Lesson Plan: Creating a Short Video for the This is My Family Contest

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Students will:

  • Identify how the varying definitions of "family" impact communities.
  • Use visual storytelling techniques to encourage their peers to expand their definitions of "family."
  • Write, shoot and edit short videos (5 minutes maximum) about what family means to them.
  • Use critical viewing skills to analyze the structure and effectiveness of short videos.

SUBJECTS: Communication, Language and Expression, Social Studies, Language Arts, Visual Arts and Media



  • TV and VCR/DVD player
  • Computer lab equipped with iMovie or other video editing software or webcam/computer camera for "straight to camera" unedited video pieces
  • MiniDV/digital cameras and microphones
  • Blank MiniDV tapes/memory cards
  • Internet access for viewing sample short videos

ESTIMATED TIME NEEDED: Four 50-minute class periods, plus homework assignment.

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In 2010, POV featured three films about adoption -- Wo Ai Ni (I Love You) Mommy by Stephanie Wang-Breal; Off and Running by Nicole Opper and In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee by Deann Borshay Liem -- and launched a national public awareness campaign to promote examination of issues facing adoptees and families who choose to adopt. The "This is My Family" video contest came out of a need to expand the definition of "family" and create an online environment where people whose lives have been touched by adoption can come together and share their stories. We expanded this to include non-adoption stories, as it quickly became clear that there was a need for all types of families to tell their stories.

This lesson plan is designed for teachers to assign students video projects to enter in the This is My Family Contest. The contest deadline is November 15, 2010. We are assuming that each teacher has access to a digital video-editing lab and is familiar with basic video editing software or direct video capturing software via digital cameras or webcam.

Teachers who do not have access to cameras and editing systems may want to follow the lesson plan through the proposal-writing stage. Although their students won't be able to submit their work to the contest, they can create "storyboards" (rough sketches outlining their ideas for production) that may then be displayed in public places in their schools to generate discussion and awareness. These sketches may also be displayed on our Flickr group page.

Both the Flickr group page and submission page will continue to be updated after the contest deadline, extending the life of the project.

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Day One: Viewing (optional, but recommended)

1. View and discuss a few of the short videos from the POV "This is My Family" project with the class. Recommended videos for viewing are DiversityDNA: multi-cultural Deb, MY FAMILY, Band of Brothers - I'm Alive and NICOLE - This is my family. To view these (and other) submissions, visit our playlist.

Ask students to answer the following questions about each short video:

  • What qualities make this an effective short video?
  • What target audience is the producer of the short video trying to reach?
  • What is the main point the producer of the short video is making?
  • What visual and audio elements does the producer utilize in the short video?

Summarize and list on the board the qualities and elements of effective short videos.

For example:

An effective short video:

  • is 5 minutes long or shorter;
  • grabs viewers' attention;
  • makes a point with directness and honesty.

A short video contains a combination of visual and audio elements that may include some or all of the following:

  • on-camera narration or voiceover
  • live action, animation or still images
  • text
  • music

2. Ask students to answer the following questions about "family" and share their responses.

  • What are the first thoughts that come to your mind when you think of "family"?
  • Who is your "family"?
  • What is your personal definition of "family"?
  • Do you think we should expand the definition of "family?"
  • What are the most important things to you, your family and your community (defined as broadly as you like)?
  • What are some of the things you do as a "family"?

Write students' responses on the board and briefly discuss them.

3. Ask each student to write a short "treatment," or proposal, for a short video he or she will create. The proposal should include the video's target audience and the idea the student wants to communicate to viewers. Suggest that students may want to use the phrase "this is my family" in their proposals. Their proposals should also describe the visual and audio elements they plan to use to grab viewers' attention.

4. Assign students to shoot their short videos as homework. Suggest that they may want to work in pairs to help each other during production. Explain that they also will have the opportunity to work on the project during the following day's class period. (This may be the best option for students using computer cameras or students in schools that are unable to lend out video equipment to students for home use). Ask students to bring into class CDs/mp3s of the music they want to include in their short videos. Make sure students are aware of the rights issues related to using copyrighted music. Refer to the Contest Rules for guidance.

Days Two and Three: Production and Postproduction

Depending on your school's resources, allow students two class periods (and additional time outside of class) to shoot and edit their videos. Have students edit their short videos using iMovie or another editing software program. They should add text and music. When students finish their videos, instruct them to save the videos in MPEG or MOV format and upload them to our website or onto YouTube.com.

Day Four: Screening and Evaluation (optional, but recommended)

Screen all of the short videos. Have students evaluate the process and results of the project by responding to the following questions in writing:

  • In what ways have your opinions about the definition of family changed as a result of creating your short video and viewing other students' videos?
  • Which audiences do you think would be most influenced by the short videos made by you and your classmates? Why?


  • Use student responses to the evaluation questions to assess the effectiveness of the video project.
  • Create a rubric for assessing student videos that takes into account how well each video addressed a specific audience and whether or not one central idea was articulated in each video.
  • Show the videos to another class and assess how effectively the videos stimulate a discussion on family issues.
  • Have the students develop a rubric that they can use to critique their own short videos.

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  • View other POV documentaries that deal with important issues on this topic, as identified by the class. Assign students the task of creating public service announcements or short videos on those issues. Students may work with and create a public service announcement or short video on behalf of a local community organization that is trying to educate people about a particular issue. Search for POV documentaries in the POV film archive.
  • Have the class organize a This is My Family Film Festival featuring their short videos. The film festival can be a town hall event, or it can be a traveling festival that moves from class to class. The videos can be used to stimulate discussion of the different definitions of family found within a single community.
  • Have students design poster-style stories based on their video shorts. These can be exhibited in a public place in the school.