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Documenting Your Argument

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Use resources from the Grades 9-12 Research Guide for help with this step in the research process.

In this unit, you have viewed and analyzed some documentary films to trace the film-makers' arguments. Now it's your turn to go behind the lens and become a documentary film-maker. This is an opportunity for you to research, develop, and produce a documentary film on the topic of your choice. Your documentary must make a claim in response to a central question, and provide evidence from a variety of sources to back up that claim. Your final project should also demonstrate your understanding of rhetorical devices and cinematic techniques to influence your intended audience.

You will need to generate your own research focus questions to investigate a topic that interests you. Then, you will develop a claim and trace your argument through a documentary style film, narrating your research journey and sharing your new knowledge and the conclusions you have drawn about this issue or topic.

This is a long-range research project. You may choose to use a variety of Inquiry Tools and Strategies throughout the research process, including:

First, use these resources to build background knowledge about documentary film-making:

  • What makes a great story? For legendary filmmaker Ken Burns, the answer is both complicated and personal. In this short documentary about the craft of storytelling, he explains his lifelong mission to wake the dead.

Ken Burns: On Story from Redglass Pictures on Vimeo.

  • Ken Burns talks about the film-making process
    • Under the Interview tab, scroll to Part 3 to watch the clip "On the components of documentary including selecting a subject and the process of interviewing"

Ken Burns screenshot

Select a topic for your documentary film:

  • Brainstorm a list of topics you find interesting or issues you care about.
    • Consider using an online note-taking tool like the Notebook in EasyBib, Evernote, or a mind-mapping tool like BubbleUs or Popplet to organize your ideas.
  • Consider some of the current or controversial issues in these BCPS databases:
  • Use other BCPS Digital Content resources on the Student Resources page to peruse topics in History, Science, etc.
  • Consult with your teacher to finalize your topic choice.

Based on your prior knowledge and viewpoint, state your claim about this topic or issue.

  • Record your initial claim in your notes.
  • NOTE: You might decide to change your claim based on new learning from your research!

Use your background knowledge and one of these tools to help you develop some focus questions to guide your research about this topic: I-Search Chart | Chart to Identify

It's a good idea to preview the assessments that you and your teacher may use to evaluate your research process and final product. Click or tap the Share tab above to preview these.

Then, select the Search & Gather tab above to continue your inquiry.

Search and Gather

Use resources from the Grades 9-12 Research Guide for help with this step in the research process.

So far, you have chosen a topic for your documentary film, stated your initial claim, and generated some research questions. Now, use a variety of sources from the Student Resources page to gather information and expand your knowledge of this topic. This research will help you to develop your argument and support your claim.

  • Consider a variety of viewpoints on this issue or topic.
  • You may need to revise your claim statement in light of new insights you gain from research.
  • Gather facts and evidence that you can use to support your claim.

Apply exploratory strategies like browsing, scanning, and skimming as you use resources to help you focus your research. Look around, "dip in" and explore interesting ideas.

Apply effective searching and reading strategies in order to evaluate sources and locate information relevant to your inquiry topic and question.

Use strategies and tools for note-taking, documentation, and reflection to gather and organize information. Consider using these inquiry tools:

Demonstrate digital citizenship and avoid plagiarism by paraphrasing, quoting, and citing your sources.

  • Cite your sources using MLA format for an annotated bibliography.
  • Most BCPS-licensed database content includes a pre-formatted MLA citation, which you can simply copy and paste onto your Bibliography.
  • Use your EasyBib School Edition account to create MLA-formatted citations for other types of sources. Refer to EasyBib Citation Guides for help as needed.
  • Create an annotated bibliography of your sources. Use these resources for guidance on creating an annotated bibliography:

When you think you have gathered enough important information to accomplish your research task, select the Create tab above to continue your inquiry.


Use resources from the Grades 9-12 Research Guide for help with this step in the research process.

Analyze your research notes to reflect on your learning:
  • Do you have enough information to meet the demands of your research task?
  • Did you find information to answer your focus questions?
  • What new insights have emerged in response to your central question?

Synthesize: You will solidify your claim and develop your argument, using your research findings to create a storyboard. This storyboard will serve as a detailed "outline" for your documentary. You will need to include a storyboard tile for each individual scene being filmed, including the verbiage-only slides, title slides, and the credits.

Be sure to respect the intellectual property rights of others:

  • Use images and media ethically in compliance with copyright, fair use guidelines, or licensing terms of use (such as Creative Commons licensing). Use copyright-friendly media or create your own.
  • Media sources must also be cited in MLA format. Use pre-formatted MLA citations for sources from BCPS Digital Content; use Easy Bib to format citations for other media sources.

Creating your Storyboard

  • You will need to make decisions about the following elements as you plan your documentary and create your storyboard:
    • Rhetorical devices  
    • Chronology  
    • Point/Counterpoint  
    • Argument/Counterargument 
    • Conclusion 
    • Parallel plots
    • Interview questions
  • Choose from these options for creating your storyboard:
  • Once your storyboard is complete, you and your classmates will have the opportunity to peer edit each other's storyboards. Consider these questions as you review your peers' storyboards:
    1. Does each scene support the film-maker's claim? If not, what could be added or changed?
    2. Are there any unnecessary or unfocused scenes?
    3. Do the directorial decisions made in each scene appear as if they will have the intended effect on the audience?  
  • Reflect on the peer feedback you have received to make any necessary changes to your own storyboard.

Creating your Documentary Film

Using the storyboard your created, choose a digital tool to produce your film:

Windows Live Movie Maker



Microsoft Office Mix


Voice Thread


Other helpful resources for producing your documentary film:

  • Check out this video from filmmaker Laurie Kahn, who discusses techniques she used to create award winning films (for students considering creating documentary films for National History Day).
    • NOTE: Video runtime is 52 minutes; you may want to view this at home, or your teacher may show some excerpts in class.
  • Get some tips from award-winning documentary film maker Ken Burns; see these sections:
    • Part 3: On the "Ken Burns Effect" and his documentary style
    • Part 3: On his use of technology and the storytelling process in his work
    • Part 4: On the editing process
  • This YouTube channel on Making a Documentary has list of many videos that may be helpful to your film-making process.
    • NOTE: Since YouTube is blocked in school, you will need to access this resrouce from home or from another location outside the BCoPS network; or, your teacher/librarian my show selections in class.
    Select the Share tab above to review the assessment criteria for your documentary film, and to continue your inquiry.

Use resources from the Grades 9-12 Research Guide or help with this step in the research process.

Share your research findings and insights with your inquiry community and a wider audience by presenting and publishing your documentary film. Consider these suggestions for sharing your film with your classmates and others, as approved by your teacher or librarian:
  • Upload to a class or school library website or wiki, and share the link.
  • Hold a "gallery walk"-style film festival, with films displayed on multiple computers around the classroom, library or computer lab
  • Hold a lunch time or after school film festival  
  • Upload your documentary to School Tube (see your teacher or librarian for this option)  

As you view each other's films, complete this peer review.

You and your teacher/librarian may find these assessment tools useful for evaluating your reseach process and product:

Research Process Evaluation & Reflection:

Research Product/Presentation Assessments:

Extend your learning:

  • Are you interested in learning how filmmakers get their films produced?
    Check out this website!

Background Image source: https://sisterrose.wordpress.com


jQuery Ken Burns interview