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Lesson 1
Take Action - Making Films

How to Analyze
Documentaries

Objectives

After this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Identify the elements of a documentary
  • View documentaries critically, critiquing them for their effectiveness
  • Brainstorm ideas for their own documentaries

Overview/Purpose:

This lesson serves as an introduction to the production of documentary films, providing students with the opportunity to build an understanding of the characteristics of this genre.

Guiding Questions:

  • What are the characteristics of documentaries?
  • What makes a documentary effective?

Recommended Time:

90 minutes

Common Core State Standards:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.4
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.5
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.6
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.8
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.9

Materials:

Documentary examples:

Technology Required:

  • Internet
  • Projection Equipment

Lesson Design:

  • Explain to students that writers often critically study the writing of others to learn more about their craft.
  • In preparation of making a plan for their films, the class studies “After the Fall: HIV Grows Up” alongside additional selected documentaries from a writer’s perspective while considering the questions below. Stopping after each film, the class focuses on the first question. Chart and discuss the characteristics of documentary films that students notice. You might want to refer to the list below.

1. What do we notice about documentaries in general?

2. Which documentaries do we think are especially good and why?

3. How might those who that are not as compelling be made more so?

4. How can we create documentaries as powerful and effective as those?

  • Typically, documentaries:

– Present compelling issues

– Inform the viewer of key, relevant facts

– Aim to leave a lasting impact

– Might use interviews

– Might set a scene

– Might use a narrator

– Might use voice-overs

– Might include people

– Might use text on screen

– Might use music or sound effects

– Might use visual effects (like black and white, fade, speed adjustment, vignette)

– May use transitions/editing to enhance the video

  • After building a list of characteristics, students will ‘Think-Pair-Share’ in response to Questions #2 and 3 above.
  • Consider keeping a class list of documentary features, noting specific techniques that are most effective.
  • Provide time for students to reflect on what features they felt were most effective and brainstorm ideas for their own documentary films.