Feb 182015

Poetry and film. Not exactly an easy pairing for Grade 5 students…or so we thought. Check out this amazing film, just one of many created this year, and read on to find out how it came about.

The Back Story

Four years ago, when reviewing the Grade 5 curriculum, we discovered two areas that were under represented. First, was a lack of focus on the teaching and learning of poetry. There was also no opportunity for the students to learn how to design, plan, create, edit and publish film. So the idea was born to merge the two together in the same unit of inquiry.

Design cycle

MYP Design Cycle

This year, we decided to give the unit a makeover using the MYP design cycle. This will be a big part of their middle school lives and made for a great transition between the elementary and middle schools. Our aim was to dedicate more time inquiring into and analysing films, looking carefully at the techniques used by film makers to evoke emotion. We also wanted to allow more time for the development of ideas, as in the past students have come up with one idea for a film that may not have been easy or realistic to produce.

For the first two weeks of the eight week unit, students inquired into poetry, learning about and writing different forms as well as using devices such as refrains, personification and simile. At the end of week one, they were presented with the design brief:

  • Create a video from a poem you have written that evokes a specific emotion
    • No more than 2 mins long
    • Resolution is 540px
    • Published by x date

Inquiring and analysing

With their poems chosen and refined, the students set about inquiring into the different techniques used by film makers. Using award winning examples such as Racing Time by Adele Myers, they learned how shot duration, framing, perspective, lighting, camera motion, soundtrack, voice over and setting are used to evoke emotion in the viewer.

Once they understood all the techniques, they looked at four other examples and then made generalisations about each one. For example, they found that the most common shot duration was between three and five seconds, that medium and close up shots are used a majority of the time and there are rarely any transitions or special effects.

I was so surprised that the shots were so short, I was sure they were about 10 seconds. – Grade 5 student

During this period, students worked in teams to discuss and record their thoughts. These groups would become support teams when it came time to making their films if students needed actors or camera and light operators. As film making is rarely a solo effort, building in these collaborative support structures proved extremely valuable.

Developing ideas

The second stage of the design process had the students coming up with at least three different ways that they could film their poetry video. In the past, students often took a very literal and unrealistic approach to turning their poems into a film. They would write about winter and snow, yet Beijing has little or no snow. They’d write about flowers blooming in spring time, but pretty much everything is dead in Beijing in January. Our aim was to get them to generate multiple ideas and then run them through a filter of cool factor and difficulty (see below). We hoped this would make the students cognizant of the choices before them and how difficult filming certain scenes can be.

Idea filter

An example of an ‘Idea filter’.


With their ideas sorted, they then set about learning how to storyboard before storyboarding their own films.

During this stage of the unit, I did a ‘Filming 101’ lesson with each class, demonstrating what to do when they had a camera in their hands. Framing, perspective and lighting were all covered and it was clear the students made connections between what they had seen in the example films and what I was showing them. I also used some pre recorded footage to teach all classes the ins and outs of iMovie 11 as most had not experienced it before.

Creating the solution

It’s pretty easy to make a good movie nowadays…to make an awesome film takes a lot of effort.

Students ended up having about a week to film, edit and publish their movies. Many chose to film at home, which meant they were able to focus on getting a top notch voice recording of their poem at school. Those at school used iPod touches with a mount and a simple tripod to film with their teams. They were so excited to get to the business end of their project!

Interestingly, the biggest challenge of the whole process came during post production. Once they had their clips in iMovie, I discovered a severe case of ‘good enough syndrome’. It’s pretty easy to make a good movie nowadays. If you have a plan, a camera and editing software, you can make something pretty decent. To make an awesome film takes a lot of effort, fine tuning and patience. Even those who had the time didn’t want to go back and re-record a shot that was a second short, change the perspective or adjust the timing on the voiceover. Even when I asked if they’d like some feedback most students didn’t take me up on the offer. Those that did get a wide range of feedback from staff and peers certainly produced a better film. This is definitely something to work on next year.

Once published, each class watched their films and assessed them using the criteria below.

Film criteria

Poetry Film Checkbric used for peer assessment


Three films were chosen to be shown on the big screen in the school theatre to the whole grade and their parents. It was awesome to see their films presented like a real cinema film. They absolutely loved it.

If you’d like to watch all 15 films presented, click here.


Once the dust had settled, the students looked back at their ripped, dirty, smudged storyboards. It was obvious how much they had been used! They compared their published film to their storyboard and recorded on their blogs their justification for any changes they had made. The finished product was not assessed by the teacher, formative assessments along the way were used to determine students’ understanding of how artists use different techniques to evoke emotion.


Using the design cycle shifted the focus to the process rather than the product. It enables in depth analysis into real film makers use of different techniques. It gave students a chance to develop their ideas. As a result the quality of the films created by these 10 and 11 year olds was so far above previous years. It will be interesting to see if the same occurs next year.

If you have any questions about this unit of inquiry, please feel free to leave me a comment below. You can find all a page with links to all resources and lessons used here.