Guide to Making a Digital Documentary


Digital Documentary: A movie, slideshow, or radio show that objectively present an important social, political, scientific or historical subject in a factual or informative manner.  [modified from]


Choose a topic


Narrow the topic by creating an essential question and focus questions.

The goal of any research based project is to have students learn to ask researchable essential and focus questions.  Teacher created questions can model for students how to ask essential questions and the three types of focus questions.  As you move toward student-generated questions, have students answer the same essential question but let them choose from a list of teacher created focus questions.  Eventually let students brainstorm focus questions that revolve around the essential questions.


Essential Questions:

o      Are broad questions

o      Have no simple or obvious answer

o      Are answered after soundly researching the focus questions

o      Are not answered with one word or one sentence

o      May require the student to take a stand when answering

Focus Questions

o      Focus questions are used to guide research

o      These questions are more narrow than essential questions

o      These lead to definite answers

o      When answered, focus questions lead to an answer for the essential question

o      Think of these three types of focus questions:

What questions– get at the important facts

So What questions – ask what the facts tell us; probe how the facts relate to the EQ; ask why the facts are important to know

Now What questions – ask what has been learned; look at what are the next steps; investigate the implications of what has been learned; often lead to the next project


Fill out a contract

Having students or groups of students create and sign a contract can create a foundation for organization and differentiation.  A well organized contract can serve as the day to day lesson plan for students during the research and creation processes.  The contract can guide assessment and feedback and can be a vehicle for differentiation through the listing of specialized learning goals.  An effective contract is one that is drawn up based on a studentÕs strengths and needs. The contract should include:


Do good research to gain answers to questions

The research part of any project can be time consuming and messy.  Students often find themselves following pathways that are unproductive and may need direction in order to find more effective approaches.  Teacher generated research sources can streamline the process and model appropriate sources.  Your teacher web page can offer a workable method for providing useful URLs, suggested texts, and lecture notes.

Good research:


Write: (Organize the documentary by choosing one of these writing projects.)

"An Experience is not finished until it is written." – Anne Morrow Lindberg


2-4 page Research Essay

The paper should be a 2-4 page essay using the essay rubric and/or essay organizer.

The introduction and conclusion should be clearly connected by being based on the essential question.

A sound essay will incorporate these components:

o      Insight:  The thesis should fully answer the essential question and show original and interesting insight into the meaning of the issue.

o      Evidence: Examples and quotes need to be used to clearly and fully answer each focus question.  These answers support the answer to the essential question.

o      Craft: Fluency and artistry are important in writing the essay.

Points are expressed clearly.

Essay is graceful with smooth transitions tying each paragraph to the thesis and to the previous paragraph.

Quotations are introduced by sufficient context to make them understandable.

Papers express the writer's individual voice and are grammatically sound.

                                                    - OR-

1-2 Page Written Treatment (Treatment: A description of the documentary.)

A treatment is a description of the project that provides a focus for the documentary and serves as a guideline.)

The treatment should be organized around the treatment rubric and treatment organizer.

A treatment explains and legitimizes the project to others.

Follow these guidelines:

Introductory paragraph: Explain the main topic or ideas of the documentary. The explanation should include the essential and focus questions.

Middle Paragraphs: Describe how the information will be presented.  Indicate how the story will be told.  List the segments / scenes to be included. Describe what the audience will see, think, feel.  Include research sources.

Final Paragraph:  Describe why this documentary is important.  Tell who is the intended audience?  Indicate what you hope the audience will learn.


Create Storyboard 


Gather digital Artifacts


Make the Documentary

Assessing the Documentary

Assessment is the fuel that drives quality work. Well-defined assessment guides students' attempts toward producing superior work, describes accomplishments, and leads to further growth.  Assessment is not the last step in the learning process but an important landmark in a continuing cycle of growth.


Good assessment follows three steps:

Growth Oriented Assessment:


Types of Assessment:

Teacher based assessment

o      Based on project rubric.

o      Provides a structure for student work.

o      Communicates a definition of quality work.

o      Clearly describes expectations.

o      Is given as part of the original assignment and re-evaluated at the end of the project.

o      Allows teachers to be the authority but offers a feeling of empowerment to the student.

Peer Assessment

o      Based on critical friend sheet.

o      Is based on class goals and expectations.

o      Allows the student to see his/her work through others' eyes.

o      Is designed to help guarantee the success of a project.

o      Is given throughout the developmental states of a project.

o      Can benefit the assessor as well as the recipient.

Self Assessment

o      Based on project rubric and/or Artist's Summary.

o      Places responsibility for growth on the student.

o      Allows students to understand their own strengths and needs.

o      Teaches students to make accurate descriptions of their own work.

o      Allows students a sense of ownership in their own work.

o      Allows students to feel a sense of power over their own learning.