Short Writing Assignments
Journal Entries, Ruminations, Quickwrites, Single Paragraphs
- Topics for short writing assignments can include the contribution to the film's story made by one of the following: (1) a cinematic element, such as music; (2) a theatrical element, such as lighting; or (3) a literary element of the film's story, such as expository phase, theme, plot, conflict, symbol, or characterization. Topics for short writing assignments can also include:
Journal Entries: Students can be assigned to write a journal entry, either in class or as homework, responding to the events or episodes in the movie as it progresses. The journal may or may not be focused on one topic; topics can change each day.1. What was the strongest emotion that you felt when watching the film?
2. What did you learn from this movie?
3. Which character did you [admire, hate, love, pity] the most?
Sample Assignment: We are going to be watching the movie, "Remember the Titans," for part of the class period each day this week. As homework, every day after a class in which we watch the film, I'd like you to write a short journal entry about your reactions to the movie so far. [Describe the length of the entry desired or the amount of time students should spend writing the entry.]Ruminations: Students can be required to write ruminations in which they respond to the motivations, values, or attributes of characters in the film.
Sample assignment: We are going to be watching the movie "Cyrano de Bergerac." After you have seen the movie, please write a page or two of your thoughts about whether Cyranno was a bully. Include a comparison of his actions in the play to those of a bully you know or have heard about.Single Paragraphs: Students can be asked to write a single paragraph about an element of a film and how that element contributes to the story or to the artistic presentation.
Sample Assignment: Write a paragraph about the use of camera angle in the scene in which Dorothy first meets the Wizard of Oz. The topic of your paragraph is: "What does the camera angle add to the scene?" The paragraph should have a topic sentence, citations to evidence to support the point being made, and a conclusion.Quickwrites: Students can be asked to write without preparation and in a set period of time, their thoughts or observations on a topic selected by the teacher. Quickwrites often become a ritual at the beginning of each class.
Sample Assignment: "To Kill a Mockingbird" ends with two ironic twists. Name one of them, describe why it is ironic and what theme of the story is highlighted by the ironic events.
Essays - Formal and Persuasive
Topics for Formal or Persuasive Essays with Research Outside the Confines of the StoryHistorical Accuracy: Students can research and evaluate the historical accuracy of the film or of a scene in the film and, where inaccuracies are found, students can theorize about the filmmakers' reasons for making the change from the facts.Topics for Essays Based on an Analysis of the Film
Historical, Cultural, or Literary Allusions: In many films, historical, cultural, or literary allusions are important in conveying ideas. Students can be assigned to investigate one or more of these references.
Differences Between the Book and the Movie: When a movie is based on a book, students can be asked to describe those differences, ascertain whether the movie is true to the story told by the book, and make a judgment about whether the changes made by the movie improved the story.
Themes and Messages: Students can be asked to identify and evaluate, using research from sources other than the film, the wisdom of any theme or message which the filmmakters are trying to convey.
Issues of Interest Relating to the Subject Matter of the Story: All films present issues of interest to the audience aside from the story itself. For example, the concept of attachment disorder is important in the film "Good Will Hunting" even though the film can be appreciated without knowing much about the disorder. However, the film may motivate students to research and write an essay about attachment disorder. The movie "October Sky" refers to the early U.S. and Russian space programs. Students who have seen this movie can be assigned to write an essay about what has occurred in space exploration in the last twenty years and how it differs from what occurred in the 1950s and 1960s.Literary Elements and Devices in the Story Presented by the Film: These include plot, subplot, theme, irony, foreshadowing, flash-forward, flashback, characterization, and symbol. Students should be required to describe the use of one element or device and its contribution to the overall message of the film. TWM offers a Film Study Worksheet to assist students in organizing their thoughts for this assignment.
Cinematic Elements in the Film: Cinematic elements include: shot (framing, angle, and camera movement), sound (including music), lighting, and editing. Students can be asked to identify and discuss the cinematic elements in an entire film or to focus their analysis on a particular scene. The analysis can be limited to the use of one cinematic element or it can include several. Students should be required to describe the use of the cinematic element as well as its contribution to the overall message and artistic presentation of the movie or the scene. See the TWM student handout: Introducing Cinematic and Theatrical Elements in Film. TWM also offers a worksheet to help students identify theatrical elements in a film. See TWM's worksheet entitled Cinematic and Theatrical Elements and Their Effects.
Theatrical Elements in the Film: Theatrical elements found in movies include: costumes, props, set design, and acting choice. Students can be asked to identify and discuss the theatrical elements in an entire film or to focus their analysis on a particular scene. The analysis can be limited to the use of one theatrical element or it can include several. Students should be required to describe the use of the theatrical element as well as its contribution to the overall message and artistic presentation of the movie or the scene. See the TWM student handout: Introducing Cinematic and Theatrical Elements in Film. TWM also offers a worksheet to help students ""identify theatrical elements in a film. See TWM's worksheet entitled Cinematic and Theatrical Elements and Their Effects.
Creative Writing Assingments and Film Critiques
Creative Writing Assignments: Tasks which will stimulate students' creativity include: (1) write a new ending to the story; (2) add new characters or new events to an existing scene and show how the story changes as a result; (3) write an additional scene or incident, with its own setting, action, and dialogue; (4) expand the back-story of one of the characters and make it into a separate story; (5) write a letter from a character in the story to the student, or from a character in the story to the class, or from one character in the story to another character in the story, or from the student to a character in the story; (6) outline, story board, or write a sequel.
Sample Assignment: Imagine that Jean Valjean is still mayor of his adopted town of Montreuil-sur-mer. You are Bishiop Myriel, the man who had faith in Jean even though Jean stole his candle sticks and other silver. Jean has requested that you write a letter to Javert asking Javert to leave Jean Valjean alone. What would you say in that letter? Think about the nature of the man the Bishop is trying to convince, the tone he would take, and the arguments he would present. [Describe the length of the letter.]Film Critiques: Some students will enjoy writing a review of the movie, possibly for publication in the student newspaper. Students should be instructed to make sure that they cite evidence to support their views.
Sample Assignment: Imagine that you are a film critic for a major newspaper. Write a critique of the film, "The Outsiders." Be sure to support your conclusions with evidence and logical arguments. [Describe the length of the critique.]
Other Assignments, Projects and Activities
- Mock Interviews: Students can work together in groups of two to write and perform a mock interview in which one plays a character in the film and the other takes on the role of the interviewer. The answers should reveal the values of the character.
Debates: Many films offer controversial social or political ideas which can easily become the topic of vigorous debate. Students can be divided into teams to support or oppose an idea presented by the film.
The Great Divide Separate the class into two groups representing sides taken on a particular issue. Students in support of the point should sit together facing those opposed to the point. Students should use the rules of Accountable Talk to argue their positions. Accountable Talk requires that students listen carefully and adhere to a code for responses to one another's words. Each respondent must begin his or her point with phrases such as:
Students may not resort to name calling or any other insults and must back up their points with reference to the work being discussed. When students hear points that cause them to change their minds, they must get up and take a seat on the other side. Often, an entire class will become convinced of one position and all seats will be moved to one side of the room. Pro-con T-Chart organizers or any other form of note taking can be beneficial so that students can refer to points they felt were important when it comes time to write their essays.
I hear what you are saying, but . . .
Your point is good; however I want to say . . .
I'm unclear about what you mean . . .
Granted, your point has validity; however, consider . . .
I understand what you are saying; however, the facts are . . .
Socratic Chairs: Place a number of chairs at the front of the room and select appropriate students to fill them. These students will serve as a panel to discuss the issue that must be resolved or at least clarified so that the students can write their essays. Students remaining in their desks should take notes using a graphic organizer, such as a pro-con T-Chart, and can ask questions either during or at the end of the panel's discussion. Sometimes students may want to relinquish a chair to a member of the audience in order to further the point he or she is making. Vary the rules to fit the goals of the discussion but keep to the rules of Accountable Talk.
Creative Projects: Students can be given the opportunity to compose poetry, music, song, or dance relating to an idea in a film. They can also produce a film or create a painting or a poster.
How to review a play
Preparing to Write a Play Review
Below are some tips to help you prepare to write a play review:
The Nature of the Assignment
Because the performance of any play is such an ephemeral experience, writing a play review can be an exciting, though difficult, task. You have to be both spectator taking in and enjoying the performance and critical analyst of the production itself. You have to be able to provide a very brief summary of the play, a close objective analysis of the performance you attend, and an interpretation and evaluation of the entire ensemble of staging, acting, directing, and so on.
The review assignment asks you to analyze in an objective manner the relative success or failure of a given production. Note that you are not asked simply to summarize the plot or give an opinion regarding the text of the play being mounted; your review must be grounded in the production itself. Your job is to describe the production accurately, and then to render a value judgment of it based upon what you have seen and what you expected. The assignment will test your skill as a reader of the play and as an observer and critic of the production.
In addition to grounding your review on the production you witness, you must be careful to limit your review to a few essential observations in support of your thesis (which will be discussed below). You must concentrate on a few important ideas and aspects of the production and focus your attention on only what you consider the most significant parts of the production itself. Unlike a newspaper review, which can be loosely structured and superficial, your assignment is quite definite. You are not asked to cover a wide variety of production elements (i.e. performance of every actor, every costume change, every set change, every directorial decision, and so on); instead, the assignment demands that you develop a few key ideas in thoughtful detail.
Remember, too, that your stance is to be objective and critical, not impressionistic and merely nasty. A critic is not someone who simply "criticizes," but a person who studies, analyzes, and then renders a rational judgment of what he/she has seen. Your tone will be very important in making your review reliable and intelligent.
Before You Attend the Production
Read the play before going to the production. (It is important to be prepared for the production you plan to attend; otherwise, you run the risk of having to see it several times.)
In your mind, have a good sense of how a "standard" production might look, complete with a sense of what the characters might look like, the type of costuming that might be used, a suitable set design, and an appropriate rendering of the theme and tone of the work.
Pick out, as you read, several critical or problematic points within the play that may be of particular interest to watch for in the production you are about to attend. If your instructor has asked you to pay particular attention to certain elements, make sure that you are prepared to recognize them in performance.
Attending the Production
Attend the play with an open mind, a willingness to accept the play as the director has presented it in production.
- Note any deviations from your concept of a "standard" production and try to find a good explanation for that deviation. (Is the director trying to "say" something new or different? Was your sense of the play somehow inaccurate, or were you shown new insights by the director's production?)
- You may want to consider some of the following:
- Why the choice of costumes, and why the set design?
- How did the actors deliver their lines (seriously, comically, realistically, formally)? Were there any significant actions or gestures that contributed to the play's meaning?
- Were any "special effects" utilized (consider lighting, sound, audience participation, machinery)?
- Were any significant cuts made in the script?
After the performance, jot down the details you recall and talk about the performance with friends. You'll need these details for your paper in order to substantiate your argument.
Evaluate the performance.
- Did the director miss any important opportunities to convey something you were able to see in your reading of the play?
- Would you have liked to have seen more attention paid to what you perceived as critical passages, passages the director seemed less interested in?
- Why would you have preferred this attention, and why do you think the director avoided giving the passage such attention?
Consider the following practical aspects:
- What kind of stage does the director have at his disposal? What kinds of restrictions does the stage impose on the director concerning movement and set design?
- Are the actors professionals, amateurs, or students? What restrictions does this impose on the director? Are the actors capable of dealing with the script's requirements? (Be fair to the actors in your assessment of their talents and the level of their "craftsmanship.")
Writing the Review
Below are some tips for writing play reviews:
Writing the Introduction
The introduction should include the following:
- The title of the play, the name of the playwright, and any pertinent historical information regarding them (other similar works from this period? by this writer?).
- The name of the director, the place and date of the production you attended, and the name of the production company (again, do you know of any previous work by this company? this director?).
- The thesis of your review, which should include (possibly in more than a single statement) the following:
- A general impression of the relative success or failure of the production, based on what you actually saw and on your initial impression of how the play should have been performed.
(Note that even if the production did not exactly coincide with your own conception of the play, you should not feel obliged to condemn the performance outright. Be open-minded and willing to weigh pros and cons.)
Papp's production of Lear captured all the horror of a world where love can't be counted on and where life is nasty, brutish, and appallingly short.
(Note that this thesis asserts that Papp captured the essence of what is in the text itself -- the expectations set up by the thesis are that the reviewer will then analyze the methods by which the director achieved this effect.)
Smith's You Can't Take It With You made me sympathize with the notion that freedom must permit eccentricity and even, to a point, endorse it. Without that sympathy, the play would have been reduced to pure chaos and would have failed to portray an American ideal of freedom.
(This thesis suggests that "sympathy" was the director's intention. Note also that the reviewer gives a strong indication of what he/she expected to find in the production.)
- Since you will not be expected to discuss all aspects of the production, focus your thesis on one or two major concerns that the performance has or has not addressed. Read your assignment carefully to find out which aspects of the performance are to be emphasized in your review.
In You Can't Take It With You, the acting by the family members on the open, exposed stage displayed an innocent and vigorous freedom, as well as a proud independence in their confrontation with accepted norms of behavior.
Writing the Statement and Summary
Include a brief thematic summary (but not a plot summary) of the play, and support that summary with concrete evidence from the text.
You can include this summary in the introduction; or, if you wish to expand the summary, include it in a separate paragraph following the introduction.
Writing the Body of the Paper: The Review
Remember that in the body of the paper you are obliged to deal specifically with each element of the production that you mentioned in the introduction and thesis.
In order to give your review a tight internal logic and cohesiveness, you should also discuss these elements in the order that you outlined in the introduction. Such points of discussion might include the non-technical (acting, directing) and/or the technical (lighting, scenery, costumes) aspects of the production.
For each element that you discuss:
- Describe: In as brief and precise a manner as possible, describe in detail the physical aspects of what you saw performed. Keep in mind at all times that whatever you include must in some way contribute to the assertion you made in your introduction and thesis. Focus on particular scenes or performances that will provide the evidence for your final evaluation of the play.
The tempest scene in Lear utilized a particularly hostile set in order to universalize the suffering depicted throughout the play. The lights were dimmed and the backdrop was flat black. Against this backdrop were propped, in no particular order, seven skulls that looked out over the events to come.
(Note the vivid description of what was seen, and the use of detail to convey that vividness. The passage will work nicely as evidence for an overall, positive evaluation of the production.)
- Interpret, Analyze, Evaluate: This part of the paper requires the most thought and organization and consequently receives the most attention from your reader. After you have finished describing important elements of the production, proceed to evaluate them.
For example, you would need to answer the following questions regarding the last description of Lear:
- Why were the lights dimmed at the beginning of the scene? (shock effect? slow unfolding of horror?)
- Why was the backdrop painted black? (contrast? mood?)
- Why was there no order to the skulls? Why seven? (emblem of disorder or chaos? significance in number?)
In other words, assume that everything used in production has significance, but don't panic if you cannot find "answers" for all the questions raised by what you see in the production.
In the evaluation, you are given the opportunity to attack as well as commend the performance; if the production fails to answer questions that you feel need answers, then say so. If the question or problems are relatively minor, ignore them. Don't quibble at the expense of missing the more important concerns.
Writing the Summary and Conclusion
Your conclusion should not merely recapitulate your thesis in a mechanical way.
Rather, you should try to show why your response to the play is valid and significant, based on what you have described in the body of the paper.
Do not add any significant new material, but don't be afraid to leave your reader with something to think about.
For further information you may wish take the Writing Center workshop entitled Literary Analysis?: No Problem!.