Video Projects: Teach the Process

Most English teachers wouldn’t assign a research paper without teaching students a process.  I’m amazed at how many teachers assign video projects without teaching students a process.  If your students are going to do a video project, you can facilitate the process and improve the final product by going over the three phases: Preproduction, Production, and Post-Production.  All three phases are equally important, but students are more likely to shrug off preproduction if you don’t require it.

Video is relevant in many different careers, and it’s a medium that shouldn’t be reserved for people going into film/tv.  Just look at Boeing’s Youtube channel.

The Process


1.  Identify the format and the audience.

If you’re wanting students to make a public service announcement, begin the project by showing them public service announcements, including both professional and student-made examples.  How long do you want the video to be?  30 seconds?  1 minute?  Do you want the video to be live action?  Animated?  Incorporate testimonials?  Should any research be incorporated into the PSA?  Does it involve a metaphor?  Analyze some of the videos in the way an English teacher might analyze a short story or poem.

Identify the target audience and discuss what might appeal to or offend that particular audience, and discuss the importance of mood.  No one wants to see a comedic suicide prevention public service announcement.

2.  Brainstorm ideas, and discuss them.

Students may be working individually, small groups, or whole class. Depending on the assignment and the format, students will brainstorm ideas.  I like to have my students share ideas aloud, and then we can identify ideas that might be too common.  Push your students to think beyond the expected.  You can’t magically fix a bad idea, even with the best of equipment.

3.  Detail your ideas like professionals.

Students are generally not fans of preproduction paperwork, but you shouldn’t be dissuaded by their whining.  Professionals rely on preproduction paperwork, and it can make a world of difference in the entire process.  These documents should provide direction for the entire crew.  If we pass these documents off to someone on the other side of the country, could they make this video without your being on location?  No matter how good your equipment is and no matter what you’re using to edit, you’re going to have a hard time working with incomplete or vague paperwork.

  • Treatments and T-Charts

If my students are working on commercials or public service announcements, I have them create treatments and t-charts.  For video essays, my students use t-charts only.

Screen Shot 2014-06-12 at 9.48.44 AM

  • Scripts and Storyboards

If my students are making short films, my students create scripts and storyboards.  If they’re making music videos, they create storyboards only.

  • Materials Needed List

Students should identify costume requirements, props, and equipment needed.  Who is responsible for what?  My students may use their smartphones or may check out camcorders.  They are encouraged to use a tripod regardless; you can get a tripod adaptor for iPads and smartphones.  Will the project need a microphone?  If one’s available, encourage them to use it and a headset.  Also, have them consider lighting.  Even the most low budget production can be better if you’re smart about it.

Don’t have a tripod?  Find a stable surface or lean against a wall.

Don’t have a microphone?  Maybe you can make a silent film or use voiceover.

Don’t have proper light equipment?  Film outdoors or in well-lit areas.

  • Production Schedule

Have students create a timeline for filming each scene.  Encourage them to be as efficient as possible in their filming.  Each additional take is wasting their production AND postproduction time.

  • Permissions

Students should avoid using copyrighted music or video in the production, but if they’re going to use it, you need to make sure they have permission, especially if they’re going to upload the video to Youtube.  They should even be wary of wearing recognizable brands.  If your students are filming on location, they need permission.  Even public parks require permission.  Malls, grocery stories, restaurants, businesses, libraries, and even classrooms that aren’t yours require permission of some sort.


1.  Teach them a few basic rules of filming.  Film is a visual language, and it has a real set of rules.  If you want your students’ video projects to look better, make sure you teach them some of the rules.  Youtube channels like FiveMinuteFilmSchool and IndyMogul offer great video tutorials, but even making students aware of the different shots, angles, and movements can go a long way.

2.  Encourage students to review their footage on site and to be wary of visual or audio flaws.  It’s much easier to correct problems on site than to wait until you’re back in postproduction.  Remind students that postproduction isn’t magically going to fix each flaw; sometimes you just have to refilm something.


1.  Know the software.  Maybe they’re using iMovie, or maybe they’re using Final Cut or Adobe Premiere.  Make sure your students have a basic understanding of the software they’re using.  Do they know how to import the video into the software?  Can they trim and cut clips?  Can they extract and add audio?  Can they add titles?  Do they know how to export the final project?

2.  Just like filming has a set of rules, editing also has a set of rules.

3.  Students should critique and revise their final products, just like one might revise an essay.  Look for visual and audio flaws.  Look for errors in continuity.  Are they using transitions and typography professionally?  Correct these flaws.

4.  Publish and share the work.

Students should learn how to upload videos to video-sharing sites and learn how to manipulate the settings to their advantage.  They should also learn how to share links via email and social media and how to embed video files into websites.  You would be surprised how many students don’t know how to do this.

Assignment Ideas

How can you use video in the classroom?  Students can produce commercials, public service announcements, video essays, short films, or even music videos.  This can relevant to all subject areas.  I’ve had students make videos on everything from math tricks, chemistry experiments, forensics labs, current events topics, etc.  Just email me or message me.  I’ll help you generate ideas for your class.

Student Sample Videos

Video Essay

News Package


Music Video

Short Film




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