Flat Life

I have never really been sure about how to use the animation  Flat Life, first seen on the BFI Story Shorts 2 dvd.  However, today I think I might have found an outcome for the film.

Through the post I received my own copy of Building Stories by Chris Ware – a book that is definitely not for children – and fell in love with it.  It has a lot of things that I like; beautiful visuals, tactile appeal, an unusual structure, a very appealing front cover/box and a range of text types but all in graphics.  Many thanks @literacyadviser for the tweet about this book.

The ‘book’ comes in a beautiful cardboard box and consists of 14 different types of book/booklet/poster/newspaper and so on. I think it is like Black and White by David Macaulay on steroids.





 I haven’t started to read them in detail yet.  I am just scanning my way through everything to  sort out how it works and what order I should read them in.  I understand from the reviews that it is probably best to read them in order.  What I do know is that the book tells the story of inhabitants of a block of flats and it is this that reminded me of Flat Life.  It seems to me that the children could create booklets about the characters in Flat Life, using the animation as a starting point and through a series of drama/role play activities, develop the characters and their lives further.  They could then tell these in graphic form either by drawing or by using some form of comic creater – Comic Life springs to mind.

It also reminds me of the book 99 Ways to Tell a Story by Matt Madden.  99 different styles of comic telling the same story.

What have you seen this half-term that has caused you to make new links?

Varmints (part one) by Helen Ward and Marc Craste

This is a fairly dark story about what happens when we destroy nature.  As the buildings and ‘others’ take over the text becomes harder and harder to read – just as it becomes harder to hear in the story.  This is an interesting book telling a story that is occurring more and more frequently in children’s fiction.  The trailer for the film of the book that Marc Craste has made with STUDIOaka is excellent.

Definitely one to listen to without the images first to see what sort of story it suggests.  The camera angles are interesting  and worth exploring.

What I find most disturbing is that although nature seems to win through at the end it doesn’t really because the wild area is created in a glass dome rather than being a true ‘outside’ space.  The book reminds me of The Paradise Garden by Colin Thompson where the boy escapes the noise by visiting and staying in the park – or that is one reading of the story.  It also has some links with The Rabbits by john Marsden, illustrated by Shaun Tan who by the way would make a great author/illustrator study.

Other things worth exploring in the book are the use of light and dark and the use of  anthropomorphism.

Reviews of the book can be read here and here.

Let me know what you think.

Warming Up the Word: Word Games and Picture Games

We quite often play a game on training days suggested by Pie Corbett in his book JumpStart! StoryMaking called Disasters.  Pie gives an example of 5 disasters for Superman such as his Dad tells him not to start fights or  his Gran gives him kryptonite pants for christmas.

In order to be able to play this game children have to have a good understanding of the story/character that they are devising the disasters for and have to be able to identify events that would cause a problem.

These posters must be the visual equivalent of the disasters game.  They were designed for a Star Wars Convention.

Thanks to @lindseyb16 and @dannynic for sharing.  MyModernMet has all thirteen posters.

Where the Wild Things Are


A wonderful trailer for use in literacy.  How soon before you know whether the thing carrying him is friendly or not?  What are the clues?  What effect does looking up at the tree canopy give?  How would you describe that opening in writing?  From whose point of vew?

Children could capture an image of the text and put it into Photostory or MovieMaker and add their own images to show what they hope for, fear, consider to be an adventure  and how they are a wild thing.

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak and Safe From Harm by Rollo Armstrong make a great pair of books to use in guided reading to compare and contrast.

Read this post to find out how to download from YouTube to take a film into the classroom.

Engaging The Eye Generation

Engaging The Eye Generation by Johanna Riddle is a wonderful example of a teacher sharing how she integrates literacy with visual or media literacy in her classroom.  What is also fantastic is that the publishers have created an online edition of the book for us all to read.

In the book, Johanna shares with us how she teaches media work linked to literacy teaching.  Her ideas start with books shared with children and she then allows them to develop their responses to the texts through the use of images and various tools to manipulate the images.  The book details examples of children’s work and their thinking behind it. (For teachers in the UK this type of work would provide wonderful evidence for Assessing Pupil Progress in reading.)

In an interview for her blog tour , Johanna talks about how she had limited technical skills when she started this work.  This must be a familiar feeling for many teachers.  She also describes how she overcame this by starting off with one tool and learnt about that tool alongside the children. When confident with that one she moved on to use others and extended her repertoire.  This is an excellent model for CPD when embedding ICT in literacy.  To know one tool and to be able to use it in depth is much more powerful that knowing six and using them all in a superficial manner.

This is an engaging read that combines the learning journey not just of the children but also the teacher.

Using Scooby Doo to Improve Writing

For some time now we have used film to support writing.  Here we use a Scooby Doo trailer to explore how focusing on different aspects of a film changes the writing.
We always turn the sound down on this trailer and stop it before the Batman outline turns into Scooby Doo.  The children need to watch it several times just to respond to it as it is, no sound and no Scooby Doo as that completely changes the film.  We would show them it all after we have finished.
Divide the children into groups and ask each group to focus on a different aspect: camera angle and movement, light and dark and colour.  The children watch the trailer several times and m ake notes about what they see and then discuss.  Share what they see.
They then watch again but jot down words and phrases that link to their focus and the film.  The camera group often come up with things such as swooping up and over, racing along, gliding down the corridor, turning and choosing the doorway.  Here the verb choice to describe the movement and prepositions are very strong.
The light and dark group might jot down phrases such as moonlight shining on water, lit up house, shadows of trees, light entering the gloom from the moonlit windows, patterned shadows.  Here noun modifiction and expansion are strong.
These can then be crafted into sentences to describe the film clip.  Depending upon the focus for observation, the paragraphs will be very different and that can then lead into a discussion about what you as a writer want your reader to see and feel.
There is also something interesting about the fact that whatever is moving around the house is hidden from the viewer and with older children it would be worthwhile exploring how you hide something from the reader and then decide to reveal it.  The revealing in this clip leads to humour and completely changes the tone.  Different ways of revealing could be explored in writing and the impact upon the reader.
Do you have any film clips you like to use to support children in writing?

Using Images in Literacy to Support Writing

Visual literacy is a vital part of life nowadays. It exists as an area in its own right but it can also be used to support the teaching and learning of  writing. This post is an attempt to describe how we do that. We:-

  • use images to support understanding of literary techniques, e.g. putting title slides in a film that has been run through Moviemaker to show where there would be paragraph changes if it was a written text
  • use images to demonstrate understanding, e.g. collecting a group of images that reflect the meaning of a poem or the theme of a story (focus on images that show not tell)
  • use images to support memory and create a shared understanding, e.g this is most frequently used after a trip or a visitor to the classroom
  • use images to suppport vocabulary development, watch the film for an example of this

Generating description from joy simpson on Vimeo.

  • use images to support understanding of text structure, e.g. through sequencing activities which can develop to show flash backs and other time management techniques
  • use images to help create the message for the reader, e.g. choice of image in a persuasive text or an explanatory text
  • create film

Photo Story 3 versus Animoto

There is a lot of talk at the moment about Animoto.  This is a site that you upload your images to, you can now add text and add music and it will then turn  your pictures into a film zooming in and out of the images and changing the transitions.

My question is how is this different/better than Photo Story 3?  With Photo Story 3 there are none of the e-safety issues which admittedly  Animoto have found a way around but it involves setting up dummy emails etc.  Anyone got any views on this?

Digital Storytelling

For the month of January I thought I would focus in on resources that can help us develop digital storytelling in the classroom.

What is digital storytelling?  Well I think the easiest definition is story telling using tools on the computer which could consist of  sound or images or the orchestration of sound, moving and still images, voices over and text.  Digital storytelling originally started off as a way of recording ‘ordinary’ people’s life stories but in the classroom encompasses telling all sorts of stories, your own and others’.

I am going to assume that you have already mastered Powerpoint and adding sound to slides so will start with Photostory 3 as this programme takes you through step by step to create a film.

To find out how to download Photo Story 3 and to see a series of short films that show you how to use it go to http://www.deseducation.org/view_folder.asp?folderid=1821&depth=5&rootid=17&level2id=391&level1=17&level2=391&level3=1608&level4=1631&level5=1821

If you have used Photo Story in the classroom please let us know how it went and what your children produced.


Visual Literacy – Comic Life

comic-life-pod – to hear about Comic Life click on the link.


This is a fantastic bit of software.  It takes pictures from your computer or captures them from a webcam and then puts them into a comic format.  See the software at http://plasq.com/comiclife-win where you can download a free 30 day trial.  You can add text and call-outs and decide which bits of your photos should appear in the boxes.  This would definitely be useful for motivating children to write for a whole variety of purposes.

Uses for Comic Life that spring to mind immediately are:

  • telling a life story
  • looking at the pace of a story and what type of box should be used in slower parts and the quicker parts
  • retelling of stories either through images from the web or from those taken by the children
  • explaining a process – mummification jumps to mind

Charles Thacker has written a detailed article with references about using comics in education.  With many thanks to Digital Teacher for the recommendation.

There is a free 30 day trial on this software and after that it is only £49 available from Tag.  Well worth it.