Letters to the Next President 2.0 engages and connects young people, aged 13–18, as they research, write, and make media to voice their opinions on issues that matter to them in the coming election.
While candidates and media concentrated on issues that mattered to voters in the 2016 election season, teachers and students in our nation’s schools will concentrated on issues that matter to the next generation of voters. Check out the national archive of youth voices that contributed to Letters to the Next President.
Interested in trying this in your classroom? If your students had 60 seconds to tell the next president of the United States about an issue they care about, what would they say?
Note: This lesson plan is adapted from the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs curriculum. If you are a member of the network, please follow the directions on the original prompt. For more on the Student Reporting Labs video journalism program, visithttp://studentreportinglabs.org and follow @reportinglabs
- Write a word on the board that represents an issue you care passionately about. Then tell the class that today we’re going to brainstorm ideas for a nationwide project called Letters to the Next President.
- Explain why you care about the issue you chose. For example, if your word is “immigration,” explain why you care about this topic.
- Now turn the board over to your students. Ask each student to walk up and write a word on the board that represents something they care about and want the next president to know, or an issue they think the next president should address.
- Once the students are back in their seats, talk about the words on the board. Tell the students that they are going to film a “video letter” to the next president. Your students can film one another, or other young people in the community.
- Discuss who would be the best interviewees on the topics you’ve chosen.
DISCUSSION PART ONE: The Rules
Ask students to look at the image below. Explain that typically, video journalists frame their interview subjects to follow the rule of thirds. When composing a shot, imagine there’s a Tic-Tac-Toe grid over the screen. Make sure the main action, or the subject’s eye, is positioned at one of the intersecting points.
Typically the subject looks at the interviewer, NOT at the camera.
DISCUSSION PART TWO: Motivation/Breaking the rules
Generally in life there are times when creative people follow the rules and times when they creatively challenge them. (Think about Pablo Picasso and his art. He helped co-create a movement because he wanted to challenge the norm.)
The same applies to the art of storytelling, filmmaking and producing new stories.
For this assignment, we’re asking your students to break the rules.
This is what we’re looking for:
- Center your interview subject in the center of the frame
- Ask the person to look directly into the camera
Ask your students if they understand the motivation behind this decision. Explain that we are asking for young people to talk openly to his/her next president. Standing in the center and looking at the camera directly creates a much bigger impact.
Next as a class, please watch this example video letter from Alex Matthews, who is passionate about gender equality.
Four things to discuss with your students before they head out:
- Take advantage of a shallow depth of field: Watch this 20-second video which explains how
- Strong microphone placement: Your shotgun mic should be close by but out of frame and your lavaliere mic should be neatly pinned to your guest without any wires showing. Pay close attention to background noise such as traffic or air conditioning units.
Stop the interview if any of these distort the clarity of the audio. Please monitor your audio using a meter or headphones.
- A light source: Use an open window or a desk lamp to ensure your interviewee is well lit. If you are outside, shoot your interview in the shade and make sure the background is in the shade as well. This will prevent overexposure (blown-out). Also, make sure you white balance!
- LISTEN and keep rolling until you get a clear answer! If the person you are interviewing stumbles or loses track of what they are saying in during the interview, feel free to give them a second or third chance. Just say: “Could you start that sentence again?” They will appreciate it and your answer will be stronger minus all the “umms” and “ahhs.