Book Creator

Living History: Video Documenatries for the Classroom

by Michael Hernandez


Living History
Video Documentaries For The Classroom
Why make video stories?
Documenting real people and events in the world makes learning real for students. When students make video projects, the concepts of politics, culture and history become concrete realities, rather abstract ideas found in textbooks or literature.

More importantly, making documentaries has the ability to put a human face on these situations, as students interview people directly affected by policies and events. This allows students to build empathy for people different from themselves, and makes their learning much more rich and meaningful.

This book describes processes I’ve used with my students as they produce documentaries on our field trips to developing countries. These same techniques can be applied to video stories your students can make in your school and community.
On the cover: students interview the sister-in-law of Kim Phuc, from the famous “napalm girl” photograph.
Planning the documentary
Like any research paper, a documentary needs a thesis (what we call a focus statement) backed by thorough research.

Students need to choose a topic that they feel passionate about, investigate the facts, history and people involved, and begin to develop a story based on a narrow aspect, element or event related to the larger topic.

Keep the idea very small and concise, as video stories can quickly become complicated. Next, they will need to create an outline for the story, and gather quotes and statistics.
Develop a Focus Statement
A single sentence question that this video story will answer. Here are some examples from the videos included in this book:

*Why are rice and beans so important to the Cuban diet?
*How has my experience in Cuba changed the way I think about my assumptions of other people?
*How does the religion/spirituality of the Vietnamese people permeate everyday life?
Write an outline
Create a bulleted list of sub-topics to be covered in your video story, in the order they will appear.
Develop interview questions
Written specifically for each person you will interview, the questions should elicit colorful quotes of this person reacting to the topic.

Interview tips:
*Find interviewees that are knowledgeable about the topic and/or are first hand witnesses
*Don’t ask yes or no questions
*Follow up to clarify any technical terms, jargon or statements that seem confusing
*Ask questions that will elicit colorful, concise statements

See the Resources section for more about writing good interview questions.
Record the documentary
Make a shot list, and record footage you’ll need to illustrate the topic, and document a process or event.

*Be sure to record good natural sounds of the location and people you interact with
*Conduct interviews using proper techniques (see the resources section for more on interview techniques)
*Make notes of the best shots and interview statements so you can use them in editing
*At the end of the day, review your footage for quality and story elements