Making Stop Motion Movies

This week I wanted my third graders to try their hand at making stop motion movies. I had several goals with this assignment:

1. Introduce the kids to stop motion for future projects related to science/social studies/math curriculum.
2. Give kids a chance to work together (collaboration), be creative, plan, problem solve, and reflect (use critical thinking), and have fun!
3. Connect stop motion movies to reading and writing (since I’m the language arts teacher).
4. Complete in 3 days.

With these goals in mind, I collaborated with two other third grade teachers, Carrie Oertel and Sue Harris, and the GRT at Cale, Susie Golden. We created a three-day stop motion introduction project so that all 120 third graders could participate! In the end, we accomplished all the goals that we set out to achieve! Here was our three-day plan and the results!

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Day 1: Introduce the idea of stop motion and show some examples. We watched some examples where people did a really good job of keeping the camera in the same position throughout the movie and then some examples where the camera clearly jumped around a lot. I asked the kids how they knew whether the camera stayed in the same position or not. They had to verbalize clues that they could see (observations) that told them that the camera was moving or not moving. This was important because I wanted them to be able to recognize in their own movie whether the camera had moved a lot from picture to picture.  Here are some of the observations that the kids were able to make about how they knew the camera was changing position:

“The video looks like it’s shaking.”  “The house was tilting.”  “It was changing the angle.”

Here are the clues the kids used to determine if the camera had remained stable throughout the video:

“The base, wall, and trees are not moving.”  “You could see the background the whole time.”  “Only the Lego guy was moving.”

We then watched a video tutorial that showed the kids tips for how to make a lego stop motion movie. We talked about key vocabulary, such as lighting, stability, frame, and position. We connected the movie to reading and writing by talking about beginning, middle, and end, and how their movie should show a story sequence.

Finally, the kids began working on their “sets”, creating a base and background where their story would take place. They also made a stand to hold the iPod touch in an upright position for filming the next day. Some kids used Legos to make the iPod stand and some used play dough.

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A stand the kids made out of legos to hold the ipod touch

Day 2: Finish scene set-up and begin filming. We began the second day session by watching another example and non-example of a stop motion movie that kept the camera in one position throughout the movie. Again the kids explained how they knew the camera was still. I added an extra focus question also. Why is it important to keep the camera in the same position? What is different about the movement of the characters when the camera is still from when the camera changes position? The kids were able to figure out that when the camera moved a lot, it was hard to figure out the motions of the characters. But when the camera was still, you could clearly see how the characters were moving.

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setting up their scene

The kids who needed to add a bit more to their scene were given an opportunity to do so. As soon as kids were ready, I gave them an iPod touch to begin filming. We used a free app called Lego Movie Maker. Kids very quickly figured out to use the app and only needed me to get them started and got minimal assistance as they took pictures. The most common question was, “My hand was in the way. How do I delete a frame?”

The excitement was building as they started replaying their sequence of pictures! As they came to show me, with pride, their first movies, I would ask them what they liked about their movie. Then I asked them how they thought the movie could be better. They were quick to realize that if they could keep the camera more still, it would improve the film. Some wanted to try taking smaller steps with each picture to make the movement more realistic. Some realized that the pictures were framed too high or too low and wanted to edit their films.

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Day 3: The final day for editing and finishing the movies. When we started the third day’s session, we watched two movies that kids had made the previous day. From the Lego Movie Maker app, you can easily upload a movie to YouTube, so I projected the movies to the big screen for the class to see. We talked about how the camera was stable and discussed ideas for editing and improvement today. I also told the kids that we would only have about 45 minutes today to finish filming. After 45 minutes we would have a reflection circle where I would ask them two questions: What are you the most proud of with your movie? and What did you learn by making stop motion movies? I wanted them to know ahead of time so they could be thinking about those two questions.

two girls filming their scene

two girls filming their scene

Once we got the sets and iPods out, the kids didn’t need me for anything. They had learned how to use the app and were very focused on finishing their movies in time. It was as if I wasn’t even in the room. After 45 minutes, we cleaned up and met on the floor for our reflection circle.  I started by asking them the first of the two reflection questions:  What are you the most proud of about your movie?  They answered with very thoughtful responses:

“Accomplishing the small movements of the guy moving.”  “We were creative and we made it realistic, like it could really happen.”  “Making the whole video and finishing it!”  “Putting the support for Superman (so he could look like he was flying) behind the wall so that you can’t see the pole.”  “We hardly got any hands in the way and it turned out really well!”  “Usually we always get new things, but today we had to make do with what we had.”

And the second question:  What did you learn when you made the stop motion movies?

“Teamwork – like we had to take turns and share ideas.”  “I learned how to take baby steps to make the whole video.”  “How to communicate with my partner.”  “How to take one step at a time.”  “How to practice to make something better and how to make something from scratch.”  “I learned how to cooperate with my partner, like we had to agree.  If I wanted one idea and he wanted another, we did rock, paper, scissors, shoot!  Or I told him let’s do this one this time and the other one in the next scene.”  “I learned that my partner and I had lots of differences that I didn’t know we had.”  

Finally, I threw one additional question at them.  I asked them what connection they could find between the stop motion movies and reading/writing.  Their answers:

“You need to work hard in both.”  “They both have a beginning, middle, and end.”  “It doesn’t matter if the story is long or short, but it has to make sense.”  “In a movie, it’s like writing but with pictures instead of words.”  “You have characters.”  “In a real movie, you have to write lines in a script.”  “You have to try to make it better by changing it.”

I handed out their reading notebooks and had them write down two things in their notebooks.  One was a sequence of beginning, middle, and end for the movie they created.  The other was the answer to the question “What did you learn?” with at least three sentences.  The kids went right to work on both!

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I am very pleased that we accomplished all four of the goals in this three-day project!  The students were engaged and demonstrated learning!  Over half of them have told me that they downloaded the app at home and have been making stop motion movies at home ever since!  This paves the way for further options later in the year where I’d like to offer Academic Choice and have stop motion movies be one of the choices!

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