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The ELA Teacher’s Guide to Storyboarding Success

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In the era of Netflix and Youtube, you know your students are interested in video. They consume it daily and often create it themselves. Whether or not they realize it, they know a lot about different ways of showing visuals, and how different styles and choices can affect viewers.

Ready to tap their interest in/obsession with video to help them with literary analysis?

Storyboarding is a great tool to get students visualizing what they read, and using their critical thinking to make choices about how to represent the text.

What are storyboards, you ask? A storyboard is the tool folks in T.V. and film use to show how each visual scene will be shot. It looks like a comic book, and it works as a guide to show the composition, lighting, angle, camera movement, etc. for each scene.

This is a really helpful video to show students how storyboarding is used by filmmakers. Consider playing it in class when you introduce the concept.

Once you introduce your students to storyboarding, you can start using it as an activity with any novel you are reading.

Example of a Student Storyboard from The Great Gatsby

Here are a few examples of how to build it into your curriculum:

  • When you finish a section that is particularly dense with meaning, you can ask students to storyboard several pages into visuals as if they were going to produce a film clip. Then have students trade and share why they made the choices they did. 
  • When you finish a novel, you can divide it up into critical moments and assign them to students or pairs. When everyone finishes their storyboards, you can gallery walk your way through a speedy film version of the entire novel, seeing everyone’s interpretations and talking about their differences. 
  • You can use a storyboard as a final project, asking students to be very deliberate in their interpretive choices and turn in a reflection paper with their storyboards that explains how those choices reflect the text.
  • You can ask students to create sixty second film versions of a novel or play, first storyboarding their videos and getting a clear sense of how their video choices will reflect their interpretation. 

But, you might be wondering, how do you make sure students’ storyboards really reflect INTERPRETATION of the text, and not just ILLUSTRATION?

It’s important to clearly explain that each shot in their storyboard should reflect specific, deliberate choices. Here are some of the important elements they should be considering:

Camera angle (high, low, eye level): What do you want to convey about the relationship of one character to another? How do you want the audience to see your characters or a particular character?
Camera distance (close-up, medium range, long shot): How much information do you want to include? What details need to be seen and which can be blurred?
Perspective: Whose eyes are you seeing through? Whose perspective do the audience members have? Or is the scene objective?
Composition: How do things within the shot need to be arranged to put the focus in the right place? 
Length of shot: For how long do you need to show this? How quickly should you move to the next scene? 
Sequence: In what order are you presenting information? Will the audience know everything it needs to in time for key events?
Lighting: Is the moment bright? Shaded? Dark? Are there spotlights? Floodlights? Is there moonlight? Firelight? How will the lighting change the viewer’s focus and the mood of the scene? 
They can show some of these things with their illustrations, even if they are simple stick figures. Other things they can show with captions on their storyboards. 
Example of a Student Storyboard from The Great Gatsby (great use of stick figures + captioning)
Some students (always!) will be intimidated by the artistic element in storyboards. Encourage them to think creatively. They can try an illustrator tool on their devices, find a way to create storyboards using collage, or just draw very intentionally with stick figures, as in the example above. The important thing is to make creative interpretive choices that make sense and reflect a strong understanding of the text. 
If you make this a substantial activity, do consider assigning a reflective paper to go along with the storyboard. Ask students to support the choices they’ve made with clear arguments and connections to the text. 
Storyboarding is really a great addition to your toolbox. As you get comfortable with it and your students get the hang of it, I’m sure you’ll find many more uses for it. 
If you’ve got a question, please feel free to drop it in the comments below. 

Do you find your inspiration in VISUALS? I love ‘em too. Let’s hang out on Instagram! Click here to get a steady stream of colorful ideas all week long.


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I'm Betsy

I’ll help you find the creative ELA strategies that will light up your classroom. Get ready for joyful teaching!







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