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Thursday, 30 January 2014

Using drama to develop the "Show not Tell" technique in writing.

The other day I came across this image shared on twitter by @shaunh0pper:

It got me thinking about how I could enhance this idea using drama and the iPads. I decided to have a go at creating our own Show and Tell digital display.

The year 2 class have been thinking a lot about character descriptions and how we can improve our writing. We started by looking at this picture:
2014-01-30 10.30.03

 We discussed that every row demonstrates a different emotion. We then looked at which emotion each row displays. We tried to explain how we knew the character was happy/sad/scared/nervous and this led us to think that if we explain how a character is acting it will then show how that character feels.

I came across the "Show not Tell technique," in Alan Peat's Improving Story Writing book. The idea is that it is more effective to show how a character acts, rather than simply stating he is happy. I always say that writing should compliment the reader's intelligence and simply stating that a character is a happy doesn't do that.

Once we had discussed different ideas, I set the challenge for the children. They had one emotion per group and had to come up with an action each that they could act to portray that emotion. By children physically acting it out, I was hoping the idea would stay with them so they would use it in their writing. To help them develop their vocabulary further, I gave each group some examples from the phenomenal book "Descriptosarus."  This book is amazing for banks of words and phrases to help with story writing. Along with the children's ideas, they could then match it with interesting and varied word choices.

We then filmed each of the children acting out their action. Another member of their team then read their phrase linked to the action. All the children's videos were then mixed into a thinglink image to make an interactive digital poster. I told the class that this poster would be shared on the school blog and maybe used by classes around the world as a way to effectively describe a character by their actions. Here is their effort:

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Using Music to Inspire Writing

I have been a massive fan of the Literacy Shed for a long time. I have been lucky enough to be able to be part of the team and contributed some ideas and now offer training through the site. The idea of using visual media such as short films and animations certainly helps engage and inspire writing in many different ways. Probably the biggest one is that nowadays children access stories through TV, film and video games a lot more than books. This doesn’t mean using videos can’t help encourage children to read, in fact as a starting point, using videos to initially engage children can then lead to them wanting to know more by reading the book. However having the immediate visual and audio to give children ideas for their writing can have a massive impact.

There are aspects of a film that appeal to different learning styles more than a book may. There is one aspect that I have really been looking at developing as a tool to inspire writing for a while. What most if not all of the videos on the Literacy Shed have in common, despite the different storylines, characters, method of film making (stop motion, CGI etc) is that they all have background music. This music responds and reacts to what happens in the film, the tempo, volume and type of instrument can create and portray any atmosphere within a story.

The initial idea for this came after attending a training session by John Murray.  John, the author of the best selling Reading Explorer book series, showed how reading skills can be developed through film and also music. His training was superb and well worth looking into for developing reading and spelling in your school. It started making me think about how important music is in our lives; how particular songs remind us of special places or occasions; the importance of music for advertising; the fact music can spark a range of emotions and actions from smiling to crying to dancing and singing.

When children are watching films, tv shows or playing video games, they are subliminally listening to the soundtrack and associating it to the atmosphere of the scene. Without even knowing it, children would be able to infer what could be happening in a scene just from listening to some music. Film soundtracks are particularly useful as within a song there are sudden changes in tempo and atmosphere. Some of the best soundtrack music I have used has been from the Disney Pixar films. I have been watching a lot of Disney, which is bound to happen when you have three 2 ½ year olds. I decided to use an example this week to inspire some writing.

This was the music I played for the class.

To begin with, I let the children infer what could be happening. I asked the children to write one word to sum up the overall track. I listed some of these on the board. I then asked them to listen again but stopped at particular parts, asking if they feel the mood or atmosphere has changed and can they think of a word to describe that part of the soundtrack. Again we shared some ideas, this helped shape the basic plot of our story. I questioned why they thought it changed? How it changed? I then asked the children to think about what could be happening in this scene. At this point, I could have allowed children to use their own ideas and write 35 different stories depending on how they interpreted the music, which would show how incredibly diverse music can be for writing could be and how children’s own experiences of music can dictate their story. However to model some sentences for the whole class to use, I took one example and went for that. I then asked the children to note take as I played the song and asked questions. One child suggested that the song sounds like someone is trapped, searching for a way out and eventually finding a way to freedom. I then started with questions for them to think about:

You wake up, what do you see?
What is the temperature like?
What can you hear?
How do you feel?
What do you start to do.

At 46/7 seconds suddenly something happens?
What could it be? Do you find something?
A ray of hope? Is it at first a false alarm?
How does that make you feel?

Again at 1:23 it changes again, you escape what happens?
What do you see? How do you feel? What do you do?

With all their notes, the children then had to write their story based on the music. I was so impressed by how the music had captured the children’s imaginations and helped them depict a story through their previous understanding of music linked with film. After demonstrating some exciting sentences which they could use. I challenged the children to try and edit their writing to the music, which is a nice way to keep children’s writing concise when they have constraints through music. I also encouraged them to read it out loud to a partner and ask them for feedback, does it set the atmosphere along with the music? If not, how could they change it?

Once they had completed I asked the children to record themselves reading their writing on top of the soundtrack, using an app called BossJock. I am really impressed with this app, which allows children to create podcasts and radio shows. Here are some examples of the children’s efforts:

Although some children recognised the initial song, I didn’t reveal the film until the end of the lesson. I revealed it was from Finding Nemo and showed the part of the film where it featured. It was an interesting point to show children how they interpreted the music and created a completely different story to the one from the film.

Here are some other examples of music which I feel could be used to inspire a range of different story ideas. Please if you use music as a way to inspire writing, please contact me, so I can add some more examples here. Using music to inspire writing is also part of the training I can provide in schools. If you are interested, please visit here.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Math Duel - Test children's quick calculations under pressure!

I came across this app a few months ago after it was on the ever useful Apps Gone Free app. It has quickly become one of the most popular apps with the children. They love using this app in Numeracy lessons as it is competitive and challenging, and the reason it is so challenging and competitive is because children are competing against each other.

I have used this app with children from Year 1 - Year 6, even with teachers on training INSET, all of whom respond in the same way - concentrating to try to win. You just need one iPad between 2 people (there is an option for one player, but the two player option is the best part of the app for me.) The screen is then split in half and each child sits at either end. Then it is a race in time to try and answer the question the quickest and make their bar in the middle bigger. The winner is the person with a full bar in the middle of the screen.

I love how this app puts children under pressure. They have to apply their knowledge of addition or subtraction, multiplication or division in a pressurised environment, similar to when they are sitting a test or exam. It is a great indication as to how well they can apply a particular method in a way that worksheets may not show. 

I also love how easy it is to differentiate. As I mentioned earlier I have used this in Year 1 right up to Year 6. Within the settings option you are able to tailor the questions to fit with the type of operation, number of terms and size of numbers. This is good for me as I move around different classes but for individual teachers where there maybe a massive gulf in ability, the teacher can utilise this app to challenge all the children in their class. I could put my most gifted mathematician who is working on adding/subtracting 4 numbers with values up to 100 against a child who still is challenged working on number bonds to 20. Both are challenged to their level of ability, engaged and competing.

 It has certainly captured the attention of plenty of boys and they especially responded well when we used it for a Math Duel World Cup with group stages, knockout stages and final!
Thanks to Apps Gone Free we managed to get this fantastic app for free, however it is now priced at £1.99, which I feel is well worth the cost. CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THIS APP

Friday, 10 January 2014

A Year in the life of Triplets

Yes this post isn't technically teaching related, however, I can't help but share. After a whole year, I have completed a video of my toddler triplets by recording 1 second of them everyday! Starting from January 10th 2012 I went about recording clips of my children everyday for the next 365 days! Using the 1 second everyday app to help put together most of the footage, I did end up having to do some of the editing on my computer as my wife and other family members had footage on their phones.

It is a video that I adore watching and it really does emphasise the idea that time moves so quickly. The 6 minutes make it so clear how fast our children grow up and how important it is to really appreciate and enjoy every second you have as a parent with your children. I am incredibly blessed to have beautiful children, watching this video will be a constant reminder of how lucky I am. I recommend doing this as a parent, not only to treasure precious memories but also to reflect that you are giving your children an enjoyable childhood.

The idea came from reading an article on the BBC Website. After viewing this I started to think about how I could use the app as a parent but also as a teacher. To read more about how I have used this app as a teacher, click here. I also wrote a guest blog post for the guardian show how this idea can be used in different ways in the classroom, again you can view this article here.

Please click the image to read a report in the local newspaper -

The story has also been in the national press: