Filmmaking in the Classroom

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Integrating filmmaking into educational settings as a teaching and learning tool strengthens teacher practice, improves student media literacy skills, engagement, comprehension, communication, and critical thinking skills while supporting core curriculum requirements for arts education. 

There is no turning back...

A digital age propelled by our youth has changed the course of education. Digital media and the media arts are now embedded throughout multiple local and national educational standards- part of the educational mainstream. Students are not only charged with interpreting, analyzing, and synthesizing works of digital media across multiple forms and formats, but also with generating, contextualizing, and disseminating their own media creations using an arsenal of ever-evolving tools and techniques. The classroom climate is rapidly shifting to a student-centered workplace where educators guide the knowledge acquisition and creative process– facilitating a rich contextual framework to elicit inspiration, understanding, points of view, creativity, and original thought. 

Today the use of digital storytelling is being practiced in neighborhood community centers, schools, libraries and businesses, by novice technology users to those with advanced skills. In the field of education, teachers and their students, from early childhood classrooms through graduate school, are using digital storytelling in many different content areas and across a wide range of grade 
levels (Bernard).

Digital storytelling and the filmmaking methodology can provide educators with a powerful process and set of tools- an engaging teaching strategy that when done right can link academic content with the production of rich digital stories that integrate a variety of multimedia, including video, audio, photography, graphics, and animation.  Research has shown that the use of digital media and storytelling in teaching helps contemporary students retain new information as well as aids in the comprehension of difficult material (National Writing Project). This is largely because the emerging generation is surrounded by digital media and therefore more attentive in a technology-rich environment that is more easily customized to their personal interests, needs and pursuits. 

 Robin, Bernard, Ph.D., University of Houston, College of Education; “Uses of Digital Storytelling”, August 30, 2019.

 National Writing Project, “Improving LIteracy Across the Curriculum: A Study of Instructional Development.” Aug. 30, 2014.



Fundamentals of Cinematography

Spending some time learning a few fundamentals of cinematography is worthwhile– not only will it will improve both the media-making process and product, but it will also save you time in the long run. Here we will introduce you to the fundamental stages of the filmmaking process, from pre-production to production and post-production with an introduction to the key cinematic principles of storytelling, storyboarding, cinematography, and editing. All of these critical digital storytelling elements will help you build media literacy and digital storytelling skills, to help you begin using media arts as a teaching strategy in your classroom.


Production Phases



Story Structure

The traditional story arc is at the essence of almost all stories and the most common format used in filmmaking. Watch V4CUUM-RBT: A Love Story. Identify and discuss the three acts of the film- what happens in Act I, Act II, and Act III? 

Visual Storytelling, Shot Styles, and Composition

Learning visual storytelling techniques and employing a myriad of shot styles will play a big role in helping you tell your story, Filmmakers use different shots and camera movements to convey emotion and affect the way the audience thinks and feels about the subject. Watch the Shot Styles and Composition instructional video and use the shot styles handout to practice.

Read the nine sentence story samples and use the template to write yours.

Storyboarding and Cinematography with the Nine Sentence Story

You are now beginning the process of translating the written story to the screen. Watch the Storyboarding instructional video, and the Nine Sentence Story movie samples and study how the nine sentence story #2 was translated to the screen. 

Download and print the storyboard PDF and storyboard your nine sentence story (aim for one storyboard per sentence so nine storyboards total).




Shooting, Collecting, and Creating Media

It’s time to shoot your video. Before cutting loose into production make sure you have established careful equipment checkout protocol and all students clearly understand their roles and responsibilities.




Editing, Exporting and Exhibition

Before beginning editing your footage, watch both the Music and Editing Styles instructional videos. And depending on what software you are using to edit your video, watch an online tutorial. Here are some software suggestions to help you decide what to use:



Tips for managing your media files & student release forms

Use this rubric to assess the filmmaking elements and digital storytelling process

Congratulations! You have made it through bootcamp and here is your Filmmaking Bootcamp certificate.

Media Gallery

Use this selection of youth-produced, teacher-produced, and professional films to inspire both you and your students with ideas for your own film projects in the classroom.

Click here to visit the Filmmaking Media Gallery.

Students Using Media


Tips for Implementing Filmmaking Projects in the Classroom



(Courtesy of

  • Establish and post classroom guidelines for technology use in visible places in the classroom and online.  A classroom guideline example is “Do not open or use the device until instructed.”
  • Arrange the classroom to monitor progress and minimize distractions.  Create seating charts based on the types of activities that students will do.  For group work, allow students to sit with other group members.  For individual work, arrange desks so that students face the screen rather than each other.
  • Display instructions for the day on the board and on the class website.  Include the types of technologies that the students will use such as the URLs (links) to any online resources, apps, or online educational resources.  Specify a time frame for each activity to help them pace themselves appropriately. 
  • Use a timer with a bell or buzzer. Display the timer in full view of the class so that students can pace themselves.
  •  Establish end-of-class routines when students put away electronic devices that include a reminder to students to save or backup their work and to electronically share or submit their work, if needed.  Consider developing a routine where students are responsible for recharging equipment after every class.
  • Conduct a mini-lesson on the issue of digital distractions in the classroom and the myth of multitasking. Have students take the horizontal line test and/or watch and discuss The Monkey Business Illusion.



  • Use evaluation rubrics for various stages of the project (click on the assessment page for some sample filmmaking rubrics).
  •  Create a system to track student progress throughout the project.  Ex: Create a classroom tracking board that hangs on a wall or a Project Progress Tracker handout that includes: 
    • required tasks for each part of the filmmaking process
    • pre-production: choosing a topic, research, storyboarding…
    • production: collection of visuals, audio…
    • post-production: editing…
    • a space where students can sign and date when a specific task is completed
    • a space where a teacher or peer can sign and date that they have reviewed the student’s completed task
  • Give students instructions on how to complete several tasks then allow students to work through the tasks at their own pace.  
  • Students who finish first can provide peer feedback to other students who are still working and/or work on an alternative activity.  
  • An alternative activity is watching youth-produced media to get ideas and inspiration.  Eg: If students are producing PSAs, students can watch other youth-produced media.


  • Reserve equipment (cameras, tripods, computers with video editing software and internet for file sharing...)
  • Plan out access to shooting locations. 
  • Create Film Crew badges that students can wear as they move through shooting  locations. 
  • Create a filmmaking cabinet or bin where props, supplies etc. can easily be accessed.
  •  Create an equipment checkout/in system. Consider using the equipment checklist found in Unit One of the SHIFT filmmaking curriculum manual to teach students how to treat the equipment.
  • Decide where students will keep collateral associated with their projects (completed handouts, media, etc) Eg: Will students use Google Drive, student folders on the school server, or paper files kept in the classroom?)
  • Assign each student to a specific computer, camera, and tripod that they will use throughout a project or longer.
  • Decide on an exhibition date and format (at school, online, etc.).
  • Create an online list of links to youth-produced media that students can access and watch.  (Using the media gallery on this site is a great place to start!)


Assign students specific leadership roles in the classroom.  This will empower students, create more student buy-in, and decrease teacher responsibility.  Students can:

  • manage the equipment checkout/in system
  • report on the condition of equipment
  • take out filmmaking supplies
  • review other students’ work 



  • Include a maximum of four students in each group. Note: For shooting purposes, groups may need additional actors or crew for individual scenes.
  • Either assign or let students choose their roles (director, cinematographer, etc.) within their production teams.  Have students clearly define the responsibilities of each team member. 
  • Have groups save paper and electronic materials in locations (online and/or in the classroom) where all members of a group can access them. This will allow for a continued work flow even if a group member is absent. 
  • Some great resources and ideas for implementing PBL (including filmmaking) in your classroom:


Filmmaking Activities


(Technical Skill Building)

Shot Styles Scavenger Hunt

This shot styles scavenger hunt gets participants taking still images using a variety of shot styles. This scaffolds to the importance of using varied shot styles, camera movement and camera angles in filmmaking.

Video Scavenger Hunt

This video scavenger hunt gets participants thinking about camera angle and composition (what’s in your frame) as well as how different techniques and shot styles help tell the story.

Video Alphabet Soup

A creative way for participants to practice filmmaking fundamentals, familiarize with the camera and creatively interpret their environment.


(Technical Skill Building, Writing, Self-Exploration)

Where I'm From

This mad-lib style poetry writing delves into place and identity while getting participants to practice some filmmaking fundamentals.

This is Just to Say/ Red Wheelbarrow

Participants build a photo film after completing a fill-in-the-blank poem based on two poems by Williams Carlos Williams.

Six Word Memoir

This favorite short film activity can scaffold into a bigger personal narrative film. 


(Technical Skill Building, Collaboration, Storytelling)

A fun, creative and interpretive exercise. The Weaver receives images, text and narration from the Threader, who finds and begins documenting an area unknown to the Weaver, and then “weaves” a story together.  



This list is meant to guide you, though you will still need to decide what is best for you. There is no “blanket best” as everyone is working with different budgets and computer equipment.  This equipment list is linked to sellers, but we suggest shopping around and exploring educational pricing discounts. Check out this Filmmaking Go Kit if you want everything to fit in one tidy, mobile case. (Total cost of Go Kit including case is about $1200).



  • External Mic Option: If at all possible, choose a camera with an external mic option. Even if you currently don’t have access to an external mic, it will provide you and your students room to grow.
  • Sensors: Two major types of sensor: CMOS better than CCD (CCD runs hot). CMOS is a cooler running chip. The larger the sensor the better and the more sensors a camera has the better. Most have one but some have more than one.
  • Shoots Stills: Good feature if the video camera also shoots stills. Look at the megapixels,which refer to the quality of still photos (nothing to do with the video). 16 megapixels is good.
  • Optical Zoom: Never buy a camera based on digital zoom- but look at optical zoom- range is 8x to 30x – try to get a camera with at least 15x allowing you to get shots that look closer to the action wherever you are. Great for when you are a significant distance from your subjects.
  • Extra Lenses: If you are adding lenses to your arsenal, a telephoto lens and/or macro lens might be the priority, but look at reviews before choosing a lens. Some cheap telephoto lenses have trouble focusing.

This website allows you to make direct comparisons between different cameras:



Older iPhones and iPads and Androids are often collecting dust and can serve classrooms as pretty high-end cameras. Access these abandoned resources and invest instead in tripods, mounts and external mics to enhance production (see mobile device section below).


Not built as a video camera but have video capacity and there are add-on improvisations that make shooting video with these easier. (You can make a lot of these improvisations on the cheap yourself if you Google DIY DSLR add-ons) These cameras are great in low light (have big sensors) and are high definition, but cost more. 


  • Panasonic HC-W570 (Wi-Fi Connectivity - $300) This camera even has a picture-in-picture feature and a baby monitor!
  • Sony HDR-CX440 (Wi-Fi Connectivity - $300)





  • Aputure AL-M9 LED Lights  ($45 each) These dimmable daylight-balanced LED lights are quite powerful for the price and come with filters to adjust color temperature and diffuse light. They thread either onto a light stand or mount to a DSLR or video camera.  The built in Lithium Ion battery lasts almost 2 hours.
  • Yonguo LED Panel w/Battery($69 each) Great little LED panel light for interviews, stop motion, etc.
  • Light Stands($30) For white or green backdrops we suggest 3-point lighting. You might get away with using a reflector (instead of a third(fill) light). Choose between white, silver and gold reflectors – car shades are cheap and work great!  Read for more info on reflectors.



There are many options. This one is a little more expensive but easy to put up, has a strong outer frame that keeps it taut and is large enough for filming. They come in white, black and green.





Many microphones don’t work well with the iPhone and iPad since the Apple microphone jack isn’t the standard 3.5mm. Unless you purchase a microphone that is built compatible such as the Rode or the iRig listed below, you will need an adapter that goes into the iPhone and attaches to the microphone. Scroll down on this website to choose the right adapter:


LAVALIERS (also known as lapel or clip mics)

  • Rode Smartlav Lavalier Omnidirectional Microphone for iPhone, tablets and smart phones ($79)Really useful for documentary filmmakers, journalists, people doing interviews, recording speeches- compatible with Androids too.
  • Polsen Omnidirectional Lavalier Microphone ($23). These mics are great for interview and enhancing sound during video production. The OLC-10 is cheap with a long cord and comes with a tie-clasp mount, battery, and windscreen. It is fitted with a 3.5mm plug.
  • Sennheiser Clip-Mic Digital ($199) Really cool professional microphone from Sennheiser that uses an Apple Lightning connector to plug into any iPhone prior to the iPhone 7.  Record sound on your phone using the built in recording and pre-amps and monitor through your headphone jack. A mic clip, a metal windscreen, a foam windshield, and a carrying pouch are also included.



  •  Rode VideoMic ME Directional Mic for Smartphones ($59)A compact and lightweight, high-quality directional microphone with that connects directly to the iPhone TRRS microphone/headphone socket. Its flexible mounting bracket accommodates a wide range of smartphones and allows the microphone to be fitted for primary camera or front camera ('selfie') use.
  • SHURE VP64A($80)Omni directional dynamic microphone- affordable and basic but high performing- XLR cord needed with a 3.5mm plug on other end. Very uniform sound pickup indoors or outdoors.
  • iRig microphone with Windscreen ($30) Compatible with Apple products only handheld condenser microphone for the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Perfect for interviews, podcasting and reporting, as well for vocalists and musicians- powered by iPhone, iPad- has a headphone jack for listening as you record. There is some feedback that the mic cables are not durable.
  • Rode VideoMic with Fuzzy Windjammer Kit ($150) Lightweight directional videomic with really good battery life. Great for interviews in noisy places. Does a great job of enhancing video audio while shooting from further away.
  • Polsen SCL-1075 ($55) A camera mount condenser shotgun microphone that allows you to capture clear, natural audio with your DSLR or camcorder. Designed to reject ambient noise and focus on the subject in front of the microphone; great for recording interviews.

  • Samson Meteor USB Condenser Studio Mic ($60) USB connection plugs in and records right into any Mac or PC and comes with a nice tripod desk stand. Excellent for narrating (voiceovers); great sound for the price and one per classroom goes a long way.