Storyboarding is a lot like outlining, except it’s much more visual. You can use this storyboarding project to gets students to re-tell stories and summarize scenes from their favorite books and movies.

There are two ways to approach this project. The first is for the whole class to do it together. It’s easy enough to designate different scenes to individual students, and before you do that, having a class discussion on how to break down the story into smaller parts can be interesting. The second way is to let groups of students (I’d recommend three or four to a group) work on different stories; that will increase the effort of each students, but will also require more oversight from the teacher.

Choose a Story

It’s probably best to go with a story you know well; maybe a classic, or some personal favorites, or even a recent blockbuster since that may be fresh in your minds.

Since a significant aspect of this project is visual, you may want to choose a story that has a lot of variety. Straightforward dramas might result in less interesting projects, especially if there are only a few settings involved.

Ensemble stories (e.i. they have multiple protagonists) give the students more to do, which may be better or worse depending on the skill level of your students and how long you want the project to last.

Break Down the Story

A story is comprised of a sequence of events. Students will need to work backward to determine the individual events (there will also be establishing scenes toward the beginning which are less active, but we’ll count them as events here).

You may want to define ‘scene’ for your students, and have them use scenes as a starting point. For more long scenes or ones in which multiple significant things occur, you can break a scene into multiple events. On the other hand, you might group back-to-back scenes together if they were short and didn’t feature multiple significant developments.

There’s not one right way to do this; different groups of students breaking down the same story may do so in different ways. One good rule of thumb is that there should be a new event each time the status quo shifts (a character’s outlook changes; they go to a new place; they gain or lose an important item; they learn key information; they develop their skills, etc.). By the end, students should have somewhere between 20 and 36 events.

Identify the Storylines

Most stories have at least two storylines, or plot threads. Often, there’s the main problem or adventure, and then there’s the protagonist’s personal journey (they learn to rely on their friends, or accept people who are different, or gain confidence in themselves, or whatever). With multiple protagonists, you’ll have multiple character developments. Maybe there’s also a relational storyline, such as a romance. For the sake of this project, choose no more than the five most significant storylines of the story. In most cases, just two or three storylines would work best.

Next, choose a different color to represent each storyline. You’ll need notecards of those colors (or just cut some construction paper into smaller rectangles) for the remainder of the project.

Summarize the Events

On each notecards, write a summary of an event. Many English books will demonstrate how to write summaries, so go over those instructions, tips, and examples if your students have not written summaries before.

For the most part, each even should have one notecard. The color of the notecard should correlate to the storyline that that event is a part of. However, when you have storylines intersect in the same event, one way to display that is by having two notecards of different colors for that event (but you can find other ways to display intersections; it’s up to you).

By the end, you should be able to read all the card of just one color and understand the progression of that storyline (of course, the full story wouldn’t be complete without the rest of the colors).

Represent the Events

On the other side of each card, students need to add a visual representation of that event. Students can work with whatever strengths they have here: those who love to draw can make detailed sketches; students like me would draw symbol or two that represents the most important aspect of the event. Others may just want to print pictures off the internet (like stills from the movie) and glue those images to the cards.

Once the imagery is complete, the cards should be arranged in order and displayed to the rest of the class (perhaps students could pin their cards to poster boards like you might use for science projects).

Bonus: Finding Significance

If your students are up to the task, ask each group about some of there events. After selecting a specific notecard/event, here are some questions you may want to throw at them:

  • How is that event important to the overall story?

  • Why do you think that event happened at that time? How would the story be different if that event happened sooner or later?

  • Point out an event or two that happened earlier in the story that made this event possible / made it matter.

  • How does this event set up another event that happens later in the story (and which event is that?) ?

  • How would the story be different if that event didn’t happen?

And finally, you could ask the students what they might change about the story (rearrange some events, add an event, etc.) to make it even better

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