Student Green Screen Videos

To cap off the Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles fantasy novel study, my students filmed green screen videos that made it look like they were actually standing in Whangdoodleland! If you read the Whangdoodle book with students, there are many opportunities for super creative activities. In the book, characters travel by their imaginations to Whangdoodleland. In order to bridge between our world and the Whangdoodle’s world, the characters need scrappy caps (I talked about that fun craftivity HERE) and a willingness to believe.

By the end of the book, students wanted to actually be in Whangdoodleland, so we wrote stories about an imaginary animal who might live there and designed shoebox dioramas of a scene from the fictitious setting. Students had to include details from the book in their shoebox scenes. We took pictures of the finished scenes and inserted that into the green screen video background while students presented their stories about the imaginary animals. The final video made it look like the students were actually standing in Whangdoodleland talking about their animals.

Your students could create a similar video for a variety of novel units, history time periods, or science topics. Design the background based on your unit of study and then video tape the students presenting a story or information that suits the background. You could transport yourself back to an important event in history or put yourself inside a plant cell. When the students create the video, it is a lot like when meteorologists report about the weather and are pointing to things that are not actually there. The maps and graphics are inserted later on top of the green screen background.

Green Screen Shoebox Background Materials

  • 1 shoebox for each student (If you have shoeboxes with the attached lid, do not put any materials or decoration on the lid. Build inside the actual box only.)
  • Felt, various colors
  • Sequins
  • Beads
  • Cardstock or construction paper, various colors
  • Foam sheets or shapes, various colors
  • Play doh, model magic, clay in various colors
  • Feathers
  • Pom poms
  • Yarn, various colors
  • Popsicle sticks, clothespins…
  • Any other craft materials you may have
  • Elmer’s glue
  • Hot glue guns

Green Screen Video Procedure

  • Follow your writing workshop procedures and have students create the text they will be reading on video. For our project, students created an imaginary animal that could live in Whangdoodleland. When designing their animal, the students considered all aspects of the animal– habitat, eating habits, personality, etc. as well as including details from the book.

Whangdoodle planning page

  • After the writing is complete, design the shoebox scene. We needed about 3 class days to complete the scenes. Not only did students create the “habitat”, they designed a model of their creatures too that was placed in the box.

  • Take a close-up picture of each shoebox scene. You will want to take the photo in landscape orientation and zoom in close enough so the edges of your picture are the edges of the shoebox. The pictures that were the most successful in the videos used lots of brightly colored craft materials, and the students filled in the “floor” and back of the box to give more of a 3-D effect.

  • Videotape each student reading their story in front of the green screen. We had to look at the shoebox scene to determine where the student should stand, so they could add hand motions in the video and point to things that would appear in the shoebox background. Because my students were supposed to be in Whangdoodleland, the kids wore their scrappy caps while filming. Adding a little costume element is a fun detail!
  • Use a video editing app to create the final video. Our school’s technology teacher used iMovie for editing. There is an app called DoInk that would work too.
  • Upload all videos to a playlist on YouTube (unlisted) to share with families.

I was so excited about the final results of this video project. It definitely qualifies for differentiated instruction if you need to provide an activity that hits a wide variety of learning styles. And finally, I was pleasantly surprised by how many skills we covered– reading, writing, text evidence, summarizing, spatial reasoning, oral presentation, fine motor… To see the example of the video I modeled for the students, CLICK HERE. I even have a scrappy cap! To purchase my Whangdoodle novel unit, CLICK HERE.

Whangdoodle Scrappy Caps

I am in the middle of reading The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles with my 4th graders, and they just finished designing their own Whangdoodle scrappy caps this week. It was a surprisingly successful craftivity and brought me unexpected teacher joy all week. The Whangdoodle book is written by Julie Edwards (you may know her as Julie Andrews… or the original Mary Poppins) and was published in the 1970s. It is one of my favorite fantasy books for upper elementary. Three siblings travel by imagination to Whangdoodleland with an eccentric professor. In order to travel from our world to the Whangdoodle’s world, they must wear brightly colored scrappy caps. The caps are like ruby slippers or the wardrobe to Narnia; they are the bridge to the magical land.

Whangdoodle scrappy cap

I wanted my students to have their own scrappy cap to wear during our novel study to focus our thinking about the book and activate our imaginations. I ordered knit beany caps for all and provided lots of fun accessories. I had a few reservations about the activity. I was not sure if the students would be that interested in stitching designs on the hats, or if they would buy into wearing the hats during our reading time. Boy, was I wrong.

Whangdoodle Scrappy Caps

The students spent a solid two days embroidering, gluing, and attaching various embellishments to their hats– boys and girls. They planned their designs carefully and figured out ways to stitch letters and patterns. I met with small groups and taught blanket stitch, chain, and a backstitch, and they started teaching each other and sharing ideas. A few knew how to make pom poms from yarn and started explaining the process to interested classmates. They figured out ways to mix felt with yarn, buttons, and sequins to add different effects to the hats. The results, both skills wise and with the hats’ appearance, have been well worth the class time dedicated to the project.

Scrappy Cap Materials

  • knit hats, buy in bulk, solid colors
  • yarn, bright colors
  • plastic needles, one per student
  • fabric glue
  • hot glue gun
  • sequins
  • buttons
  • felt, bright colors
  • feathers, bright colors
  • foam shapes
  • any other fun, decorative materials

Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles scrappy caps

I made a sample hat that I wear during class too. I shared the different techniques I used on the hat before letting the students loose to work on their own. All the materials were at a station, and students worked at their own pace. I set up the hot glue guns (I had two) at a station on the floor. If you don’t have low temp hot glue guns, include work gloves at the station. Small cloth gardening gloves work well to protect fingers from burning.

It helps to have some group instruction for basic sewing how-tos. I recommend students start with a piece of yarn that is about an arm’s length. They would put a simple slip knot at the end of the piece of yarn and thread the other end through the needle creating a fairly long “tail”. If they don’t have enough of the tail part pulled through the needle, they are constantly de-threading their yarn. Some of my students liked to tie the thread to the needle, but it created problems for them if they wanted to pull a stitch out. For right-handed students, they should hold the hat with their left hand, and use their right hand for the needle work (the opposite for a lefty). After observing students hold the hats, I realized how many benefits the activity has for OT type issues. Many were worried about really gripping onto the hat, and when they didn’t, the fabric was too wobbly to get the needle to pull through. The gripping hand works as a guide and stabilizer for the needle work. All students started with a basic running stitch.

Whangdoodle scrappy cap stitching

For the handful of students that wanted to get fancier, I pulled small groups and showed them a few specialty stitches. This helped students think spatially about moving left to right or right to left. Keeping one hand inside the hat in order to poke in and out of the center of the hat and not wrapping around the outside was little bit of a brain teaser for the kids. They also needed to plan ahead a few steps to create the design they wanted.

Whangdoodles scrappy cap

If you can work in the time for a sewing activity in your class, it will be worth it. The students activated a whole slew of skills that I did not expect, and they are so proud of their finished hats. They have been really excited to wear them, and we put them on not only for reading time, but during tests, to complete a writing activity, or just because it’s fun to have them on and makes us happy.

To see my full Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles novel unit, CLICK HERE. There are many posts with tutorials or YouTube videos for embroidery stitches. I found this BLOG POST with a few simple examples. I also had a “sewing for kids” book that I brought to the classroom, and students could flip through it.

Dystopian Book Genre

The dystopian book genre comprises the bulk of Mr. Star Wars’ 8th grade book stack (check out my other BLOG POST about middle school boy books). Dystopian books are a sub category of science fiction and are a favorite YA book genre. Science fiction books are generally geared to middle and high school students because the content is heavier. Themes and common story lines in science fiction stories deal with apocalyptic events, death, disease, dying, wars and typically have a dark tone.

science fiction dystopian book genre for students

In dystopian books, the protagonist or main character faces a big challenge that will possibly save the world, and he/she uses various skills and cunning to make that happen. I believe this is the appeal of the dystopian book. A character who is the same age as the reader takes on an important cause and succeeds in some way. It gives the reader a sense of empowerment.

How do you know a book is science fiction?

  • The story answers a “what if” question. What if we could time travel? What if we lived on Mars? What if the temperatures on Earth rise significantly?
  • The story incorporates the impact of scientific or technological changes on people.
  • The setting is in the future or alternate universe.

How do you know a science fiction book is dystopian?

  1. Division of citizens into distinct groups or classes
  2. In the future
  3. War or apocalyptic event has happened in the past to change society
  4. Individuals have little power, information or free thought is restricted
  5. Illusions of a perfect society are maintained through corporate, bureaucratic, technological, moral, or totalitarian control
  6. The hero/protagonist sees the problem with society and wants to change the system

key elements in dystopian literature

Many middle school classrooms will include a dystopian book as part of the reading curriculum this school year. Use THIS ACTIVITY PAGE to identify general science fiction characteristics in books, dystopian characteristics, and then compare to a specific book.

science fiction dystopian book stack

My Dystopian Book List… so far

  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • The Maze Runner by James Dashner
  • Divergent by Veronica Roth
  • Matched by Allie Condie
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  • City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
  • Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix (Teaching resources available HERE)
  • Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
  • The 100 by Kass Morgan
  • Dry by Neal Shusterman
  • Scythe by Neal Shusterman
  • The Neptune Project by Polly Hollyoke
  • Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
  • The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
  • Empty by Suzann Weyn
  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry
  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  • Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • The White Mountains by John Christopher (Teaching resources available HERE)

Pinterest Page Writing Activity

A Pinterest page writing activity can be a great way for students to summarize and share key information on a topic you have been studying in class. My students recently designed a Pinterest page to show what they learned about Native Americans in the Southwest, but I have also used this writing activity with novel studies. My students were able to double up on some technology skills too, but the activity could be used with a printable template and handwritten if you don’t have access to computers.

Pinterest Writing Activity for social studies or novel studies

A Social Studies Pinterest Page

  • I started the activity by giving my students THIS PLANNING PAGE in order to brainstorm. They chose the Southwest group on which they wanted to focus, selected four sub-topics based on our class readings and notes, and jotted their notes down on the planning page.
  • Students needed a general description of the Native people that included the region and climate where the people lived. This is the equivalent to the profile information in a real Pinterest account.
  • Next, students sketched a simple drawing of the item that would be the image for the pin and a brief description (about three sentences) for the image on the planning page. Each pin represented a specific aspect or attribute of the Native American group. For example, my students who were creating a Navajo Pinterest board might have pins for weaving, a hogan home, turquoise jewelry, or sheep because these were some of the key details we read about in our textbook and supplemental readings.
  • Since we were also reviewing how to identify topic, main idea, and details, many students recognized how this project broke their information into topic (the name of the board), main idea (each pin topic), and details (the description with the pin).
  • THIS PINTEREST TEMPLATE could be used for any social studies topic. Students open the PowerPoint document and click in the text boxes to add their text using the ideas from their planning/brainstorm page. They can delete the blank rectangle image place holders and insert their own images or leave the rectangles, print, and hand draw pictures. If you want students to handwrite the entire activity, use THIS PRINTABLE TEMPLATE.

Pinterest Writing Activity for social studies or novel studies

A Book Character Pinterest Page

  • The character Pinterest page is a unique writing activity for students to share what they know about a favorite book character. It requires students to identify key character traits and design a board that represents the book character. I tried this activity for the first time last year, and it was a good challenge for the students to explain why a character would choose to “pin” a certain item. The thinking process involved in designing the character Pinterest page was more involved than it appears at first glance.
  • I give the students THE PLANNING PAGE. They choose a key character from a book and think about specific traits for that character. The trick is to identify traits that define the character and translate that into a pin image with a description that shows understanding of a character. For example, Charlotte in Charlotte’s Web might pin the latest edition of a thesaurus because she needs word ideas to help Wilbur. We created Pinterest boards for the main characters in a graphic novel called Dying to Meet You by Kate Klise. Next to the profile picture, students wrote a general description of the character and then dug deeper into the character with the pin choices and descriptions.
  • THIS CHARACTER PINTEREST TEMPLATE could be used for any novel or story. If you want students to handwrite the entire activity, use THE PRINTABLE TEMPLATE.

Pinterest Writing Activity for social studies or novel studiesFor even more fun writing activities you can use in your classroom, CLICK HERE.

Inspirational Teacher Characters in Literature

I am a sucker for inspirational teacher characters in literature. I love books that include a teacher (or coach or mentor) who provides quiet support for a main character at just the right moment. I just finished reading Towers Falling by Rhodes and cheered for Mrs. Garcia when she quietly helps Deja adjust to the new school and anticipates Deja’s frustrations. In Hate That Cat, by Creech, I want to be the character, Miss Stretchberry. Miss Stretchberry is that once-in-a-lifetime teacher who changes a child’s entire school career. She sees all of the hidden strengths in Jack, the narrator in the story, and spends time nurturing those qualities.

Inspirational Teacher Characters book list in children's literature

Characters such as Miss Stretchberry and Mrs. Garcia are some of my favorites. They are not the only teacher characters in literature who inspire me. I love the way Mr. Burton in No Talking embraces the students’ creativity in participating in class with as few words as possible. I have so much respect for Miss Harris in The Great Gilly Hopkins when she negotiates Gilly’s anger in a positive way. I learn something valuable for my teacher toolkit from every teacher character in these books.

No Talking by Andrew Clements

My Favorite Inspirational Teacher Characters Book List

  • Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
  • Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea
  • Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
  • Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
  • The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
  • Hank Zipzer by Henry Winkler (pay attention to the music teacher)
  • Homesick by Kate Klise
  • Love That Dog and Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech
  • Mrs. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson
  • No Talking by Andrew Clements
  • The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen, 7th grade+ (pay attention to the math teacher)
  • The Secret School by Avi
  • A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park
  • Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes
  • The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg
  • The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt
  • Wonder by R. J. Palacio
  • Word after Word after Word by Patricia MacLachlan
  • The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill

For adults (and particularly teacher adults), try the book Educating Esme by Esme Raji Codell.

Need more book ideas? CLICK HERE for a list boys will love, and CLICK HERE for a list with strong girl characters.