Grade: Senior

#2455. B-movies and plot

Reading/Writing, level: Senior
Posted Tue Dec 4 07:31:18 PST 2001 by Sarah Averill (
education major at SUNY Fredonia, Fredonia, NY
Materials Required: VCR, tv, old B-movies, student access to home video or school video equipment
Activity Time: 5-6 in-class lessons, out of class time
Concepts Taught: elements of a story and plot

I realized while watching "Attack of the Killer Shrews" late one night that old '50s sci-fi B-movies are usually a really, really good example of a very typical plot, illustrated with stock characters. (Plus you get fun conflicts like man vs. alien, or man vs. dogs dressed in shag carpets and cardboard teeth...) So I figure that it would be fun to teach the elements of plot to a high school class (probably works for middle too) by first showing a B-movie in class (Plan 9 From Outer Space is the classic, and leads to fun discussions about the Golden Turkey awards too, but I also considered Santa Claus Conquers the Martians and Killer Shrews, plus more well-known ones like the Creature From the Black Lagoon or the Blob or whatever--lots of choices. Something w/ 3D glasses might be fun... check MST3K or for the best of the worst...) and then discussing how they follow, very obviously, traditional plot elements and internal/external conflicts and stereotypical protagonist/antagonist roles. Then, I would break the class up into smaller groups and ask them to write their own short B-movie (10-20 minutes can cover it, I would think) that uses all the elements of a story, and film it (make sure one person in each group has a camcorder if your school won't lend out video equipment). Then screen the movies in class. With popcorn. I think this would be a fun way to teach plot in its most traditional/simple form, and then you can launch off into more complex plots in stories/books.

Oh, and for the sample movie, I'd allow some heckling and participate myself, too, as long as it was restrained and didn't interfere with the students understanding the movie and picking up what they need to get from it. If students don't see the humour in Ed Wood's cardboard tombstones toppling over when Vampira walks by, or the paper plate flying saucers on fishing line, or the "killer shrew" dogs covered in shag carpeting, they might just take it as a boring, stupid and outdated movie and getting a chance to make their own won't be as fun. Let them laugh at it and they'll enjoy it more/be more attentive.

If anyone does try this plan out, please drop me an e-mail--I'm only a secondary English ed junior, so I haven't gotten a chance to try many of my ideas in action, and I'd love to hear how teachers handled it and what response they got. Thanks!