Film It! Tips for Getting Children to Be Directors

“I believe my camera should always be in one hand and a good script in the other. That makes it possible for storytelling to come to life.” —Leticia Alaniz

“Pick up a camera. Shoot something. No matter how small, no matter how cheesy, no matter whether your friends and your sister star in it. Put your name on it as director. Now you’re a director.” —James Cameron

‘Tis the season to celebrate with your students! Halloween, Dia de Los Muertos, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and other holidays around the world take place in fall and winter. One of the best ways for students to learn and teach others about the way they celebrate is by producing a movie. Movies help children contextualize language and learning, express their creativity, tap into their imagination, identify and empathize with protagonists and antagonists, introduce their culture and traditions, and help them undergo the process of writing and producing. Below are tons of tips and ideas for helping children direct and produce their own short films.

Types of Films

Children can produce a wide variety of films to celebrate the holidays, such as monster flicks, holiday carol music videos, and documentaries of any celebration or culture. Students can either star in their own productions or create characters so that their identities are protected. Try any of these ideas: claymation, animation, cartoon, machinima, soap opera, movie trailer, talk show, news broadcast, play, action flick, commercial, sci-fi flick, infomercial, puppet show, or music video. Find over 1000 ideas and examples here. For any type of film, we recommend you get parent permission to use the child’s drawings, voice, image, etc. You might get them to sign an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP).

Quick Digital Video Creators

Many free digital video web tools and apps help students quickly create short films and offer students a library of music, characters, props, backgrounds, and more to choose from. My favorite video creation web tools and apps for young learners include Powtoon, Animoto, Educreations, ToonDoo, Touchcast, MagistoWideo, Thinglink, and Dvolver. Also, try these awesome iOS apps, Sockpuppets and Toontastic. Find these apps and more bookmarked in my Symbaloo of video tools.


Storyboards help children brainstorm the characters, dialogue, plot, setting, props, and other details for their films. Your young learners can create storyboards using the Storyboard Generator tool. They only have to register to save their storyboards. You can also have your young learners draw or add images to this storyboard template I created for my students to brainstorm their movie productions. It’s a Google Doc that you can download and edit as you like.


Help children learn about the video recording/camera settings on their devices. Introduce students to the Rule of Thirds if they are filming with digital cameras, flip cameras, or mobile devices. During the recording process, make sure your young learners consider the best location and time to reduce background noise, get the best lighting, and avoid heavy traffic.

Remix and Edit

Students can add music, sound effects, movie effects, and edit their videos on the web with Camtasia (free for 30 days), iMovie, Windows Movie Maker, Youtube editor, or WeVideo. To edit and remix with a mobile device, your students can try free apps like Youtube Capture (iOS), Splice (iOS), AndroVid (Android), or VivaVideo (iOS/Android). If students have smart devices, they will find their camera tool has editing features. Mobile apps for adding special effects include Action Movie FX, Quo Movie FX, Creature FX, Game Your Video, and

The Viewing

Publish the videos and post all to one location on a class blog, Wiki, Padlet, or Pinterest board. You can also host a viewing party at your school and invite the community and parents. You can host a film festival. Check out the tips provided here for hosting a 5-minute film festival.

For more ideas, check out this slide presentation about video creation.

What are your tips for getting children to make movies?

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Shelly Terrell

Shelly Sanchez Terrell is the author of Learning To Go and The 30 Goals Challenge for Educators. She is also an adjunct professor, teacher trainer, and international speaker. She has trained teachers in over 25 countries and is a founder of the Bammy Award-winning #Edchat, the ELTON-nominated ELTChat, and The Reform Symposium E-Conference. She is the host of American TESOL’s Free Friday Webinars and shares regularly via, Twitter (@ShellTerrell),, and She has taught toddlers to adults English in various countries including the US, Germany, Croatia, Slovenia, and Greece.

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