Watching Our Word Wall Come Alive

Guest Post by Elizabeth Siracusa

This spring Lester Laminack came to my home state of Vermont as our keynote speaker at a popular literacy conference. He was such an amazing storyteller, captivating us with his stories for hours and hours. He has a special talent for relating simple stories from his life to our lives as teachers.

The story that really resonated with me was related to boxed meal kit services. Lester talked about how people who are talented cooks have lost their knack for creativity due to “the box.” They don’t need this box or step-by-step directions to make a delicious meal, but they now depend on it anyway. He fears that many of us have stopped just opening the fridge and creatively crafting up a meal from the random ingredients that are left from a busy week.

Wrapping back around and relating this to our teaching, he reminded us to literally “think outside the curriculum box” and incorporate creative and engaging literacy activities in our classrooms across the country. Yes, “the box” does have many great tips and tricks, but they aren’t our own. Many of us love teaching because it allows us to be creative in ways that we never knew were imaginable. Taking Lester’s advice, I started looking around my classroom for inspiration. It didn’t take me long to realize that the center of our classroom, the word wall, could really use some extra sugar and spice. How could I make these words come alive?

Photo 1 - ESiracusa Word Wall

Upper Elementary Character Trait Word Wall

In my upper elementary classroom, I use many themed word walls across the year for content-specific vocabulary. However, our main word wall displays character trait words.

Late in the year when we had at least one word under each letter of the alphabet, it was the perfect time for a celebratory project. I put all of our words in a hat and had small groups of students choose three words. Together they were responsible for creating a story that incorporated these three character trait words. It could be fictional, or not, and could have as many characters as needed.

The stories were fantastic! Not only did students show off their creativity, but they were filled with humor and strong character relationships. Writing and sharing these stories with the class wasn’t enough. They were ready to take this project to the next level. These stories needed to come alive. Brainstorming all together, we started thinking outside of “the box!” Our final idea was to make each story into a short film using stop-motion animation.

The first step was revising their stories and organizing them into scenes using an Animation Storyboard Template.

This helped students decide which characters would be in each scene, and who would be responsible for that part of the narration. Next, Students built their characters and mini “sets” using a variety of materials such as clay, legos, cardstock, popsicle sticks at more.

Photo 2 - ESiracusa Clay Figures Picture

Claymation Characters

Photo 3 - ESiracusa Scene Making Picture

Students filming using iMotion app.

In addition, the students did all of their own filming and editing. We used the iPad app iMotion for filming (free or $3.99 for Pro). It is important to note that stop-motion animation requires about 100 pictures to be captured for each scene of the story. In a one minute film, most students had captured about 500 pictures. Lastly, we used the app iMovie to edit the animation video, add a title, narration, and credits. iMovie takes a little getting used to, but once the kids are familiar with it, it is very user-friendly.

Photo 4 - ESiracusa Animation Set Up Picture

Students filming using iMotion app.

From start to finish this project took about four one-hour blocks:

  • Session 1: Write the story using three-word wall character trait words
  • Session 2: Organize story onto storyboard template and build characters and set
  • Session 3: Finish building characters and set and film in iMotion app
  • Session 4: Edit in iMovie

Once all of the videos were done, we celebrated our word wall by hosting a red carpet event for parents! It was so amazing to see the kids glowing with pride when it was their turn to introduce their movie. Thanks to Lester’s great advice, we ended our school year “outside the box” as creative animators, writers, and linguists!

Here are three examples of the short films students created to celebrate their word wall work:

Elizabeth Siracusa is the creator and author of the blog Vocabulicious – A Teacher’s Guide to Creating Word Conscious Classroom. She has been a fourth and fifth-grade literacy teacher at a public school in Essex Junction, Vermont for seven years. This summer she will be moving to San Diego, California. Her passion is reading aloud fantastic books and teaching her students that reading has so much to offer. Follow her on Twitter @MissSiracusa, or contact her at esiracusa2 [at] gmail [dot] com.