Stop Motion Animation: A Cinematic Start For Middle Schoolers
by Christine Fiset
It’s really awesome that creativity in the ELA classroom can come in so many different shapes and sizes.
Recently, while searching for resources online about using picture books in the secondary classroom, I came across another teacher's YouTube playlist of stop-motion animation films that his students made from picture books. I watched nearly all of the short films they made and was inspired! These kids clearly called on several skills and were able to put together some pretty amazing productions.
I've shied away from having students make movies in the past usually because I felt like they were time-consuming, heavily tech-oriented, or needed too much teacher intervention - precious time I didn't have to spare. Yet since the surge of students nowadays with their own iPods or cell phones in hand daily, and their pretty knowledgeable skill set in the tech department, I definitely felt like this could be a manageable long-term project that we could take on.
I visited my local library and browsed the children's section for picture book titles that I thought were a lot of fun, had good lessons, or would simply lend themselves well to this kind of project, and borrowed a dozen or so of the best I found.
Then I approached it like a 20-Time project. The essence of 20-Time is that you allot about 20% of your class time for students to work on a project of their choice, also similar to genius hour. Students had 1-2 classes every cycle (ours is 9 days) to work on their movies. The only difference was, this wasn't a passion project, it was an ELA project.
The first choice students had to make was which picture book they wanted to transform. Working in small groups, they had to decide what they would do to turn their book into a movie. The entire story had to be narrated by them, as it was written, but they had the freedom to choose what they felt was most important in the story for the purpose of making it into a movie.
Stop-motion animation is a cinematographic technique built on the premise of stopping and starting the camera repeatedly so that it gives the impression that a figure is in motion. Some pretty neat short films, and even many feature-length ones (think Lego Movie) have been made this way with much success.
Lucky for us, one of our school board's ed tech consultants is pretty good with stop-motion animation so we called on his expertise to help us learn the basics. He came with iPads and clay and within an hour all the groups had made an original short, under thirty second movie clip using iMotion and iMovie.
Students were allowed to use whatever device they had available to them to take the pictures needed to make their movie. Some had their own iPad, some had a phone, and some used their school-issued chromebook. Either way, they had to figure out together how to collect enough pictures to make the movie and how to edit those pictures into a movie as a team.
They were allowed to make colour photocopies of the important characters, scenes, or objects needed for their movie, and this was paired with their own creative imagination to bring the story to life.
We have a great Makerspace in our school this year, so I took the students there to work on their creations. They could spread out and they had access to all the tools and craft supplies they needed. This gave us a gentle break from the usual weekly routine, and was a useful strategy for periods of the day that I recognised were most difficult for my students, like right before lunch. As the saying goes, time flies when you're having fun!
What I loved most about making these movies was seeing students practice and gain valuable skills from working on a project of this scope.
In the early stages of the project, students learned about creating a storyboard for their film. They researched, then made their own after dissecting the picture book. Some preferred good old paper and pencil drawing while others went digital. They practiced their communication and collaboration skills constantly, from planning together early on, to re-evaluating their project status nearer to the end when, for some, things started to get sticky. Managing three different personalities in a group is not always easy!
They constantly needed to troubleshoot and figure things out for themselves, from large scale decisions like what tools to use, to technical aspects like how to stabilise the camera, to finishing details like sound effects, transitions, and music that could enhance the mood.
We began this project in January and are in the final stages of production today. I have truly been impressed by my students’ creativity, by their stamina for carrying through with this long-term project, and by the results that show me they’ve gained something valuable on more than one level.
If you’d like to see the instructional plan for this project and some of the finished films, simply click here.
Christine is an ELA teacher at Lake of Two Mountains High School in Deux-Montagnes.