By Charles McKinney, IV
When I started my English-teaching career in South Korea, my Korean co-teacher discovered an interesting website from a teacher-training workshop she attended. The website is called Dvolver, which is a free moviemaking platform that allows users to employ animated characters to develop concise and fun scripts, all in digital format. As soon as I perused the site for myself, I knew it would tickle our students’ fancy.
Indeed, we intended to create a 45-minute lesson plan that centered on teaching the upper beginner to lower intermediate high school students how the website worked and how they could experiment with language in cutting-edge, imaginative ways that might improve attitudes toward learning a second language (learning English can be enjoyable). This article sets out to delineate the utility and uniqueness of a simple website like Dvolver for instructors and students alike to maximize its language learning potential in the classroom environment. It will be a step-by-step guide that will provide TESOL educators with a roadmap to incorporate such technology into their language teaching, be it for curricular or extracurricular purposes.
Preparation for Dvolver
1. Acquaint yourself with the Dvolver website by watching a YouTube tutorial or two. I recommend the ones on the Dvolver Tutorial YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/dvolvertutorial).
2. Prepare a simple Power Point presentation, if possible, that will enable students to conceptualize the lesson prior to completing it. To do this, you need to familiarize yourself with the site’s functionality first. What better way to do this than to create a movie that can serve as an exemplar for your class? [See my model illustration below]
3. Write the Dvolver website on the chalkboard.
4. Introduce the lesson objective to students and the concept of using Dvolver to achieve the learning goal. For example (for the sake of this article), we will focus on the use of money-related idioms in English. Ensure students know what idioms are by defining it.
5. Tell students they will create their own digital visuals and text focusing on these idioms.
6. Brainstorm some money-related idioms with students by making a list on the board. (e.g., show me the money, time is money, put your money where your mouth is, talk is cheap)
7. Assign students in pairs to work on the project.
8. Confirm that Adobe Flash is properly installed on the computer or device of use.
9. Direct students to the website and have them click on “make a movie”.
As an aside, for a lesson on cultural domestic travel you might advise or ask your students about story lines dealing with customs, food, holidays or geography. Perhaps the whole class would focus on one of these subtopics or each pair/group of students could be assigned a different subtopic under the umbrella of domestic travel. A mind map illustration on the blackboard would clarify these prewriting tasks. Now students can feel confident to begin working on their films.
10. Choose a background. Scroll through the range of options available.
11. Choose a sky. Scroll through the range of options available. Once you choose these elements, an image of their appearance in the movie will manifest on the screen with a description below the image that include the following meteorological data: weather conditions, visibility, temperature, humidity level and the sunset time.
As an aside, if the lesson aim is to review vocabulary on seasons and weather conditions, then students might choose the New York City studio apartment background and the snowflake sky of which they then could include in the conversation between the characters once they reach the dialogue stage of all this. Descriptions are provided for each option available, which can help students to select the most fitting elements for their movies throughout each step of the process.
Plot and Characters
12. Select the story line that best matches the preconceived idea for your movie. Four plot options exist (i.e., rendezvous, pick-up, chase and soliloquy) that give suggestions for corresponding genres and casting. For instance, if you choose the rendezvous plot, the following information will appear in the animation: plot- rendezvous; characters – 2; ideal for – romance/comedy/drama. The same applies for the other three options.
In continuing with our lesson goal on money idioms, let’s go with the “chase” plot in that it is ideal for action and horror movies.
13. Tell students to click “next” so they can scroll through the variety of characters available which range from Snow Girl to The Mack (Snoop Dog imitation).
As for characters, let’s choose Bart Cheever, Dfilm Founder/CEO, and Mr. Big, a developer who lives in Trump Towers and favors doublespeak. These characters should make for a suitable interaction on our learning goal of finance idioms.
As an aside, a brief description (e.g., the character’s likes, occupation, skills, age, language, catchphrase, etc.) of each character makes the selection more intriguing, and a diversity of characters give the students options, perfect for a lesson on personality caricatures, embracing differences, idiosyncrasies of human behavior and so on. Allow students to choose who they most identify with or who they believe will incite thoughtful and entertaining writing. All in all, let them have fun!
14. Instruct your students to write the dialogue for each character line, one line at a time, incorporating the grammar point and/or vocabulary emphasized. Inform them that conciseness is important to note here because, similar to Twitter, each character’s line cannot exceed 100 characters of text. Each character has three lines max (or more if another scene is added). See my example below to get an idea of how this works:
CHARACTER 1: Are you going to buy this building in Silicon Valley for your new business or what? Time is money.
CHARACTER 2: Yes, I thought we had an agreement. My word is worth its weight in gold. You can bank on that!
C1: OK, I need half the money upfront or I take my business elsewhere. Got it, boss? Oh & I need it NOW!
C2: What? Do you think money grows on trees? You told me I had until next week to deliver the goods.
Well, I guess you heard wrong. Now show me the money!
Your talk is so cheap, you scoundrel! The deal is off.
15. Tell students to draft a monologue related to the grammar focus and/or theme of the lesson if they selected a soliloquy plot. For example, if students are practicing general introductions/greetings, then a monologue would work well for talking about one’s family, hobbies, dreams, talents, etc. as if he or she was presenting the information to an audience independently. (I have a large family that consists of three brothers and five sisters. Tennis is my favorite sport, and I want to play professionally when I’m older. Juggling hackie sack balls is an interesting pastime of mine.)
Additionally, let’s say your class was doing a lesson on personality and adjectives, some students may prefer a soliloquy to generate an enlightening self-description (e.g., My name is Zach. I am 17 years old. I am clever, stylish and friendly. I have an Afro, brown eyes and long limbs…) Otherwise most, if not all, students will have two characters in their movies of which they will then write a dialogue based on the instructed lesson objectives.
Reverting back to our classic example on money idioms, you could require students to concoct tongue twisters related to these idioms. (She sells seashells by the seashore as the Brobdingnagian beacon of her bread and butter.)
If students are given a specific language goal, particularly when constructing their scripts, then they will gain more from the project as opposed to simply allowing them to write or say whatever they want at random. Clear and focused lesson goals will keep them on task, making classroom management easier, especially if it will be a graded/credit-based assignment.
It is important to know that you cannot hear the characters reciting their lines upon completing the movie. Their speaking parts appear as dialogue bubbles on the screen to be read quickly while the music (see next section), if used, plays during the movie. Thus, students get to practice both reading and writing skills in a creative, distinct and user-friendly way.
Music, Credits & Preview
16. Ensure that your computers’ sound and speakers are functioning properly if they are available in the classroom. However, if they aren’t available, then students do not need to select any music.
17. Encourage your pupils to choose the music that best coincides with their story line or they can decide not to have any music at all. A number of different genres will appear on the screen for students to listen to and to select if they want to use music. Some genres include Bollywood Indian tunes or 1970s retro or heavy metal. All music is instrumental, and only a snippet of each genre is played. Music, animations, and everything is all produced by the website founder-creators and their affiliated partners so don’t fret about OER regulations!
18. Tell students they can add another scene to the movie or finish it by clicking on the appropriate option for their decision. If they add a second scene, then follow the forenamed instructions for Screenplay. If they finish the movie, proceed to the final steps ahead.
19. Tell students to insert a movie title and director credit (which will be their names) and to choose a title design (classic, horror, radioactive and seventies). The title design shows how the title and filmmaker will be introduced on screen comparable to real movies. Students tend to love this part!
Our hypothetical movie will be called Mr. Duplicitous. The director is Charles McKinney and the first title design (i.e., classic) will be chosen. The film is musicless.
20. Direct them to preview and send the movie.
21. Watch and enjoy the movie after students have followed the previous step.
22. Tell students to e-mail the movie to themselves and to you, the teacher, for viewing and [grading]. Congratulations on successfully navigating the Dvolver movie process![Finally, if you have a teacher’s or class blog/website or want to include the movie on your LinkedIn profile or YouTube channel, then you can embed the unique link provided after previewing the movie into your preferred website for permanent visibility.]
Not only can Dvolver work for traditional classroom-based lessons, but also for co-curricular activities in English clubs, community groups and home-based activity as a feasible rival to the addictive computer video games that consume many youngsters’ time and interest. Nontraditional students and adult learners can also benefit from Dvolver in the language classroom by developing their computer literacy skills in English while working to create something they can be proud of. My Macedonian adolescent students were proud of their movies on comic characters after reading about Japanese Manga in class. Tablets and smartphones are alternative mediums for using Dvolver in the absence of computers.
Language teachers might even consider executing informal assessments by having students create movies on Dvolver. For example, if students are working on comparatives, superlatives, action verbs, verb tenses or adverbs, topical vocabulary and complex sentences, to name a few, then teachers can determine the student learning curve via a Dvolver filmmaking project. Limitless possibilities abound for the teacher who can exploit this website to accomplish what is normally regarded as mundane tasks that students often dread. So imagine telling your students that their pop quiz on irregular verbs will be conducted in the form of a digital movie. Perhaps an unorthodox experience like this will staunchly alter their views toward assessments/evaluations.
In the event of a lack of computer technology or Internet access, this project can still be done in conventional handwritten form. Students can sketch their own characters, settings and cultivate a plot and script on poster board or construction paper in like manner to the website. It just may take a bit more creativity and elbow grease on their part but is totally doable. Then they can act out their movies in real time in front of the class and make their own music as they wish. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, so do not discount this project if technology appears to be an obstacle. The best edutainment is not limited to the virtual world.
As technology continues to advance exponentially, such growth bodes well for TESL educators who want to keep their teaching approaches catchy yet educational. Dvolver can fulfill that potentiality when utilized in a strategic manner wherein students recognize the value delivered from said project and are more motivated to put their best foot forward in learning and experimenting with the English language. The camaraderie experienced as a class after having produced a Dvolver movie is a worthwhile perk of this digital site. Edutainment at its finest!