Making comics

I recently saw this resource and thought how useful it would be to teach about story structure but couldn’t quite see my way into how i might start to use it with children. I do, however, remember reading my most favourite book of the year last year – Syllabus by Lynda Barry.  This is the book of her syllabi for imagination/comics/originiality/writing and so, so much  more. I can’t tell you how much i enjoyed it and actually practise some of the things that she sets her students to do.

Some of her ways into drawing and story would really suit introducing children to comics and making full use of the resource offered by Ways with Words, who also have resources linked to comics.

Barry introduces her students to drawing characters as Ivan Brunetti describes. We can all draw circles, triangles and wavy lines and therefore we can all draw characters. Practising drawing them in different positions is really useful and exploring them in different settings very supportive for story-making. Barry includes copying photographs and other people’s drawings/cartoons as ways of looking and moving your arm/hand in different ways. Allow children to do this to find their cartoon characters. A good way to develop this is a Drawing Jam. Fold a piece of paper into 8 rectangles and draw a line across the top of each box to create a space for a heading.  On your piece of paper write in the heading box the name of an occupation or style of person e.g. robbber, demon, superhero etc. Pass the paper on to the person next to you who writes another occupation and so on until all 8 headings have been completed. Take your paper back and then in the spaces underneath you have 1 minute for each box to draw the character in the heading. No stick people allowed. This kind of activity produces a kind of original drawing that is always fantastic.

Ask the children to choose one of the characters from their drawing jam and draw it again but this time on a rectangle of card. Imagine where this character is and draw in the background.  With a partner talk about the sorts of stories that this character is in, what happens to them and what you like about them.

Take 6 more cards and choose from this list to draw on them:

  1. draw a scene that shows the setting for a story
  2. a scene that shows your character in a day to day activity – what an average day is like
  3. a scene that introduces another character
  4. a scene about an object or special trait that your character has
  5. a scene that shows your character engaged in a significant action
  6. something from your character’s childhood
  7. your character talking to someone, trying to persuade them
  8. the climactic scene for your character
  9. what happens a day later to your character
  10. a year later

Order your cards and see how they might fit into the comic layout introduced as the first resource in this post. Talk your story to a parner.  What is needed in the gaps to complete the story. Draw cards to fill in the gaps.

You can now create your comic using the format from Ways with Words.

Do you teach comic making in your class?


Christmas Writing

I have to say that it is a bumper year for great christmas adverts .  I am in love with Mog and his christmas calamity and think it beats the John Lewis advert hands down. I do think that the John Lewis advert and Baboon on the Moon are very similar.
Here is my list of favourite christmas adverts that would be great to use to support writing and as a little present, there are three teaching sequences now available to go with them – one for Yr1/2, one for Yr3/4 and one for Yr5/6.

mogThis is such a fun story where a chain of events lead to Mog escaping quickly from the kitchen, which is in ruins.  I love the expressions on Mog’s face as he moves through the catastrophe.  We have a sequence for Yrs 3 and 4 based on this advert.


mononthemoonThis is a great advert, which if Mog wasn’t around would be my favourite this year.  It tells the story of a man (grandpa) far away and his loneliness.  The little girl goes to endless trouble to get in contact with him and because this is Christmas, she manages it. We have a sequence for Yrs1 and 2 based on this advert and Baboon on themoon . Although the sequence moves onto invented writing, you could stop at the end of the innovate stage. Download the sequence at .

spanishlotto My third favourite christmas ad is the spanish lottery advert which tells about a man who goes to work every day in a rather boring job and the things he does to pass the time. The staff then win the lottery and he thinks he is not included. But it’s christmas so I am sure you can guess the ending.  We have  a sequence for Yrs5 and 6 based on this advert at


kwikfitMy final ad is one from KwikFit  just for the joy of Christmas and the magic of Santa Claus for children. I love the reindeer nose peeking out at the end. is where it can be found.



Do you have a favourite Christmas ad to support writing that we should know about?




My new favourite book

I don’t know what I would do with out Devon School Library Service.  I say ‘Oooh. Have you got a copy of such and such?  I’d really like to have a look at it.’  And if they haven’t got a copy they get one for me.  Which is how I came to have the wonderful little red hood by Marjolaine Leray.  (It’s not the greatest book for capital letters and punctation – so yes I have got the title right!)  From reading the inside of the front cover, this book was originally published in France under the title un petit chaperon rouge, and there were no capital letters in that title either.

The story of little red  hood is told through the dialogue between little red hood and the wolf although it has an alternative ending.  I don’t remember the wolf having stinky breath in any of the other versions of this story.  It is however true to the idea that little red hood overcomes the wolf in the end.

But what I really love about this book is the visual appeal.  The illustrations are all in red and black, as is the dialogue,  and little red hood looks like she came out of a red pencil scribble on the front cover.  There is such a simplicity here and yet the range of emotions portrayed through the tilt of the head or the drooping of the shoulders is enormous.  Some of the illustrations are contained within one page of a double page spread and others start on one page and finish on the other side of the spread all pointing or focusing in on little red hood in a threatening manner.

The illustrations have a very animatic quality and I can picture this book as a short animation.  The colour palette reminds me of Le Queue de la Souris below although where there is black in this animation, there is white in the book.

I think this book would be a wonderful way to tell other similar traditional stories.  Can you tell the story of the three little pigs just through the dialogue between the wolf and the third pig?  What colours would you use?  How could you represent the wolf and the pig?

I have of course had to buy my own version of the book.

What’s your favourite book at the moment?

Using film to support literacy learning – can you help?

filmI am currently in the process of writing a book about using film to support learning in literacy.  The book is divided into chapters that relate to the BFI areas of focus in film:

  • character
  • composition
  • colour
  • camera
  • cutting
  • category
  • setting
  • story
  • sound
  • symbolism
  • sequence

I am particularly interested in creating film and have developed a range of activities related to each of the above headings.  If you would be interested in trying out one of the activities then leave me a comment letting me know which year group or groups that you teach, your  email and which which area of focus and I will send you the activity.  In return I would ask that you give me feedback about the activity and access to the films that the children make as a result of trying the activity.  Films can be uploaded to Vimeo and I can then reference them in the book.

Each activity is in the first draft and so there will be typos and may not be expressed in the clearest way. This is part of what I am looking for feedback about.

There are three ways in which you can leave me your email and details of the focus area you would like to try and age range.

Twitter – I am @joysimpson


A comment on this post.

If you are interested in trying out an activity, please contact me.

Animation with children in the foundation stage

It is always the same.  Share an idea and get an even better idea back!

foggyforestI have been investigating Lotte Reiniger films recently and thinking about how they can be used in the classroom.  Whilst talking about the films to two colleagues, they both mentioned how similar they were to Nick Sharratt’s book The Foggy Foggy Forest.

The book makes an excellent link with the film through the use of silhouettes.

It would be great over the course of a few days  to show the children one or two Reiniger films such as Cinderella (do watch the animation through yourself as they draw heavily on the Grimm’s versions of the tales) and then read the book following the clues to discover who is in the picture.   You could then show children how to animate one of the characters from the book.

Enlarge one of the silhouette pictures such as the fairy bouncing on the trampoline or the witch on her broomstick..  Cut out the fairy and the trampoline and place under a camera linked to animation software.  Zu3d would be good for reception children.  Show the children how to take 12 shots to begin with and then 1 shot every time you move her.  Move her up slowly and then back down slowly, capturing the shots.  Play back what you have captured and discuss how smooth it is, whether your hands are in the shots or not.  If necessary create another bounce and watch back again.

Once you have a bounce that you like, ask the children how many bounces you would like the fairy to do and copy and paste your shots ending with 12 shots of her on the trampoline.

This would need to be modelled for the children and then they would need some support but the equipment and props can be set up in the classroom and left available for children to use.

Do you know of any other books that link well with animations?  If do do let me know about them and thanks Becca and Nicola for the idea!

What all teachers ought to know about the benefits of animation

class1a on animation from Matty Dawe on Vimeo.

During an animation project that has spanned this year, I have been concentrating  on what progression in animamtion looks like.  Now that I have a little time I want to spend some time reflecting on what the animation did for literacy learning.  I want to think beyond the work that has already been undertaken about camera shot and the level of detail written,  the link between scenes and paragraphs etc.  These have all been well documented  as part of the bfi work.

Because the animation was linked to poetry three times during the year, the teachers involved in the project found that their choice of poetry changes as we moved through the year.  By the third animation they were quite clear about choosing poems with strong images that were accessible to children.  Not revelationary but in terms of the poems they would have normally chosen for literacy there was a difference.

So how did linking poetry and animation affect learning in literacy?

Creating images from words (reading)

  • Animation and poetry are both about images, amongst other things, and we know that good readers often visualise or create images from the words they are reading.  By linking the two together the children became much more expert at creating images that were suggested by the words in poem.  The animating ‘forced’ the children to think in terms of images.  This impact on their reading was quite pronounced as the children were expecting the poems to create images for them which had not been the case duirng the first animation.  If you have children who do not comprehend texts effectively, animation may be one tool that can support this development.

Creating words from images (writing)

  • For some of the children, creating  images and then creating  poetry from the animation allowed them to tap into ‘dormant’ vocabulary.  That is vocabulary whicc we have but don’t often use in our every day interactions.  The Anglo-Saxons called this our word-hoard.  We use approximately 5000 different words in our day to day communication yet we know so many more words.  For developing writers it is important that we show them how to tap into their word-hoard to bring words forward.  It is also important that we show them the process of seeing images and attaching words to them.  This is after all what many writers do and what Pie Corbett in Talk for Writing calls imaging.  Animating allows us to make these two invisible processes visible for children.

Storyboarding (planning)

  • It was interesting to see what the children did when storyboarding.  Writing is normally a task undertaken by an individual, although many schools do encourage children to write in pairs.  Many primary age children do not understand the concept of planning, writing too much in the plan and then writing out again for the actual text.  The primary purpose of storyboarding when animating was to create a shared visual understanding of what was to be made.  This demanded many skills of the children; the ability to articulate ideas, persuade and negotiate.  It was this process that meant that by the time the children had storyboarded they really had a clear idea of what they were about to make. The purpose of planning was clear to the children and had an impact on the planning that they did when writing supporting the understanding of the two processes – planning and then writing.

These ideas mean that animation is an ideal learning tool for use in literacy and not just once a year.  What else should teachers know about animation?

Other posts about animation

A Recipe for Successful Animation


  • A willing teacher
  • Viewing opportunities
  • Reliable software  (Zu3D or I Can Animate)
  • Suitable camera (Hue webcam)
  • Groups of children with something to say
  • Models that the children can manipulate easily (2D, scissors, toys, paper, photos)
  • The 3 Cs (critical, creative and cultural)
  • More than one opportunity to animate throughout the year linked to the curriculum
  • A microphone


  1. Start with viewing experiences and build them in as regular slots throughout the year.  Offter the children opportunities to see animations that extend the range  that they are familiar with. (Cultural)
  2. Following these viewings, allow for time to respond to the animation.  This could be through discussion, use of toys or models, writing or drawing. (Critical analysis)
  3. The first time that the children use the software, model how to use frames.  Use 12 for a lead in, 6 for a pause and 1 for action.  The pauses are very important as they can make the difference between a comfortable and an uncomfortable viewing experience.  Think of them as punctuation! (Creative)
  4. Try to animate something other than narrative at first because it takes a long time to create a small amount of animation and stories are often long and demand longer animations.  Poetry is good.
  5. Allow sufficient time to make the animation and add sound.  This can take some time at first but the more you animate, the quicker this process becomes.
  6. View your animation and think about what you would do differently if you could do it again. (Critical analysis)
  7. Upload your animation to Vimeo so that others can view it and leave comments for you. Watch other children’s animations on the Persistence of Vision Channel. (Critial analysis and culture)
  8. Repeat the whole process as often as possible but at least twice a year if animation is undertaken in every year group in the school.  If not animate three times during the year and try and convince others to have a go.

Animated Learning

On Wednesday, the Persistence of Vision group met for the last time.  As usual we shared our thoughts about the animation work that had been going on in the classrooms and looked at the animations that the children had produced.  Having made 3 animations throughout the year we are now starting to become much more aware of what progression might look like and continue to be delighted by what children can do when given the opportunity.

One of the things that you will notice with this group of animations is that the teachers have moved away from 3D animation.  There are a variety of reasons for this based around the dexterity that the children need to create and manipulate the models successfully.  It was also felt that the use of shapes provides a constraint which encourages the children to be creative in their problem solving approaches.  In the Penguin animations made by Yr2 children the teacher photocopied an image from the internet for the background – the low tech way of greenscreening!  Block Posters is a great site for uploading images and getting print outs in sections.  Much easier than using the photocopier. The children created the kennings and then animated their ideas around them.  To see all four visit our Vimeo channel

Penguin 3 from Gail West on Vimeo.

Linking to this creative approach to problem solving, one class were looking at the use of water in religion and decided to link this to their literacy.  The children wrote snippets of poetry around water and then animated their ideas.  What I am interested in this series is the way in which the children have dealt with water and the different ways they have animated it.  My favourite is Who Let the Bubbles Out?  This series were made by Yr 4 children.

Who let the bubbles out! from Matty Dawe on Vimeo.

Becasue each of the animations that we have made are linked to poetry, one aspect that we discussed in detail is the importance of the poem chosen for literacy.  Each of the teachers talked about making a much more considered choice based around the images suggested in the poem which is not how they would have approached their decision making previously.  The next animation was made by a group looking at Bluebottle by Judith Nicholls on the wonderful Poetry Archive. I love the way they have represented the lord of the flies and the way the wings change position as the fly dives.  In fact flying is not an easy thing to represent in animation and the children have handled it well.

Bluebottle_Group2 from Stokenham School on Vimeo.

One aspect of progression that has become apparant is that children are now starting to think about how to animate much more complicated aspects such as water and flying.  They are also experimenting with the way in which shapes can suggest character or objects whic in writing we would call showing writing as opposed to telling writing.

This has been an exciting project to be part of  and one which will linger a long time in my work.  I have to leave with the last thought from one of the teachers involved

I can’t imagine doing poetry next year without animation.  It would seem like something was missing.

Learning to Animate, Animating to Learn

As part of a project looking at progression in animation I have been talking to teachers and children about animation and  reflecting on what I have learnt so far.  It will be interesting to see how this changes as we move towards the end of the year and the project but here it is at present.

  1. Watch animations with children. Lots and lots of them.  Discuss them and their meaning.  What is their personal response to the animation?    Use the likes, dislikes, patterns and puzzles to start off discussions.  Ask how did the animator make you feel like that?  This is not wasted time.  This work will be reflected in the animations the children make. The animation on this page created by Yr2 pupils was partially inspired by the Ooglies.  We have linked to several animations on our YouTube channel, you can buy the British Film Institue’s DVDs of animations for children Starting Stories 1 and 2 for KS1 and Story Shorts 1 and 2 for KS2 and there are many on television.
  2. Allow children sufficient time to play with the equipment if it is the first time that children have animated.  Set up the equipment in the classroom and allow the children to use it, explore what it can do and learn from this.  It means that the animations take a lot less time to make when you fnally start.
  3. Keep it simple.  Discuss what the children want their veiwers to focus on when they watch the animtion.  How can this best be shown?  This is what storyboards are for and they don’t have to be drawn.  They could be digital images.  They could be timings and descriptions.
  4. Pauses.  Sometimes animations can be over before you have blinked.  It is important to get the right length of time and to put pauses in.  This enhances the viewing experience considerably.
  5. Evaluate the animations produced.  What would you do differently next time?  And then have a next time animating so that the children can put what they have learnt into operation. And a next time and a next time.
  6. Children work in teams to animate and it is important that the dynamics are successful.  Careful grouping is important as so far in the project the teams that work well together frequently produce the ‘best’ animations.  This would be an ideal time to collect evidence for Assessing Pupil Progress in speaking and listening.
  7. Animations allow children to demonstrate what they have learnt and understood.  Animating a poem allows them to show what meaning they made from the words, animating how a volcano works allows children to demonstrate what they understand about the process.  Use animation across the curriculum.

What have you learnt when animating with children?

Other posts about animation.

Animating Again!

Today was our second day of the animation project that we are taking part in.  The teachers came with animations their children had made, were ready to discuss the learning that had taken place.

I have to say that the animations were fantastic and whilst we talked several things became clearer to me:

  • when working as a team you need to be  effective at sharing the visual idea so that all can buy into it and understand what is to be achieved.  I was however left with the question about what was the best way to do this.  I suspect there is no one way that is the ‘best’ but  ways that work for some more than others.  Whatever it is, sketching, photographing, talking etc this leads to storyboarding and storyboarding is important.
  • group dynamics were important.  Time and time again the teachers reported that the group that worked best together produced a quality animation.  This illustrates the need to teach the skills of collaboration – not just expecting children to be able to do it.  And probably these issues are barriers to learning generally not just animating.
  • managing the timing or speed of action was an important skill that needed further development.  Pauses are important in animation and provide a sort of full-stop or break like a paragraph.  It means that the animation is not action, action, action.
  • some groups had too much going on in their animation.  I can only liken this to writing that goes on and on but doesn’t really go anywhere and the reader is not really sure what to focus on.  The learning from this is that the children need to develop the idea of directing the viewer’s attention.  Other groups didn’t have enough going on.  I often read writing like this which is what I call minimalist.  Again I think the children need to focus in on what they want their veiwer to ‘see’.

This will  inform how we develop our teaching of animation over the next few months.

As we are teaching animation at least three times across this year linked to poetry we then went onto look at how we could provide a different stimulus for the children and so started with sound.

We listened to three sounds, one at a time and talked around the images they generated for us.  This was a fantastic activity because the longer we did it the less literal the images became and then it started getting interesting.  From this sound we then created an animation and finally  added the sound by exporting the images and importing into Movie Maker.  Below are two of the results.  We did have one crash and  loss of  work.  It’s a painful way to learn to save, save, save.

I will write about the children’s animations in another post.