Key words=Common Craft Style, Videos, Social Studies, Middle School, 19th Century History, Fun

(Please make sure to read the edit at the bottom of this post if you are
considering making Common Craft Style videos with your kids)

Here is an updated common craft style video post with more technical information

At EdCampNYC one of the presenters, Larry Fliegelman, suggested that bloggers should write more about what goes on in their classroom.  I mumbled to myself that people are more interested in reading the “Top 50 IPad apps for Gym Teachers” and re-tweeting “Top 134 West Virginian 2nd Grade Resources.” A link tweeted about the latest Michelle Rhee news or  is more likely to get looked at than a link from a teacher asking others to come virtually into their room (and that would be the topic of my next post).  Deep inside I do think he is right.  More people should post their class activities and final products.  Not just their special projects, not the units they spent months preparing for, not just the classes with the “above average” kids and the 1:1 laptops.  More people should post their work from their regular day-to-day activities.  I know it’s scary.  I think the reality is that for most of us our everyday projects are somewhat average when compared to those beautiful exemplars that are posted on the internet, and maybe we end up with one or two presentations….a year… that we could post that would wow the internet world.  Not to mention the fact that who in the world has time to go backwards and write-up a post about the last unit when your mind is going full steam into the next one?  Ok, now to follow my own advice…here are some of the detail from the last unit we did.  My intention was to almost make it script like for someone else to follow, full of reflection and detail, but the reality is I am really need to get going on the next unit 🙂 I do hesitate to even post this–I know it needs to be edited, needs more explanation and detail in certain sections, but for what it’s worth, here is post on how we spent last week making “Common Craft style” videos.

How to make common craft style videos:

It is sometimes intimidating to view other teachers work online.  Especially those fancy projects that integrate technology.  If you are just your average teacher who can’t dedicate 100% of your time to teaching, you don’t have ready access to computers, your students didn’t all transfer from Lake Wobegon Middle School, and you want to simply integrate some tech into a unit without spending 3 months planning it and being so exhausted afterwards that your kids will be doing worksheets for the next five weeks, I think I have a good project for you regardless of what age or subject you teach.  It is not fancy, not high-tech, although I could see it being “classroom management intensive” with some classes since the kids work in groups.  As for technology, I used one computer, some kids used a few, but they were not neccesary.

I teach 8th grade social studies and we focus on 19th Century United States History.  We were doing a unit that most teachers would call something like “Growth of a new Nation.”  It included many of the challenges that the United States was dealing with after the passage of the Constitution.  We don’t use our text very much, but I have to accept the reality that the text is all they will use for the next four years and so I make sure I incorporate it into units every month. Three weeks ago we worked on developing thesis sentences, two weeks ago we worked on putting sections of text into notes, last week we put both together and added turning the notes into a final product. Each group of 3-4 students read and take notes on one section of a chapter in the textbook, and created a “Common Craft” style video” about it. While this type of activity could be used at the end of a unit, and could assess all type of skills, ours fell in the middle of a unit, and essentially at its core was a summary based assignment.  The “thesis” they created was not an opinion based on their research but more of a main idea of the section sort of sentence, there was no real conclusion drawn, not really a pure inquiry activity.

If you have never seen a Common Craft video, this might have been the first:

And this might be one of my favorites:

I show the zombie one above to the kids simply because…well…they dig zombies.  And then I showed them some that are at the bottom of this page.

The breakdown of the week looked something like this(click on pictures for a better view):

Monday-Read text, develop thesis, and take notes as individuals.  Each kid starts off by having their own set of information.  It insures that when the groups come together each kid has the basic knowledge needed to begin creating the story for the video

Tuesday-Come together as groups(because of so many absences, some kids ended up doing this solo, and others made constant adjustments), compare notes, develop outline of story, create order of events for story, take events and thread them together as a story

Wednesday-Write Script.  Some kids wrote in a notebook, and some hopped onto our vintage laptops and wrote one on Word, and some opened a google doc and all wrote at the same time.

Writing Scripts Writing Scripts2

Thursday-Finish writing script.  The writing of a two minute script takes a lot longer than you would think!  They found it hard to write a “narration,” and not an essay.  I should have gone over the difference before we started.  Just watching the example videos wasn’t enough.  Many groups also did too good of a job summarizing their section and had to go back in and add some details.

Friday-Start making images…making images takes a lot longer than you would think! We don’t have any fancy supplies, just copier paper, crayons, some colored pencils, and scissors. The important thing to remember is to make images of the important points and principals, not necessarily the people and places.  This is not a puppet show! I also found that many groups stated by drawing pictures with many details (imagine house, with tree, person, cloud) instead of drawing them separately.   We went back and watched some of the examples and found that the ones we like had about 30ish individual things coming in and out of the frame every minute (I think we might have overdone it in a few!)

Cutting Out Images Crayons

Monday-Finish Script, finish images, organize images in proper order and assign roles, who has the quick hands, who can read non-stop without making any mistakes with one eye on the people moving images in and out keeping pace with them.

Tuesday-Dress Rehearsal…practice, practice, practice  We did two different types of practice.  For the first half of the period the kids ran their own rehearsals, stopping when they needed.  For the second half of class we started all at the same time and went for two minutes.  They had to keep going no matter what happened.  I think this ended up be very important in the long run.  They needed to be forced to keep going so that they would reach the end.  They also needed to be forced to make mistakes and adapt.  Almost every group made a mistake while filming, but they all were able to quickly make changes and very few of them are obvious.

Everyone Rehearse Pract INdiv Groups2

Video of the entire class practicing at the same time.  They set-up their desk and took positions to mimic the actual filming.

It was important for the narrator to practice reading the script straight through–no mistakes!  It was also important for the kids moving the images in and out to practice because they don’t have time to follow the script, they need to have the whole story in their head…and they also had to practice putting the images on the board upside down.  Remember, they are looking at the board “upside down” compared to the camera.  So what would be on the right in the video, they have to lay it down upside down on their left!

Holding Image Upside Down

Wednesday-Film stories.  We experimented with all sorts of backgrounds to film the stories on.  Big sheets of paper-excess noise.  Small white board–great, until we cleaned it and then the papers didn’t slide easily.  Big piece of white metal–great, except things slide right across and off.  We finally looked around and saw how the surface of their desks were perfect so I went into the discard room and ripped a desktop off and laid down a masking tape box showing the area that would be included in the video.  Next time, I’d use a marker because some papers caught the edge of the tape coming off.  It wasn’t the classic white look of the common craft videos but with our lighting I think the images were able to be sen more easily.  I also raised the desk top on a box so that it filled the camera lens and there was no zooming in and out.  The camera was placed on a tripod and leaned over the table so that it was looking straight down, the “rear” leg had books piled on it so it would not fall forward.


We also set-up a laptop to Ustream so that we could live stream the filming.  We put a web cam up on a second tripod, and attached a microphone that was located in front of the narrator.  That mic was only for the live stream, not for the final video.  The video with a live blog was available on our “Today’s Class Live” page on our wiki.

Mic for live streamSet-up 2

The one unexpected problem, and it was minor, we practiced with the lighting when it was sunny out.  When we recorded it was cloudy so we ended up getting some glare from the two supplemental lights.

View through the camera:

Glare from Lights

The filming was fast and furious.  One group up after another.  Our periods were only about 45 mins and even though there were only about eight groups per class, maximum of two minutes of filming time, there was considerable time spent setting up all of the images to make it as efficient as possible to put the images up on the board, and off again.  It was interesting to see how each group created their own system to make the magic happen.  Here is a look behind the scenes of one group being filmed:

The final videos can all be found here.  I hesitate to embed any in the post because I know I would be prone to pick the “best” one.  Please click on the link and randomly select one to watch! There are two pages of videos–and hey–leave a comment or a thumbs up!  I have to say, that after watching the kids make these, the final products just don’t reflect the amount of work that is needed.  What I mean is that you shouldn’t watch them and say “My kids could do that in a couple of days.”  It took 360 minutes of class time to produce those 1-2 minute videos!!

One thing I wished we had done is to write transitions so that the different videos linked together better.  I inadvertently led them to make videos on topics that come across as standing alone in time instead of being influenced and apart of other events and movements.

Other good resources:

Art Titzel

Eric Langhorst

John Fladd

Karen McMillan

Greg Kulowiec and his project directions

Mr. Canton

Mr. Fogel

Mr. Canton


Edit 1/4/2012

I just recently received an email from Lee LeFever (how cool is that!).  I included a portion of it below.  He makes a very simple request that any teacher making Common Craft Style videos should abide by…please do.  

I do have a quick favor to ask. The name “Common Craft” is our trademark and our business is based on “Common Craft” videos. We want to be sure there is not confusion about what “Common Craft” really is (a company, a style of videos, etc.).  For this reason, I have a simple request.  Could you please change the references to videos your students made in your blog post to “Common Craft Style” instead of “Common Craft”?   

This helps us ensure that the “style” is known as something different than our own videos and products. Thanks so much!


Authors write for different purposes.
• The writing process is consistent across disciplines.
• Technology is a tool for collecting, organizing, creating, and presenting informatio

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