Friday, July 5, 2019

How to make a standout elementary graduation slideshow video

In some schools, elementary ends with 5th grade; in others, 6th. 

In either case, it often also ends with a slideshow video in honor of graduation (or, as some schools now call it, promotion). 

In any case, if you’re the parent/teacher volunteer/recruit tasked with putting together a 5th/6th grade promotion video, you know it’s a big time commitment. 

Plus, it’s not enough to make it. You also want to make it good.

I had the pleasure of doing the video for my son’s 5th grade promotion. (Full disclosure: when first asked, I politely declined; see “big time commitment” above.) 

Below are tips on how to make your video truly stellar. But first, what I learned about elementary videos in general…

They are often fairly routine—same kinds of group shots again and again, same overused songs, little to no attempt at flourish. To see what I mean, search “5th grade slideshow” or “6th grade slideshow” on YouTube and watch portions of several. Of course you won’t know the kids, but most likely you will know the music, the compositions, the sequencing (approximate chronological order starting with kindergarten; sections grouped by theme—i.e. Halloween, field day, etc.).

In years past at my kids’ elementary school, and probably at every elementary, parents have griped that the video was too long. What they’re really saying: it was boring. A video can be both long and awesome. (Depending on how many students are in the grade, yours may have to be on the longer side—i.e. more than 10 minutes.)

I mean no disrespect. And I understand. Videos are daunting projects made by busy people who aren’t getting paid, may not have created a video before, may not have much time, may not have had enough cooperation or help, and may never have seen another grade school video.

That said, a graduation video should be entertaining for everyone who will see it—both students and adults. The kids (and some teachers) will like it no matter what because they’re the stars. But many of the parents will know only a few of the kids…so your challenge is to craft something that even they will appreciate. 

Here are tips on how to make your school’s video funny, surprising, and emotional (beyond the fact that it’s wall-to-wall photos of cute kids):


  • Ask for photos by emailing all parents (either directly if you have the means or via the PTA) at the end of the school year prior to graduation (i.e. end of 4th for a 5th grade video). Why a year instead of a few months ahead of the video world premiere? Because some parents will not reply the first time (and some never will). When you start gathering this far in advance, you will have cushion time to ask again (or fill in the gaps yourself). The clearer you are with your request, the less back-and-forth you’ll encounter, so I suggest these criteria:
  • ONLY high-resolution photos—ideally 2 MB or bigger. If sending from an iPhone, it will ask what size; instruct parents to select “Actual Size.”
  • Preference given to photos featuring 2-4 students. Solo shots are not ideal because you want the video to incorporate everyone as evenly as possible yet not run too long. Bigger group shots are not ideal because video images change too rapidly for the audience to take in more than a couple of faces. No professional class portraits; they will be in the yearbook anyway.
  • Preference given to funny/unusual shots.
  • Tell parents they may submit photos taken outside of school (birthday parties, sleepovers, etc.). But to help ensure that the video is fair and runs a reasonable length, avoid photos that include 1) family members and 2) kids who have never attended your school. Emphasize that you are focusing on just the graduating grade (including kids who were in the grade at one point but have left/changed schools).
  • Avoid Halloween photos. It’s probably the most photographed school day every year, meaning photos from it are the least surprising. Plus some masks obscure faces, so the audience wouldn’t be able to tell who certain children are anyway.
  • (optional depending on your preference) Request that parents attach all photos they will submit to a single email (not embedded within the body of the email and not via a site like Dropbox, which requires extra steps to download).
  • Be prepared to go to the school to take (creative) photos yourself. (As mentioned above, some parents simply won’t respond to the submission request, but of course that doesn’t mean you can leave out their kids!) Besides showcasing under-represented kids, these photos also increase composition variety, add humor, keep people looking forward throughout, and do something different than other videos. I took photos throughout the year in two main ways:
  • I made “memory signs” in five categories: Favorite/Funniest/Weirdest/Saddest [insert name of school] Memory and What I Will Miss Most About [insert name of school]. I asked various kids to pick one of the categories and write in their answers with a Sharpie (neatly and largely so it could be read when projected), then took a photo of them (with different backgrounds) while they held up their signs. As you would imagine, many were hilarious. Some were almost heartbreaking.

  • I showed kids pictures of certain poses from pop culture that parents will instantly recognize (the Beatles’ Abbey Road album cover, The Breakfast Club movie poster, the iconic front-of-the-boat scene from Titanic, etc.). I asked a group of the corresponding number of kids to recreate each pose—sometimes more than one group per pose so I had choice. Guide the kids on getting into position—the closer they match the famous pose, the more amusing it will be. 

  • I suggest rounding up all the twins in the grade and taking a group shot. You’ll be the first to do it, which will make it even more of a crowd-pleaser.
  • To add to the unpredictability, sometimes I brought together and photographed kids who don’t normally hang out. They’re still young enough to go along with it without (much) pushback.


  • Put all photos in one folder on your computer. 
  • Name each photo with the first name of every child who is clearly visible in it, except for larger group shots. When more than one child in the grade has the same first name, also include the last name. To quickly determine how many photos you have of each child, simply search the name in this folder. I aimed to have a minimum of six “spotlight” shots for each child who had been at the school for more than a couple of years (at least four shots for any child who was new). This didn’t mean each child was alone in all spotlight shots, just close up and therefore immediately identifiable. (The six-per-child tally didn’t include group shots with more than seven kids, so most children were in the video more than six times.) 
  • Also put keywords in the file name: crazy hair day, concert, field trip, etc. If you are planning to arrange certain photos by theme, start the file name with that theme so all of those photos will appear together when you’re skimming through the folder.


  • I used the Microsoft software Movie Maker. It has a simple interface and offers plenty of features for a layperson.
  • Avoid photos that are blurry, cut off, or too dark. This seems like obvious advice but such unaesthetic shots make it in to videos fairly often!
  • Avoid repetitive shots (i.e. a revolving group of kids each in front of the same background or multiple shots of different kids doing the same thing). 
  • Trim out dead space (i.e. if the angle of a photo shows lots of uninteresting empty room/wall/ceiling behind someone) so kids fill as much of the frame as possible. Exception: artistic/wistful shots; for example, a backpacked child in the distance, walking away from school; in such a case, the environment makes it more poignant.


  • Photos with four or fewer kids: hold for 3 seconds. Photos with five or more kids or with words to read: hold for longer, but generally no more than 6 seconds.
  • Do your best to spread out compositions that appear frequently, such as kids at desks, kids playing sports, and kids with their arms around each other.
  • If you use memory signs and/or famous poses, spread them throughout; when the audience sees the second one of either, they realize they’re in for a fun series. These “known surprises” amplify audience anticipation. 
  • I chose to spread out photos that are commonly shown in a cluster (i.e. Halloween, Valentine’s Day, school play, science fair, etc.) because looking at multiple similar photos in a row can get dull. Conversely, try to include a cluster or two that are not typical, such as a sequence showing kids with dirty (i.e. cupcake-smeared) mouths.
  • Alternate the density of the compositions. In other words, surround photos of bigger groups with photos of small groups or solo shots. This gives the audience a rest from frantically scanning bigger groups to try to spot their child or kids they know.
  • As much as possible, I avoided showing the same student in back-to-back close-up photos. (I was okay with kids appearing in back-to-back photos when one of the two was a larger group.)
  • I did not include a “before and after” sequence (i.e. kindergarten/most recent grade) because a) you have to include every student so it takes up too much airtime, b) it is typical, and c) parents can see that comparison elsewhere (namely the yearbooks). 
  • I highly encourage doing something interactive. For example, I took photos of three groups recreating the Breakfast Club pose; in the video, I introduced these three photos with a slide asking the audience to applaud whichever group nailed the pose—knowing that every group would get applause. (On a related note, kids will automatically applaud any teacher/other school staff member who appears in the video, and it’s so endearing.)
  • Try to include photos of non-classroom school employees whose jobs can be taken for granted such as the office staff, librarian, specials teachers, reading specialist, nurse, counselor, custodial crew, lunchroom staff, and recess aides.
  • If you include any video clip in which something someone says is hard to hear, use subtitles.


  • I suggest skipping certain songs that have become ubiquitous for school videos (“Count on Me” by Bruno Mars, “Can’t Stop the Feeling” by Justin Timberlake, “Happy” by Pharrell Williams), even if your audience has not attended other videos. On some level, they’ll know these are standards or even clichรฉs! Instead, catch them off guard with at least some unconventional choices (see below). 
  • You do not need to use full songs. Shorter clips allow you to include more songs, which helps keep it lively.
  • For greater impact, the music should not simply play underneath the images but rather sync with them. For example, the song “A Million Dreams” from The Greatest Showman contains the lyric “Every night I lie in bed / The brightest colors fill my head.” If you have a photo of a kid or kids lying on a bed or on the floor/grass, you could time it with the “bed” line, and if you have a photo where a vivid range of colors is prominent, you could time it with the “colors” line. People notice (and enjoy)!
  • Similarly, coordinate certain music transitions with images. For example, when the song “Walking on Sunshine” reaches its introductory “Ow!” (about 10 seconds in), jump cut to a dynamic picture that matches the joy of the exclamation, such as a kid jumping or diving. Time it just right and it’s a guaranteed laugh.
  • When possible, pair any photos that include words (i.e. the memory signs) with a song section that has no words. This can make it easier for the audience to focus on reading. 
  • To help keep parents engaged, use some music of their (your) generation. It won’t much matter to the kids; they are paying more attention to the images—and besides, they often like “older” songs, too.
  • If the grade includes at least three kids whose names appear in a well-known song title, place quick-cut solo shots of all three in a row, each accompanied by a snippet from their corresponding song. For an even bigger laugh, do it a second time later in the video (same snippets, different photos). I used “Hey Jude” by the Beatles, “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond, and “Luka” by Suzanne Vega.
  • I suggest using a mix of upbeat and melancholy songs, but more of the former. (I included “Time in a Bottle” by Jim Croce, which prompted a beloved teacher who was sitting in front of me to turn around and whisper with a smile “Oh, that’s cruel.”)
  • Vet lyrics. For example, parts of Ed Sheeran’s nostalgic “Castle on the Hill” are beautifully appropriate, but the song also includes mention of underage drinking and overdosing. (Again, you do not need to—and sometimes should not—use full songs!)


Note: I may not have pointed out all potentially problematic lyrics. Please doublecheck!

  • “Be the Change” by Britt Nicole
  • “Believe” by Suzie McNeil
  • “The Boys Are Back in Town” by Thin Lizzy (chorus only; paired with “This One’s for the Girls”)
  • “Celebrate Youth” by Rick Springfield
  • “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey (has a tame alcohol reference that people are generally cool with because the song is legendary)
  • “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds (with Breakfast Club poses, if you do that)
  • “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten
  • “The Final Countdown” by Europe 
  • “Free to Be…You and Me” from the classic ‘70s children’s album of the same name
  • “Good Company” from Oliver & Company
  • “The Great American Melting Pot” from Schoolhouse Rock
  • “Hall of Fame” by the Script
  • “Happy Days” (TV theme)
  • “Jump Rope” by Blue October
  • “Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince and the Revolution
  • “Live Every Moment” by REO Speedwagon
  • “Magic” by the Cars
  • “ME!” by Taylor Swift/Brendon Urie
  • “My Shot” from Hamilton
  • “Oh Yeah” by Yello
  • “Only the Young” by Journey
  • “Sitting on Top of the World” by Delta Goodrem
  • “So Young” by the Corrs
  • “This One’s for the Girls” by Martina McBride (chorus only; paired with “The Boys Are Back in Town”)
  • “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves
  • “We Go Together” from Grease
  • “What Is Life” by George Harrison
  • “When I’m Gone (Cups)” by Anna Kendrick (from Pitch Perfect; has an alcohol reference)
  • “Wings” by Little Mix
  • “With a Little Help from My Friends” by the Beatles 
  • “You & Me” by James TW (chorus only)


  • “Castle on the Hill” by Ed Sheeran (see caveat above)
  • “Circle” by Harry Chapin
  • “Goodbye” by Night Ranger
  • “Learning to Fly” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
  • “A Million Dreams” from The Greatest Showman
  • “Stand by Me” by Ben E. King
  • “This Way” by Jewel
  • “Time” by Chantal Kreviakuk
  • “Time” by Sandi Thom (has references to smoking and drinking)
  • “Time for Me to Fly” by REO Speedwagon (only roughly the last minute because the first part of the song is clearly referencing a dying relationship whereas the end could apply to any life transition)
  • “Time in a Bottle” by Jim Croce
  • “You Learn” by Alanis Morissette

I know—the process may now seem even more complicated than it did before, but fear not: many of my suggestions are not mandatory and the learning curve should be fairly quick.

The slideshow video I made for my son’s 5th grade is online but password-protected. If you are a teacher or parent who would like to see it, please email me at 

I agreed to make the graduation video to be a team player. But I soon discovered that it benefited me, too; it enabled me to learn about every child in my child’s grade—in fact, more in one year than the previous five years combined. As those kids head off to middle school, where the social dynamics tend to get trickier, it’s comforting to know that I now know the kids…at least a little bit.

Good luck with your slideshow video!


Locker Talker said...

Very helpful!

mirellangel said...

This is awesome !! ๐Ÿ‘ thank you for all this detailed information. And all these great ideas!!๐Ÿ˜ƒ
Yes I do esto see your slideshow I will email you.
Thank you! Very helpful!๐Ÿ‘