Lesson Plans for Writing a Movie Summary

Movie summaries can be quite easy to write but not for high school students. So preparing a lesson plan for writing a movie summary for, let's say a high school literature class, could be quite a daunting task. How do they summarize a movie's plot without giving away major spoilers? Keep reading for tips on teaching high schoolers how to write a summary of a movie.

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Reviewing the Elements of a Summary

The teenagers in your class probably know how to write a literary summary. That's a great place to start! It is important that prior to having your students write a movie summary, you:

  • Review the literary elements of plot, conflict and theme as relative to short stories and other literary works.
  • Have your students write summaries of books or short stories (novellas) prior to introducing the movie as a literary device.
  • Be sure that your students are familiar with the tone and voice that a movie summary should include.
  • Discuss how a movie summary is brief and quite different than a movie review. A movie summary, in effect, summarizes the plot of the movie without giving too much of the storyline away.
  • Explain the summary must be persuasive in that it must encourage the audience to want to go and see the movie.
  • Most of all, remind students that a movie summary is brief.

Sample Lesson Plans on Writing a Movie Summary

Movies can be effective ways to teach summary writing because more of your students can access a popular movie than a complex text. You can use these lesson plans with English learners, struggling readers, mainstream students, or advanced movie-goers alike.

Lesson #1: Summarize Your Favorite Movie

Students who struggle to summarize a class novel may be able to tell you about every scene of their favorite movie. But retelling isn't summarizing; they need to choose only the most important information to include. Use a straightforward lesson plan to show students how to write a summary for their favorite movie.

  • Introduction - Have students write a journal entry on the prompt "What is your favorite movie? Why is it your favorite?" Lead a discussion to see if students share their favorite movies.
  • Direct Instruction - Tell students that movie summaries are a good and quick way to convince someone to see a movie. Choose one of the movies from the discussion (or another straightforward one, such as Cinderella (1950). Model a brainstorm on the board and write a few details from the movie. You can take student suggestions, but be sure to add some less important details yourself (for example, add in that Cinderella has a dog, or that she makes a shirt for Gus).
  • Guided Practice - Have students work with partners or as a class to choose the five most important details from the brainstorm. See if the five details tell a story. If not, what do the students think they should add? Would these details convince someone to go see this movie? Model how to add these details to a five-sentence summary paragraph. Remind them to keep opinionated language out — this is a summary, not a review.
  • Independent Practice - Tell students to do the same activity, either as individuals or partners who have the same favorite movie. They should list all the details they can think of, and then choose only the most important ones. When they're done, they write the summary paragraph.
  • Closure - Have volunteers read their paragraphs to the class. If students haven't seen the movie, would they want to see it after hearing that review?

For struggling learners, you can adapt the lesson by showing the movie in class and having all students write about the same one. This strategy is especially effective for students who could use more peer examples.

Lesson #2: Write a Logline for a Movie

What's the difference between a summary and a logline? A summary, or synopsis, is a longer piece of writing with more details. A logline is a one or two-sentence blurb about a movie — you often see them on movie posters and advertisements. Teaching students how to write a logline is a fun and helpful way for them to really focus on what's important in a movie.

  • Introduction - Show students examples of loglines from popular movies. Which ones do they like? Which ones are more explanatory than others?
  • Direct Instruction - Explain that a logline is something a writer or studio creates in order to sell their movie. They want people to be intrigued enough to see their film, but not have quite as much information as a full movie summary. Outline the parts of the logline, which include the protagonist, the goal and the obstacle.
  • Guided Practice - Choose a movie that all students have seen before, or that you have shown in class (Toy Story (1995), for example). As a class, identify the main character (Woody), his goal (being Andy's favorite toy) and his obstacle (the arrival of Buzz Lightyear.) Have students come up with the best way to state these three facts in one or two sentences.
  • Independent Practice - In partners or individually, have students repeat the process for a movie they've seen. When they're happy with their loglines, have them trade with another person without revealing the title of the movie. Can they guess the movie just from the logline?
  • Closure - Have volunteers share their loglines with the class. Tell them not to feel bad if they don't stump their peers — it just means their loglines are really good and easy to understand!

When teaching this lesson, ensure that students know the difference between loglines and taglines (which are the catchy slogans you see on movie posters). Taglines aren't considered summary statements, while loglines can be very effective summaries.

Lesson #3: Write a Summary That Avoids Spoilers

The teenagers in your class are most likely familiar with the phrase "Spoiler alert!" No one likes to hear about the juicy end of a movie before they've seen it for themselves. In this lesson plan, teach students how to write a thorough movie summary that does not include those annoying spoilers.

  • Introduction - Lead a class discussion about the word "spoiler." What does it mean? Why don't people like them?
  • Direct Instruction - Explain that most spoilers reveal important plot twists in a movie's storyline, and that losing the surprise of that twist might ruin the experience for a viewer. Tell students to pretend that they've never seen a very famous movie (for example, The Wizard of Oz, 1939). Model the summary writing process by jotting down board notes up to (but not including) where the Wizard is revealed to be an ordinary man.
  • Guided Practice - Ask students how they could rephrase this information to avoid spoiling someone who had never seen The Wizard of Oz. (Possible examples may include "After Dorothy and her friends defeat the Wicked Witch, they learn the shocking truth about the Wizard" or "Soon Dorothy realizes that not everything is what it seems to be in the land of Oz.") Explain that as long as the details beforehand are clear, they can be very vague in writing about the plot twist.
  • Independent Practice - Have partners or individuals choose a movie that has a plot twist. (You can include a list of movies for them to choose from if they can't think of one.) They spend some time working on their own movie summaries and figuring out how to rephrase areas that might include spoilers. Tell students to exchange summaries with another partner for peer editing.
  • Closure - Share some of the movie summaries aloud. Which ones do the best job of hiding the most exciting plot twists?

This lesson is a good way to teach mindful writing and to keep one's audience in mind when outlining a written work. If your students are especially concerned about hearing spoilers, tell them to choose older movies that you're confident most of the class has already seen.

More Tips on Writing a Movie Summary

In addition to the general lesson plan format above, there are several ways to bring movie summaries into the classroom. Keep these tips in mind when teaching students how to write a film summary.

  • Keep it brief. Outline the innate objectives of the task by incorporating tidbits from former lessons on literary plot, reviews and summaries from former books that were performed.
  • Disclose the differences between a movie summary and a movie review so that your students do not get confused.
  • Show examples of good movie summaries. Tell how such summaries are brief, concise, to the point, and are both enthusiastic and persuasive often inspiring the audience to want to see the movie.
  • Set aside any materials which you may need. For example, if you are showing a movie you will need a television, and either a VCR or DVD player. You will also need to select the movie that you will be showing the class.
  • Encourage the students to make a bulleted list for better note-taking. This will make it easier for students to draw summary points from the movie.

If you stick to these steps you will have a rock-solid lesson in place for your proposed movie summary writing activity in no time at all. The biggest challenge is choosing the movie to show your class!

Lights, Camera, Class Time!

Using movies in the classroom is a valuable way to reach those students who may be reluctant readers. They are more likely to practice important writing skills when they are interested in what they're writing about. For more movie-centered activities, add these simple ideas for writing engaging scripts. You can also hone your lesson planning process with some tips for writing lesson plans.

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