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January Issue

Vol 29|No 3|January 2019

Making Movies

By Jamie McKenzie (about author)

Given the widespread and easy access to video cameras on students' smart phones, schools should be taking a serious and sustained look at ways to blend the use of these tools into the learning activities of today's classrooms. Reciting a poem or producing a commercial are two examples explored in this article, but there are many more possibilities.

Of the many poems I have written, "Standing Tall" - a tribute I wrote for Dr. Martin Luther King in 1982 - has been read by the most people, as it has become a favorite of many celebrating his birthday falling on Monday, January 21 this year.

Thanks to smart phones, it has become quite easy to make videos like the one below in which I am reading "Standing Tall." I include the poem with this month's article to illustrate movie-making while recognizing Dr. King's life and birthday.

When I began teaching in the late 1960s, video cameras made their first appearance in schools, which allowed those of us who taught social studies and English to engage students in making movies related to the curriculum. Students were thrilled, but that technology was far more clumsy than what is now available on many students' smart phones, and most schools were then lucky to have just one camera for the entire school.  

The change from then to now is extraordinary and the possibilities are impressive. This article will explore two activities schools might incorporate into the curriculum.


Teachers have asked students to memorize and recite poems for many decades prior to the arrival of computers and smart phones, an activity that was not always greeted enthusiastically.

Twenty years ago, students were forced to practice in front of mirrors, but the video on a smart phone allows them to record and then evaluate their performance in a much more satisfying manner, applying criteria like the following to improve each effort.

The Six Traits of an Effective Presentation or Recitation

  1. Drama - An audience hopes you will translate the words of the poem into something thrilling -- touching a nerve, igniting an emotional reaction, and lighting a fire of some kind.

  2. Timing-pacing - Some of the poem's words and phrases are meant to rush at the audience like an express train and others are supposed to crawl luxuriously and seductively.

  3. Facial expressions - Your face is meant to express some of the same feelings embodied in the poem. It is disturbing when the poem is dramatic and emotional but the face is blank.

  4. Gestures - Some speakers know how add a touch of meaning and drama to a key line with hand gestures that are eloquent. Recitation is not meant to be stiff and unmoving.

  5. Eye contact - Smart phones do not provide opportunities for eye contact, but students can practice the equivalent by looking directly into the camera or intentionally moving their eyes to make a point, short of rolling them in feigned disgust.

  6. Intonation - Managing the appropriate rise and fall of the voice while speaking the lines of the poem.

The smart phone's video camera allows the student to make as many performances as may be necessary to reach a level that is pleasing. This may then be submitted as the actual product, or the teacher may also insist upon a live performance, as speaking before an audience requires the capacity to set aside stage fright and engage with direct eye contact and magnetism.


Media literacy experts argue that students must be skilled at producing persuasive videos at the same time they know how to debunk and deconstruct those that are aimed at them. Teachers can take advantage of the video capabilities of smart phones to ask students to create 30 second spots selling a product, a candidate or an idea.

Students may begin this process by reviewing and analyzing commercials available on YouTube.

Media Literacy

Media literacy involves the capacity and the inclination to cut past the distortions and manipulation often typical of today's news, communications and entertainment media in order to build an understanding of the world that is at least partially grounded in reality.

The world presented to young people and to all people, for that matter, is not seen through rose tinted glasses. Much of what is happening in the world is not reported at all. What is reported is often photoshopped. Note article, "Photoshopping Reality: Journalistic Ethics in an Age of Virtual Truth at http://fno.org/dec06/photoshopping.html.

The article mentioned above provides lesson plan suggestions to develop the critical thinking skills to deconstruct media messages and search for the truth. In addition, it lists resources such as the excellent lesson plans from The Center for Media Literacy (CML) - a nonprofit educational organization that provides leadership, public education, professional development and educational resources nationally. http://www.medialit.org They offer "Five Key Questions That Can Change the World: Deconstructing Media" - Cornerstone lesson plans for K-12 across the curriculum.

There are many ads available on YouTube like the Chevron ad and the Greenpeace parody of the Dove commercial below that deserve challenging and debunking. Both of these present claims worthy of fact-checking.

How about the claim that the exploration for oil in the Gulf has been done without environmental incidents?

How about the claim that "98% of Indonesia's lowland forest will be gone by the time Azizah is 25?"

Other possibilities

There are many excellent Web resources for those who wish to explore other ways to incorporate the use of video into the curriculum.

Written materials, art work and photography on this site are copyrighted by Jamie McKenzie and other writers, artists and photographers. Written materials on these pages may be distributed and duplicated if unchanged in format and content in hard copy only by school districts and universities provided there is no charge to the recipient. They may also be e-mailed from person to person. All other uses, transmissions and duplications are prohibited unless permission is granted expressly. Showing these pages remotely through frames is not permitted. FNO is applying for formal copyright registration for articles.

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