Screenplay writing is a type of writing that we don't really address in secondary English Language Arts. The closest students get to this type of writing is through reading drama. But why is this the case in the 21st century classroom? Screenwriting (a.k.a. scriptwriting, screenwriting, and screenplay writing) is a type of writing that we should be using in Secondary ELA for its high-interest capability to target the Common Core. The skills involved in the script-writing process are vast and varied.
Through crafting an original screenplay concept, students have to think through the core literary elements of character, plot, setting, conflict, dialogue, and style. They have to tap into their prior film knowledge and overall knowledge of story to weave together a believable plot with believable characters. This exercise puts prior literary analysis into action because students have to apply, transfer, and synthesize their prior knowledge in order to create something new. Instead of analyzing a character from literature, students must analyze characters of their own creation. They must think through character motivation, character traits, character background, character relationships to derive thoughtful, purposeful, logical, and believable action-- or plot.
Screenwriting also involves multi-media because students must think in terms of how their stories transfer into a visual context. The only way to do this effectively is by first studying other films in order to consciously use the rhetorical relationships of contrast, juxtaposition, shift, and repetition to communicate a chosen theme-- and this is DIFFICULT! The creative process is by far more difficult than the analytical process. With analysis, students take art apart. With creation, students must put art together. There is nothing more frightening than the blank page! Screenwriting is a challenging exercise that synthesizes skills from reading to writing to speaking to listening all through a context that students enjoy.
Through my own personal experiences with screenwriting, I have created a Screenplay Unit in which students create their own original screenplay concepts, write 10 pages of script, draft a plot treatment, create a trailer, and "pitch" their ideas to the class-- all the while looking to professional movie writers and filmmakers as models. Typically, my seniors complete this screenplay unit during second semester. It's a great way for students to synthesize their learning at the end of their high school careers, and this project will keep the attention of a second-semester senior! But it's not just a senior project. This project works in grades 8-12 and can fit into any thematic unit or genre unit in a curriculum.
Screenplay Unit: The Steps
The following images contain the Table of Contents and notes on implementation for the Bespoke ELA Screenplay Unit.
Have you ever integrated screenplay writing into your secondary ELA curriculum? If so, what do you have your students do? We'd love to hear from YOU!
About the Author
Meredith is the founder and creator of TeachWriting.org and Bespoke ELA. She has taught high school English for 10+ years in Dallas, Chicago, and New York City and holds a M.A. in Literature from Northwestern University. She has always had a connection to the written word-- through songwriting, screenplay writing, and essay writing-- and she enjoys the process of teaching students how to express their ideas. Meredith enjoys life with her husband, daughter, and sweet pups.