I hope these suggestions help!


Hi there,

I am so excited because our PTO just purchased Studio 14 from Pinnacle for us. However, I am having some difficulty with the green screen because the image comes out looking fuzzy. I have read over the tutorial and it mentions lighting. Can you tell me how you light the seen if at all?

Thanks, Amaris

I am so excited about the movie making process. I just have a few questions to ask before I start this big project. Is there a certain image type that I need to look for when looking for a background picture from google images? Does the resolution size matter? I love your backgrounds. Where do you get most of your background images? Last but not least, did you need to worry about lighting for your green screen?


I create the DVD case covers and DVD labels in Print Shop. You can purchase the labels and DVD Case inserts at any office supply store. Print Shop makes it very easy to add backgrounds, photos, and text to the labels and the inserts!


Beth, have yet another question. I love the way you have a DVD for each student of the year's videos in a case matching your theme. I was wondering how you have those made. My class has a theme using M&M's characters. I think having a DVD case and matching DVD like you have would be adorable.


Since many teachers in our district maintain classroom websites where they post pictures and videos of students, there is a generic, district-created permission form that all parents must sign before I can post their child's picture or video on my website.

Unfortuantely I do not have a copy of it in a format that I can post here on the blog. I will see if I can obtain a PDF file of the form.

I hope you are having fun creating videos in your classroom!


I was wondering if you have parents fill out a permission form of any type so you can post the videos to your class website or is it something that your school does? The school I work at is in need of a new form for just that on the school's website and I'm also looking into having one for my class so I can leave videos up as you do with yours.

Hi Rand!

Thanks for reading the blog! While my third grade students are responsible for writing the script, helping film the scenes, designing their costumes, making or bringing their props, and selecting music for their scenes, I do the actual editing on my own computer. It would take a great deal of time out of my instructional day to have my 3rd graders learn to edit the movies. I do think that older students might be able to be more involved in the editing process, but we only have the video editing software on one computer.

There is a Windows software called Microsoft Photo Story which allows students to use digital pictures to easily create their own "movies" with narration. It is great for turning personal narrative stories into multimedia books complete with pictures, music, and sound effects. Here is a link to the Photo Story website: http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/using/digitalphotography/PhotoStory/default.mspx

Good luck with your movie-making!


Hi Beth, I am inspired by what you are doing with your class. Do you actually have students editing video, or do you do most of the editing yourself?



Most of backgrounds from the websites I referenced in my post can be downloaded as AVI files (.avi) or quicktime files (.mov). You should be able to use the AVI files in Windows Movie Maker. However, putting students in front of the backgrounds requires the use of the chroma key effect (green screen), and that is not an available feature in Movie Maker.

The backgrounds can get a little expensive if you purchase an entire volume. Oftentimes websites require you purchase an entire volume and will not allow single downloads. However, at motionloops.com and anistock.com you can download single clips. It is much less expensive.

Since the backgrounds are not part of Windows Movie Maker, you must download the clips from the websites, save them to a folder on your computer, and then insert them into your Movie Maker project. Let me know if you have any other questions!

Happy movie-making!


Hi Beth!

I love visiting your website for inspiration! Currently, I am using movie maker. My movies are rather simple and I would love to incorporate the backgrounds that you use. Is that even availbale on movie maker? Any suggestions, without spending too much? Thanks!


Hi Dexter!

The transitions that you are referring to are actually available within the Pinnacle Studio software. You just need to unlock the transitions (for a price), and then you can use them in your movies. Let me know if you need help figuring out how to unlock them.

Good luck with your movie making!


Beth, I am planning on making a movie as well. I too, have Pinnacle Ultimate 12 but I was wondering where you got the animated transitions between scenes? I noticed in the movie : Trip to Fantasy Island there was some great ones, like the cartoon football or even the animated boat scene. Any help would be Greatly appreciated.

Thanks, Dexter Pulsifer

Hi Rhonda!

Grant writing is a great way to obtain money for some of the expensive equipment needed to make movies in your classroom or at your school!

The assessment component is complicated. My sugestions is to look first at your purpose for making the movies. If the main purpose is for students to reinforce their learning in a certain subject area, I would suggest that you create a rubric that outlines the specific information or content that students should include in their scenes.

If your purpose is to provide students with a creative way to improve their writing skills, I would suggest creating an assessment rubric that lists the traits of writing you will be looking for in their scripts.

If your purpose is to enhance students' ability to use technology in a purposeful way, your assessment rubric should focus on the skills students may be using as they video tape, edit the scenes, select music, etc.

I hope that I have answered your question to some degree. Assessment in movie making is difficult since some students are simply more comfortable than others in front of the camera, and others are more comfortable behind the scenes. The only time I have assessed my students during movie making is when students have worked in small groups to create segments directly related to an academic topic such as a book talk or a social studies news broadcast. In those cases, the rubric focused more on the content of their scripts than their ability to act or work a camera.

Good luck with your movie making!!


Beth, I would like to start making movies in my class room. I love the idea and think it would serve as a great tool to enhance our learning. I am writing a grant to help with the expenses for the camera, etc. I need to be able to explain how I will assess what we do. Can you give me some ideas or suggestions on how you might assess the movies your class makes? Thank you for your help. Rhonda Mc

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