The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Dramatic Writing and Seed Stories

About a month ago or so, I got an email from a member of the Champaign-Urbana Film Society. He let me know that he got my name from one of our awesome fine arts teachers. He was writing to tell me about an amazing writing contest the CUFS was holding, in conjunction with the Champaign-Urbana Design Organization (CUDO). It is called the Pens to Lens Screenwriting Competition. The competition itself is fairly simple: students in grades K-12 are invited to write a screenplay between 1 and 5 pages in length. The screenplays must be typed and submitted electronically by February 28. The submissions will be judged in three categories: K-5, 6-8, and 9-12.

Our music teacher came in to tell the students about the contest and answered a few questions. The members of my class are invited to participate, but we are not going to take time out of our regular schedule for them to work on it. This is a purely voluntary event. However, I wanted to make sure my students knew some of the basic rules for writing a screenplay, and since this ties in well with our dramatic writing unit, I decided to give them time today to work on this unique writing format.

I started by reviewing that every story has three basic elements: characters, setting, and plot. I asked my students to create a “seed story” by generating these basic elements. Our seed story was outlined as follows:

Characters: two girls in our class, one boy, George Washington, and Snoopy.
Setting: Hawaii, midnight, 3164 A.D.
Plot: The characters are playing hide-and-go seek and Snoopy tries to play “fetch” with George Washington’s teeth.

The students got together in groups of two, three, or four and started writing. I gave them 20 minutes initially, but since they were all engaged after that time, I let them go for a little while longer. There was a wide variety of stories produced, and the boys and girls were able to experiment with telling stories in a dramatic format. Even without being told, many of the stories were written like a play or script, rather than in narrative form. It was really neat to see what happens when I continue to give my students the freedom to express themselves! I hope that at least a few will submit a screenplay for the Pens to Lens competition. The grand prize is having their story produced by CUFS and CUDO and shown at a film festival in town in May! Other submissions may have trailers or promotional material made!

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