Megan Power, Teacher

Poway Unified School District, USA

Using Crazy Talk to Increase Student Learning with 1st Graders

Our current social studies adoption addresses student understanding of our national symbols and landmarks at a relatively surface level, but I knew my first graders were ready for more in depth work and learning.  They were fascinated by some of our national symbols, so it seemed like a perfect opportunity to teach them initial research, reading, writing, and speaking skills. 

When I first introduced the topic, my students said, “We can’t study national symbols and landmarks like all the other classes. We’re the “technology class.” I had heard about CrazyTalk, so mentioned I might be able to get a program they could use to animate the symbols so they could “interview” them and share the information they would discover through their research. I was amazed at the energy and excitement the students had for this project once they realized they would be creating a movie using CrazyTalk. Their motivation jumped exponentially.

I structured the project this way:

  1. We brainstormed a list of US symbols and landmarks and voted on the 6 we would research and interview
  2. Then we broke into groups by student choice, although I worked to ensure each group had at least one high reader.
  3. The groups then wrote out all the questions they had about their topics (symbols) on a large piece of construction paper that we folded to create a folder to house their work.  Students quickly learned that research always starts with a question and that as they learned more, they had more questions that guided their research.  All questions were added to their original construction paper folder as work progressed.
  4. We had rich conversations about where to gather information and how to determine its credibility as we searched for answers.  To ensure their work was accurate, students “cited” where they found their facts and determined the reliability of the sources.  This allowed them to practice evaluating the credibility of their information.
  5. Students used class books, library books, videos, the internet, and books from home for their research.  I quickly realized that many of the resources students were using were far above a typical first grade reading level.  But, the students were SOOO motivated to gather information for their movie, they were willing to tackle incredibly difficult text.  Consequently I was forced to offer instruction on “How to Read Difficult Text.” Students worked collaboratively in groups of three. 

    They became so captivated with the process of researching and writing questions that we finally had to have a discussion about how to know you have enough information to complete your project.  As one student put it when asked what he’d learned from this project, “We learned that our research is NEVER done.  But you have to decide when you have enough and then stop and make your project.”
  6. As students completed their research we discussed what makes an interesting interview.  They had to take their original questions, look at the answers they’d researched, and then create interesting dialogue with the information.  Sometimes this required writing new questions as well. It was challenging for them to learn to write strong dialogue so it would flow well in the movie.  Sequencing the questions and adding comments to make the conversation more realistic were critical skills they had to learn. 

    Great editing took place when I let the students practice reading their scripts aloud with microphones.  They could “hear” what worked and what didn’t much better that way.  Their ability to self-correct their work was much stronger when listening than just reading their scripts.
  7. Our next step involved teaching the students the basic principles of good video production.  We watched excellent examples of great videos to learn about filming, rules of thirds, Crazy Talk, green screens, how various screen shots help tell the story, and how music, backgrounds, and camera angles can distract or complement the film’s message.  We used a camera angle guidebook from the American Film Institute of Hollywood.
  8. With their new knowledge about screen shots and camera angles, the students tackled the challenge of storyboarding and scripting the final versions of their interviews.  I was amazed at the quality of critical thinking they displayed as they considered the best “establishing shots” and angles to communicate their stories well. 

    For example, one student was interviewing the Statue of Liberty and was convinced she needed a still photo that angled UP so people would understand how much taller the Statue of Liberty is compared to first graders.  When she was unable to find a photo with the right angle, she suddenly said, “Wait!  If someone films the speaker from up high looking down at him, then it will be the same effect and people will understand that she’s taller.”
  9. Next, students filmed and edited all their video shots, then started creating the animated portions of their film with Crazy Talk. I was  amazed at how quickly they were able to use the program with ease.  Students were anxious to ensure everything lined up perfectly for their animations and that the emotions they chose would match what their characters were saying.  Everyone was thrilled with the final movie.

It’s hard to even begin to describe the amount of learning that this project produced in this little class of first graders.  As adults from our district came to interview them and ask about the process, they were always amazed at the high level vocabularies the students employed.  One school board member asked the students if they could create a list of all the terms they learned and they quickly generated a list of 44 new words.

Another element of this project that significantly improved their reading fluency was the amount of time we spent practicing and recording their lines.  Most interesting was the fact that the students were the ones that chose to do their lines repeatedly until they were “perfect.”  Their ability to self-assess for inflection, volume, and expression increased their oral fluency significantly.

One of the goals of this project was to produce a film that could be used to help teach other students about the national symbols and landmarks.  Because other students were fascinated by the “talking” symbols in the film, they all learned far more and were anxious to find out even more.  It had captured their interest.

The learning that took place as my class created this film far exceeded the expectations that I thought were HIGH expectations (!) when we began. My mind is already swimming with hundreds of possibilities to use this program in other areas of my curriculum to support and increase student learning.

Megan Power
Poway Unified School District

(Megan’s class that created the video was her first grade class at Shoal Creek Elementary. This year she is teaching kindergarten at one of our new schools, Del Sur Elementary).