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Highland Literacy Project




S. Nesbitt May 2009

The 3Ss and the 3Cs

Story Setting Sound Colour Character Camera


Using the 3Cs and 3Ss is a quick and easy way to generate discussion and get your pupils started on understanding the rich text of film!

Story, Setting, Sound, Colour, Character and Camera are simple headings you can use as an easy way for exploring any film.

Start with the more familiar concepts such as character, story and setting, focussing on one aspect at a time. Then as pupils become familiar with the concepts, they can choose different aspects to focus on, reporting back to the class as a whole.

The visual stimulus of a film can fire children’s imaginations – follow up activities tap into this motivation and the creative thinking inspired by the film and give ideas that can be used to improve the quality of pupils’ writing.

For each of the Cs and Ss you have been given discussion ideas and then some inspiring follow on language related activities to get you started.


Moving image texts tell a story just as any written text you would use with your class does. As a teacher you are used to discussing many aspects of a storyline as you read through a book. The same discussion you would have about a written story can be applied to the story contained within a moving image.

Settings can quickly establish a situation or mood. It can help the audience to understand the actions and emotional lives of the characters in the story. Most films consist of both a main setting and minor settings. Often the constraints of a setting determine how the characters behave or give as an idea as to how the story will develop.


The soundtrack may contain several elements, each of which contributes to the telling of the story.

Sound effects – added sounds related to the action or to add to the general atmosphere, music which can be used to express mood in a scene or to indicate where actions might be about to lead, ( think Jaws ! ) dialogue and voice over, and silence which can make a huge impact on the feeling or atmosphere created, often adding emotional tension or emphasis.

Music can make us jump in fear, bite our nails with suspense and laugh or cry. Music can bring a film to life.

The choice of colour can contribute to the overall mood and atmosphere of the film, add visual contrast e.g. to make a character stand out or contribute to our understanding of the timeframe of the action.
Characters we meet in a film are revealed to us via what they look like, how they behave in different situations, how they interact with others, how they speak and sound, or music associated with them.

In a film the camera acts as a narrator, leading us through the story. Different camera shots are used for various purposes. Understanding these camera shots helps us understand the conventions and techniques of the craft behind film making, in the same way we recognise and understand the conventions and techniques of an author.

Story Discussion

Which was their favourite part of the film and why?

Who were their favourite characters ?

How would they rate the film?

Who would they recommend it to?

What surprised them during the film?

Viewing Activities

Is it similar to any written texts we know?

 What genre does it remind of us of?

Can we predict the type of storyline?

Who or what is the story about ?

How does the film capture the audiences attention ?

e.g. Does it begin on the action?

       Does it pose questions and puzzles from the very beginning?

       Does it create a certain atmosphere or sense of tension?

How does it compare to story beginnings we have read ?

Can children describe their emotional reactions to the film at key points.

What are the most important events ?

How would the story change if events happened in a different order?

Were there puzzles within the story ?

Were there surprises ?

How long does the story take – in real time ?

Does the plot move forward through dialogue or action?

Did the ending leave any questions unanswered ?

Have we read stories with similar endings ?

Follow On Activities

What might happen next after the end of the story ? Continue the story keeping true to the film style.

What if one key event had not occurred – write the different story that could have occurred - or add a possible event in and write what might have happened.

Create a class collection of similar story endings e.g cliff hangers, issues resolved, air of mystery remaining.

What happened before the story began ? Write the circumstances that brought the characters to the situation they are in now.

Rewrite the story from the point of view of one of the lesser characters

Narrate the story in the style of a television reporter. Have quotes from characters.

Invent a conversation which never took place but which two of the characters might have had.

Rewrite the story / part of the story in a different genre e.g. as a newspaper report, as a storyboard or in the style of a fairytale etc.

Write a trailer for the film – relate this to other persuasive writing the pupils might have done. How does this compare to the blurb on the back of a book. The plot has to be hinted at but not too much of the storyline given away !

Write and act out the producers ‘pitch’ for the film – again relating to persuasive writing.

A pitch is how to sell a movie by just talking about it!

Give the pupils 3 minutes to deliver their pitch, bearing in mind they are trying to convince a studio to part with their money.

To be successful they need to tell the story outline with bundles of enthusiasm, know their target audience and convince the studio that this is going to be the blockbuster of the year!

Brainstorm words describing the plot – use these to create an advertising poster for the film.

Write a film review for a local newspaper including a summary of the plot. 


etting Viewing Activities

Where does the action take place ?

How quickly are we able to identify the setting ?

Why was this chosen as the setting ?

Could another setting have been used ?

Does the setting affect the behaviour of the characters?

Does the setting influence your expectations of what is going to happen?

Which props are essential to the story ?

What would happen to the story if specific props were missing?

Follow On Activities
Choose a different setting for the story –how would the story have to change? Write this new story.
Draw a storyboard to create the opening of the film in a different place.
Choose one of the settings. Brainstorm a list of descriptions of the setting. Now use the adjectives and phrases you have generated to add an effective setting to a story of your own.
Print out a still of a setting. Can one pupil describe it to another pupil with enough detail for them to draw that setting. No questions allowed !
Make a class collections of pictures from magazines / leaflets etc of various settings. Let pupils select pictures to go with their story writing and see if they can describe everything they can see in the pictures in detail.
In your own writing use props to tell us about your characters.

Sound Viewing Activities

Watch music and opening titles. Can the music give clues as to the type of film?

Discuss how sound , music and silence can create a very powerful atmosphere or convey feelings.

List the sounds you can hear.

Do sound effects add to the drama?

Is there music in the film ? Why?

How does the music make you feel ? What images does it conjure up ?

When does the music change ? Does the speed of the music change?

Why does the music change?

How does the music contribute to the mood ?

What sort of instrument makes the music ? Why have they chosen this instrument ?

Is the music trying to convey some information?

Is music used to hint at what is to come?

Do you notice any silence? Why is it there?

Follow On Activities
Cover screens and listen to the soundtrack only – can you tell what is happening? Draw any objects you think you can hear.
Discuss the general atmosphere of the film. Now watch the film with the sound turned down. Does the atmosphere remain ?
Use musical instruments to make ‘sound stories’ based around the same theme.
Create a voice over for the film.
Take your last piece of creative writing – record a soundtrack for it.

Software for recording such as Audacity is simple to use and can be downloaded free.

Write a creepy, scary story – what sound effects could you describe to help set the scene.
Take a previous description of a setting you have written – can adding sound effects improve that description.
How does intonation, accent and volume add to your impression of the speaker ?

Brainstorm adverbs you could use in your writing to tell more about a character by describing the way they speak.

Next time you write a film review write about the music.
Computer software packages can help create your own soundtrack. They usually have sound clips which you can combine and mix. Try Garage Band or Dance eJay

Make music loops for a funny moment, a scary moment etc.

Have fun! – type ‘Dr Who Radiophonatron’ into Google and mix your own Dr Who soundtrack !


olour Viewing Activities

What are the colours used in the film ?

Why do they use these colours ?

Are they like the colours we see around us ?

Do the colours change and why?

Do the colours tell us about time or the passage of time?

Are colours associated with a particular character ?

Follow On Activities

What would the film have been like in black and white ?

Look at the use of colour in graphic novels.
Storyboard a story using the same use of colour as the film.
Discuss warm / cold colours – create warm / cold landscape painting.
Create a storyboard using blackline outlines. Photocopy and then colour one with warm colours and one with cold colours. Try the same idea with dark, gothic colours.

Character Viewing Activities

Discuss expectations of character – based on first appearance

How does character change throughout film ?

Write opinion of character after viewing a short part of the film. Write your opinion at he end of the film and compare.

Explore clues given about a character and how these clues might lead us to ask more questions about a character. Can we use these techniques in our own writing?
Pause and discuss characters feelings – how do we know this ?

How can feelings be conveyed without words ?

How would these feelings be described in a written text
Pause during viewing and stop on a selected scene and discuss what the characters are thinking.
Discuss how expression and movement let us know the characters feelings.
Which characters do we empathise with and why?

Follow On Activities
Write a letter to one of the characters.
Write an invitation to one of the characters explaining why you would like them to visit your school.
Write about personal experiences which are similar to one of the characters experiences.
Brainstorm adjectives to describe character – write another story involving this character.
Use these adjectives to write a Haiku poem about the character.
Add the adjectives to a ‘Bright Ideas’ book for pupils to refer to when writing.

Write a character profile - include likes / dislikes, favourite food, hobbies , favourite film, favourite pop song etc

Write a job description / advertisement for one of the characters
Write a page in a characters diary / write a personal account of the events from a characters point of view in the first person.
Create a new character to join the story – how will this new character be introduced. Storyboard their entrance.
Drama -express a variety of feelings through expression and movement
Use ‘hot seating’ to ask a character questions with one pupil taking on the role of the character

Interview characters in a ‘vox pop’ role play

Role play new situations for the characters
Draw one of the characters and add ‘thought bubbles’
Draw outlines of main characters – get pupils to add writing to describe anything known about the character. Inside the outline could be words that describe the true character – outside the outline words to describe what other people think of him
Write a list of things we know about a character and a list of things we don’t know about a character
Choose one character and write their thoughts on the other characters
Design / Create simple costumes for characters
Create merchandising based on the characters – e.g. action figures, packed lunch boxes etc

Camera Viewing Activities

Pause the video . Discuss the frozen image.

How are the elements postioned? What is the camera angle ?

What difference would it make if the camera were somewhere else?

Note down close ups and long shots during the film. Why have they been chosen ?

Do we see different characters points of view?

Is the camera moving or staying still ?

For a sequence in the film guess the number of shots used. View and count the actual changes in shot.

Does the length of shots get quicker or slower at any point?

Follow On Activities

Let pupils choose an event in the film. Pupils create a storyboard of shots to show this sequence. What effect could be produced by using a different selection of shots ?

Wide shot / Establishing shot – often used to show setting. Think of Eastenders ! Discuss with children how this is similar to an author describing the setting in detail at the start of a novel.
Read the opening paragraph of a novel. Can pupils draw one single opening shot that encompasses all this information.

( The Hobbit is a good one to use ! )

Have a still of a wide shot and have pupils write an author’s attempt to portray the same information.
Show close ups of emotions or photograph the pupils acting out the emotions. Brainstorm adjectives and phrases to describe these emotions and display them on your writing wall or in a ‘Bright Ideas’ book which pupils can refer to when writing.
Get pupils to take their last piece of creative writing. Can they highlight where close ups, long shots etc would be used. Storyboard part of their story with appropriate shots noted.
Have a class collection of comics / graphic novels. See if pupils can find evidence of all the different types of ‘shots’ and explain why they have been used.
Use Comic Life to create a story or ‘A day in the Life of’ your school with photographs using close ups and long shots.

(Comic Life is free to download and guides you step by step through the process.)

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