Books-to-Shorts Learning

By Sarah Ludwig |

One of the best parts of my job is sharing books with students. Sometimes, as a school librarian, I get so overwhelmed with research and technology instruction that I forget about books (it’s true!). But we have a robust YA collection that enjoys high circulation, and partly because three times a year, our middle school students are required to read a free-choice book over a long break in fall, winter, and spring. While requiring reading goes a bit against the grain of pleasure reading, the students can select any book they like and they do not have to finish it, which takes some of the pressure off. Before the break, every one of our middle school English classes comes into the library to hear about new books from me and to browse our collection for something to take home. The best part of this cycle, however, is the reflection.

Rather than asking students to write a report about their book or take a quiz, the English teachers work with the library to craft fun, creative projects that allow students to share books with each other. At my school’s recent afternoon of teacher-driven professional development, one English teacher and I co-presented on our most recent project, using stop-motion technology to create book mashups. The project touches upon numerous critical thinking and creative skills, as well as introduces a new technology to students.

The students were paired up by the teacher. Students had to explain to each other  what their book was about. Moreover, each student had to describe in-depth one character in their novel. With that information in mind, the pair collaboratively wrote a script (using Google Docs) that placed the two characters into a new setting and had them interact based on their characteristics.  For example, two girls used the character Cassia from Ally Condie’s Matched and Bryce from Lara Avery’s Anything but Ordinary. In their 21-second film, one character falls from a cliff and the other helps her. In the novels, one character is a diver who has a terrible accident at the start of the story, and the other takes refuge in huge rock formations when she is on the run. These interpretations may seem elementary, but script depicted one character’s  traits of bravery and drive to help and the other’s stubbornness and independence.

To animate their short films, the students used iPads and Barbies, Legos, play-dough, and cut-out 2D drawings. We first practiced in the classroom by animating a pencil spinning in a circle. Once they were comfortable with the app’s interface, the students then had a day to write their scripts and gather materials. Filming took one day, with a few students needing extra time during their study halls to finish the project. The films were shown in class, giving the students a chance to explain their work.

These tiny movies served multiple purposes. First, the script-writing encouraged creativity and critical thinking—identifying character traits and imagining a new setting and scenario. How could these characters authentically meet and what would happen if they did? In addition, students had to collaborate and share with each other to write a script that made sense and included elements of both books. Te students had to actually film their movies, meaning they had to be adept at using iMotionHD. (And some were better than others, as in all cases). Finally, the project required planning and organizing. The students who tested the filming process and adapted their techniques fared better than others. And the kids had to divide the responsibilities—who would hold the camera, who would move the objects, who would write the speech bubbles. This decision-making encouraged positive communication between the partners as well as problem-solving.

While iMotionHD is one fun way to encourage students to reflect on their reading, tons of other resources that are equally fun and simple for students to use. Here is a sampling:

Toontastic is a free iPad app that allows users to easily make animated shorts using either original characters and backgrounds or preset drawings that come with the app.

Sketch Nation is an iPad app for making  games, which could be based on a book. Users can draw directly on the iPad or draw on paper and then photograph the work to use in the app.

ToonDoo is a free web-based comic creator that can be used to make strips, books, and characters. Users could either comic-ify a book or create a new story based on their book. ToonDoo Spaces, a subscription service, allows teachers to create a school-safe online space and to manager accounts.

Blabberize, a web-based service, and Face Talk, an app, both allow students to animate speaking mouths over still images, which is a fun way to have students create their own book talks. Students record their own voices.

To see all of my students’ stop motion movies, click here.