Get Them Writing! The ‘turn up volume’ technique

  Another universally useful technique for developing childrens’ narrative writing is to ‘turn up the volume’. To make the most of this technique, you will want to source some highly detailed illustrations. I, personally, love ‘The Moon in Swampland’ by M.P. Robertson. The book is the tale of what happens when the moon walks the Earth to save a young boy from the evil bogles, only to become trapped herself and the young boy must become her saviour. The images contained within the book are very atmospheric and evocative….in my experience, adults and children alike love spending time drinking in every littl detail; from the rain-soaked village streets to the menacing bogles lurking in the shadows.

To use the ‘turn up volume’ technique, you simply need to display a single image as a stimulus. The children will then be challenged to write three short narrative extracts for the image, but each time they will be ‘turning up the volume’ of one specific descriptive device. For example, they might be asked to ‘turn up’ the audio associated with the image. Therefore, the children would be asked to describe what they can see in the image whilst ensuring that they include lots of descriptive details relating to the sounds they might hear. Subsequently, they can be asked to turn up the volume of the visual details in a new piece of narrative with the same image and finally, turn up the volume of the action for a third piece of narrative writing. Finally, the children can then work individually or in pairs to magpie the most powerful description from each of the three descriptions (audio, visual, action) in order to structure a fourth and final version, which should now contain a balance of audio, visual and action details.

Try it with your favourite picture book, art work or movie freeze-frame and let me know how you get on!

Get them writing! The ‘if objects could speak’ technique.

  There are many schools of thought on how best to engage children with writing and, in my opinion, they all have something valuable to offer but I don’t promote or follow one approach exclusively. I’m more of an educational magpie, picking what works for me from the broad tapestry that is pedagogy.
One of my favoured, context-free techniques is called ‘if objects could speak’. The approach essentially asks the children to look at an image from a story, movie or painting and consider that thoughts and opinions that object might have, given the circumstances it finds itself in and the events it may have witnessed.

A text which works brilliantly with this technique is Rose Blanche, by Ian McEwan; the tale of of a young girl’s experiences of the holocaust during World War II. There are opportunities throughout the text to use ‘if objects could speak’ but a potent example is shown in the image above. Rose returns to the site of a concentration camp to find it deserted and battle damaged. The children she has secretly been feeding has gone and the barbed wire fence that once separated them is now sinking into a tank-mangled mud. To encourage the children to consider an alternative view to that of the main character or to simply to access details that the main character couldn’t have witnessed, I would ask the children to consider what responses the barbed wire fence might give (as the object that is speaking) to the following questions:

– how would it feel physically? i.e cold, wet etc 

– how would it feel emotionally? i.e. Helpless, isolated

– what would it see? i.e destroyed fields

– what would it smell? Gunpowder, death

– what would it hear? Screams of injured soldiers

Once the children have collected their initial ideas from the point of view of their given object, they can then work to improve and develop these ideas into extended narrative; this then provides additional opportunities for the children to explore sentence structure and punctuation. Using the ideas above, the children might extend them as follows:

I see the war ravaged fields of a once beautiful land, as my nostrils are filled with the suffocating stench of gunpowder and death. My ears are filled with the confused bellowing of bewildered soldiers, stumbling through the mud like zombies. 

There are obviously further potential learning opportunities that extend from this activity, such as different children taking the views of different objects within the same image or story….why might their opinions differ? Which opinion is correct? Is there only one correct view of the events?

Another excellent text within which to use ‘if objects could speak’ is The Invetion of Hugh Cabret by Brian Selznik

  The mysterious automaton that features heavily in the story would be an obvious focus for ‘if objects could speak’, however there are numerous other opportunities such as the opinions of the train station clock, the spare parts in the workshop, the tool kit used by the watchmaker etc.

This is a great technique to use as part of an extended unit of work on narrative writing or simply as a way of generating relevant and engaging ideas for more discrete sentence structure tasks. Whatever you choose to do with it, you are guaranteed to have fun when you let the objects do the talking….imagine what your classroom clock might say or the staff room kettle!?

Tuesday by David Wiesner

  For this post, I have chosen to feature of one of true masters of the picture book genre, David Wiesner, and his amazing book ‘Tuesday’. The book itself tells the tale of a mysterious Tuesday night when the frogs surrounding a small American town take flight and run amok!
Quick Activities

The book is filled with page after page of humorous, creative and detailed images. One of these could be taken, out of context of the rest of the story and without the children knowing the plot, as the focus for a piece of short story writing. What is happening in the image? How would you describe the settin? Why is the frog in the images? Etc

Additionally, the whole text could be shared and then the accompanying narrative story could then be written. The original text itself is completely wordless. This allows scope for the story to be retold in comic strip form, with short sentences or paragraphs written for each image. Alternatively, you might choose to write a more conventional, extended narrative to retell the fantastic events in detail.

Extended Activities

At the end of the text, the residents of the small town are very confused. One image shows the police investigating the scenes of the ‘crime’. In this sense, the mystery element of the story lends itself to journalistic writing. The children could write a newspaper article reporting on the events, including interviews with the main characters featured in the story.

Extending the newspaper report theme further, you could challenge the children to write newspaper reports from the perspective of the animals in the story; The Daily Croaker (reporting on a great scientific break through for frog kind – flight!), The Barking Times (a sympathic report about the trauma experienced by domestic dog who had his home invaded by amphibians) or The Cat’s Whiskers (a report on the cat nation loss of night time dominion to the frogs).

For a more creative challenge, you could linger on the final image of the text…the ominous shadow of a pig taking flight at the arrival of night time on the following Tuesday night. Children could write a new narrative to tell the unknown story of the adventures experienced by the pigs on their magical Tuesday night!