Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Shakespeare + LEGO = Epic Lesson Mashup

Screenshot from Banquo's Death
Directed by Summer, Alyssa, Eric, Nisha
Guest Blog Post
by Melissa Baldwin, River City High School

If you ask anyone who has worked with me the last six years they would probably say that I am always willing to try something new in my classroom. Some of those new tips, tricks, and lessons have failed epically...like the biggest fail ever which inevitably led to me putting in a movie, taking a deep breath, and rethinking the next class period.

When I started as an Innovative Educator last year, I realized that failing lessons are what will not only make me a better teacher, but could actually make my students better too. I have had ideas about how a lesson should go, which it then derails, and students help put it back on the right track. I have had ideas about lessons then realized I am not applying it quite the right way or to the correct class. What I have learned first and foremost over the last year is that Innovation is all around us, particularly in a classroom where students are hungry for answers and allowed to be curious without penalty.

At the beginning of summer I attended a CUE conference and stumbled across a session about making videos in the classroom using green screen and the LEGO Movie Maker. Instead of thinking about how I would apply said district sponsored conference session to my classroom, I immediately thought of how my five year old son would benefit from my new found knowledge. I showed up to the session and within about 15 minutes I soon realized that yes, my little duckling would benefit from the session, but that my class would benefit much more. Thus became the working lesson (which is still in it’s infancy, mind you) of the LEGO Macbeth video.

I use the LEGO Movie Maker on my iPad, which I bring from home. Right now, chromebooks don’t have the app available, which makes this project a little tricky to navigate. One way around this was to bring in my own devices for students to use. If you don’t have multiple devices, you could do an alternative video in Slides and Draw...but I am not the expert...eh hem...Melissa Oliver.

Below is a list of things to consider when deciding how to use LEGO Movie Maker and ultimately how to bring deeper meaning to Shakespeare or difficult and distant text in a project based digital environment.

Tips, tricks, and sidenotes:

  1. First, you need the LEGO Movie Maker and a green screen app if you want any special effects. Green Screen Movie FX ($), Green Screen by Do Ink ($), and Action Movie FX are all great apps to enhance your videos. The apps are very intuitive, but there are also tutorials on YouTube as well as within the apps to help show you how to put everything together. 
  2. You need to consider what props your students need and can use. I bought fake LEGO figurine pieces from Ebay for about $15. I had a castle at home my kids didn’t play with anymore and some other props that students used to help make their videos. 
  3. You will need to pre-teach the following words, which can be done in a quick overview before they start working a) blocking b) storyboard c) scripting and script cutting d) camera angles e) lighting and how it relates to tone/mood of the scene f) splicing g) speed 
  4. Decide what scenes in the text you want them to focus on. I chose ones that highlighted key events or turning points in the play. If I do this with a novel next term, I will focus on key plot elements or characterization. 
  5. Model how to take a text from a scene and cut it down to the nuts and bolts. I had some students make videos that were way too long and some that were too short. Next time, I will model how to cut a scene and help them see they don’t need all of the words in each line. 
  6. Show them a sample video--this is tricky if you don’t have any made. Honestly, I did not show them a video beforehand because I wanted to see what they could do. I also needed to figure out what instructions were lacking on my part, so I could improve it next time. 
  7. Give them a storyboard to help them think about where the LEGO people are going to go--How are they going to move?--Where will they be in each scene?--What will show the best form of movement?--How are they going to get from one side of the path to the other? 
  8. If you have only one device and it’s your personal device have a sign up for recording. Help them and monitor as needed. 
  9. Ask kids for help--many of my students already had these apps on their phones which made it fun for them. They felt ownership over the work and felt they could contribute more because they already had that pre-knowledge. 
  10. When students are done with their videos, ask students to email them to you, upload them to your YouTube channel playlist, get a bucket of popcorn and some Good & Plenty out, and enjoy the greatness that is about to happen.

Some helpful hints about green screens:

If you want to use the green screen FX apps...
  1. Your green screen can be 
    • An old copy paper box lined with green paper or painted green
    • A green poster board
    • A hanging piece of green fabric
  2. Use green Popsicle sticks to move characters around--simply tape the characters to the sticks and have kids wear green gloves so it looks like the figurines are actually moving around on their own.
  3. You can use the green screen FX apps in LEGO Movie Maker to make things explode or have giant spiders trample your characters...probably not "accurate" to the text, but c'mon, giant spiders and explosions are pretty fun.

YouTube what?
  1. Ask students to send you their videos via email. LEGO Movie Maker has to go through the email system.
  2. Download their video to your desktop and save as Title Video # or whatever else you want--you may want to be specific about the class period or not.
  3. Go to YouTube, My Channel (on the left hand menu), Click Upload in the upper right corner, then upload their videos.
  4. Once their videos have been uploaded to your channel, you can create a playlist. Click on "Playlist," then "New Playlist." Title it, then start uploading videos.
  5. Students absolutely love seeing the videos they made in class on YouTube.

Here are a few from my class--enjoy!


  1. This is amazing, Melissa. I am totally doing this with My ENG10H kids next term!

    1. Thank you! It ends up being an amazing project!