Looking for fresh ideas to create new excitement for writing?

The students work, huddled in pairs, jotting down ideas in notebooks. The classroom buzzes with collaboration, punctuated by giggles and laughter.

Students are excited to be writing as we start our annual celebration of Script Frenzy!

For the past five years, my 11th grade English students have written novels for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

Both NaNoWriMo and Script Frenzy are the work of the Office of Letters and Light, whose mission is to provide programs that allow participants to “turn off their inner editor” and “write with abandon” as a way to bring everyone’s innate creativity to fruition.

Three years ago Script Frenzy was introduced to help students reconsider their ideas through a screenwriting lens and it helped to create new excitement for writing.

Why Screenwriting?

Film producer Allison Vanore, who has two entries in this year’s Garden State Film Festival, reflects on why screenwriting is important for students.

“It teaches them how films are constructed, that they are stories carefully constructed to make you feel a specific way just like books, television,” Vanore says. “It’s important to understand the medium we ingest and put out.”

From a creative standpoint, it gives students another way to create and express themselves.

The average U.S. teen spends more than three hours a day in front of the television, according to global ratings giant Nielsen. Students learn to be critical consumers of media in this unit, but they also feel empowered as professional writers.

Create new excitement for writing by understanding the words behind the images.

I start class with a page or two film students have likely seen (I chose Toy Story, but the Script Frenzy resources page has other choices).

Students read the scene where Woody attempts to convince Buzz he can’t fly aloud (he falls “with style”). We discuss how the characters and the viewer feel, digging into the text for clues. For many, this is their first experience reading a screenplay. Then, we watch the clip.

I talk a little about the screenplay formatting. I point out some of the formatting such as scene headings and action descriptions.

Everything in the screenplay must be seen. In our novels we could say, “Jack walked down the street sadly, thinking about his lost dog.” In a screenplay, the reader can’t see what Jack is thinking, so we have to write something that the camera can film.

Students come up with a variety of clever ways to show that Jack is thinking about his lost dog, and they describe his body language (“he shuffles along, shoulders heavy”) and the details they can include (some of their ideas: he can be carrying a leash with a dog collar; he can have a picture of the dog that he asks people about as he passes by; he can staple up “lost dog” signs).

Create new excitement for writing with brainstorming.

I explain to students that the novels we wrote are excellent for people who want total control of their creation: a novelist composes every detail the reader sees, describes every bit of the setting, explains every character and his or her motivation.

Then I show them this clip from Pixar’s Randy Nelson on “Living and Working in the Collaborative Age.”

In pairs, they either work one of their novel’s scenes or pursue a separate film idea. I prompt them to increase “passion” and “danger” and to raise the stakes, add twists.

Students love working together and creating something neither of them could have crafted on their own.

The first day, we focus on the primary conflict. I remind students that you can tell a great story in 30 seconds, and we brainstorm commercials that do just that.

Create new excitement for writing with subsequent lessons on screenwriting.

Students work through mini-lessons I put together for the remainder of the week. I offer one on emotion and how the viewer is supposed to feel, and I show two commercials: “Prized Possession” from Travelers Insurance and Ikea’s Spike Jonze-directed “Lamp” commercial.

We analyze how the clips create a mood and then I challenge them to find the mood of their piece and include that in their description.

Continue reading how to create new excitement for writing at Edutopia.com



Jennifer Ansbach, NBCT, teaches English at Manchester Township High School. Follow her on Twitter @JenAnsbach.


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