English Language Arts

Using Pixar in a Box for Writer’s Workshop

Last May, I asked the kids what kinds of electives they wanted in the upcoming school year. My youngest wanted more art projects and to learn Spanish. My older two wanted to learn more about technology, coding, robotics, and writing. So, as part of exploring options for coding and technology, I checked out Khan Academy’s course offerings and stumbled upon Pixar in a Box.

Pixar in a Box has several units, but I decided to start with “The Art of Storytelling” as part of our Writer’s Workshop elective that I was creating for a writing elective. My older two girls love creating animations in Scratch, so what could be more engaging for a writing course than learning about story design from professional animators, right? And do you know what? They LOVED it.

The Art of Storytelling has six units, so we basically went through one unit per week: We are all storytellers, Character, Story structure, Visual language, Film grammar, Pitching and feedback. It was easy to cast the videos to our TV from the Chromebook. There are not printable resources on the Khan site, but there are discussion questions to go along with each unit as part of the course. I used copy and paste to create printed worksheets to go with each week, but it used up a lot of paper and I really do not think it enhanced the unit in any way to have a printed version of the same questions that were on the screen. In the future, I will probably just have them write their ideas into a journal to save time and paper. I would also recommend using blank comic book strip blocks for them to storyboard their ideas after brainstorming story beats in their journal, just like the professionals at Pixar do. There is a free set of comic book templates available at Picklebums.com that would work well.

Examples of the pages of discussion questions created for Pixar in a Box: The Art of Storytelling for the kids’ Writers’ Workshop folders.

When the unit was complete, my kids were sold on working at Pixar when they grow up. They look at our favorite Pixar movies in a whole new light now. I have noticed they apply what they learned about character, setting and plot to other films, books, and even their own writing and illustrations. Khan’s Pixar unit lit a fire in my aspiring animators to create more in depth characters, apply more thought and imagination to setting details and plot twists, and consider their audience when writing. My kids and I highly recommend this resource for aspiring animators and writers of all ages.

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