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Screenplays in the Curriculum? Of Course!

Clapperboard (Credit: Photo by Will Jackson, via Flickr Creative Commons)

Television and movies are–for better or for worse–a dominating cultural force. They feed popular culture and the young minds imbibing it.

According to a 2012 Nielsen report, teens watch about 22 hours of television a week. And that’s not including movies, social media, YouTube, videos, and all sorts of other technologies.

Educators may find all of this media exposure distracting to their students. According to a report by Common Sense Media, “Many teachers think their students use of entertainment media has hurt their academic performance.”

So what’s an educator to do?

I recently watched the School Library Journal webcast Pop Literacy. (I highly recommend it.) It’s a great overview of how (and why) to incorporate pop culture into your curriculum, including a fascinating discussion of the word “appropriate” in terms of pop culture in the classroom.

One thing, in particular, struck me as worthwhile, fun, and exciting for students, as well as for teachers.

Screenwriting.

If young people are watching an average of three hours or more of television a day, it probably would benefit them to know WHAT they are watching and HOW it got there. Television shows and movies require a lot of elements along to way to becoming a finished product. One of the first? A screenplay.

A screenplay, or a script, is created by one person or a team of writers. Dialogue, interaction, action, and reaction, setting, set design, costume, and prop descriptions are woven together to create a world not just to be imagined, as in a book, but also to be brought into form.

How can this project be beneficial to students?

Most students watch and enjoy television. They are drawn in by the story, intrigued by the characters, immersed in the narrative, invested in its conclusion. Some students do not enjoy classroom creative writing–the process can be intimidating and overwhelming. Screenwriting is a way to engage students as part of the collaborative and creative process in writing a screenplay.

Reading. You can start by reading, analyzing, and discussing a screenplay. There’s a huge selection at imsdb.com, including Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, La La Land, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. You can search by genre, or for a specific script. For younger students, try the read-aloud plays in SIRS Discoverer.

Discussion. Introduce students to the codes and conventions of screenwriting and review the significance of the three-act structure. Explore how to create a unique voice for each character and consider why a convincing setting is an important element of the screenplay.

Writing. Your students now have a basic idea of the screenwriting process and screenplay elements. Now, divide the students into teams, give them parameters, and set them to work imagining, discussing, and writing! Try this Writing a Screenplay lesson plan for guidance and inspiration.

Ready to move one step further and create student films from the finished screenplays? This filmmaking unit for 6th through 8th grade students gives an overview of the process.

Interested in learning more about screenwriting in the classroom? Check out the links below.

Teaching Scriptwriting, Screenplays and Storyboards for Film and TV Production
How to Bring Screenwriting into the Classroom
Teaching Screenwriting to Teenagers
Scriptwriting in the Classroom

Do you have thoughts about or experiences with screenwriting as an activity for your students? We’d love to hear them! Tweet us #ProQuest.

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