Dialogue

As the threat of moderation looms ever closer it has been a frantic post SATS period in year 6. However this week we still managed to find a way to use some comics to help develop several skills and produce high quality work. Good quality dialogue was lacking in books for both classes, so it was decided that we would be re-writing comic strips and then turning them into written dialogue in their books.

For those who don’t know I have the luxury of working with Jon Biddle, who is brilliant at making these tasks highly enjoyable and highly effective. His decision to use Calvin and Hobbes as a resource was instrumental in capturing the children’s attention in the first lesson and setting them up to succeed for the week. We used three different strips from Calvin and Hobbes that all showed situations the children could easily relate to. Most of the words were erased on the strips and the children had to go through and fill in the speech bubbles with what they thought the characters may be saying at that point, which allowed for lots of discussion about body language and facial expression.

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After completing several of the strips from Calvin and Hobbes, both classes moved on to a blanked out strip from either Rollergirl or Mr Wolf’s Class. Again their first task was to fill in the dialogue with what they thought the characters would be saying. However this time the images had much less action and required the pupils to really think carefully about how they might react and speak in the situation themselves. Having filled in multiple comic strips across the week the classes then explored how to turn these speech bubbles into written dialogue, similar to what they may use in a story. To ensure a successful transition the rules of punctuating speech were recapped and the process was modeled using real text examples to support it.

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For their first attempt at applying the skill both classes used a comic about Calvin and Hobbes sledging down a hill with disastrous consequences. Most found the task difficult at first because they were unsure how to communicate the contrasting manner of the characters, as well as ensuring their delivery was described in enough depth. Following this task the children then chose either their Rollergirl work or the extract from Mr Wolf’s Class and attempted to convert this into written dialogue. Having practice at it the day before allowed them to see where they had gone wrong or address any misconceptions that had arisen. Both of these texts required a greater focus on facial expression, body language and character thoughts, which meant their knowledge of when to use inverted commas was tested more than the previous day. They also needed to use the dialogue effectively to help progress the story because the actions performed didn’t help with this as much as the previous strip when Calvin and Hobbes were sledging down a hill and crashing spectacularly into the snow.

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By the end of the week it was easy to see how much improvement had been made by the children in regards to the quality of their dialogue, how they used dialogue to progress the action and also the detail they used to describe the interaction between characters. Most had moved on from simply saying ‘he said’ or ‘she said’ and started to use more informative language such as ‘exclaimed’ or ‘explained’ as well as using short phrases to explain the exchange. Some of the best examples of these were ‘instead of replying to her fathers words she gave him a glare and looked round to see if anyone had heard’ and ‘a girl muttered underneath her breath … although not everybody could hear her.’ Previously character reactions were often more simplistic and would have probably sounded more like ‘she looked sad’ or ‘she said it quietly.’

Adding this level of description to dialogue had previously been a big weakness for the year group, which often meant they found it hard to use dialogue as a tool to support or further action in their work. Instead dialogue was often used for very basic conversations where characters just seemed to spend their time asking how each other were and saying okay a lot but never actually doing anything or talking about anything relevant. Using comics in this manner has highlighted how easily you can spot gaps in children’s understanding of the rules of speech along with providing ample opportunities to develop their writing of it. The success of it has already informed us that it should be taught in this manner earlier next year in order to improve an often troublesome area as early as possible.

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Padlet

After a few people suggested the idea I have created a padlet full of graphic novels that are suitable for primary schools. It is far from the definitive article so if you have ideas for some I am obviously missing get in touch with me on twitter and I will add them to the list. https://padlet.com/rruddick9zra/73uh2srzpbia

Things have been quiet on here recently with the joys of Sats in my class but hopefully when they are out of the way I will have more time to do some creative work with comics again in my English lessons.

Text marking with Mr Wolf

Over the past few weeks SATS fever has started to sweep year 6 meaning the chance to teach with comic books or try something considered a risk has become a very slim possibility. Although we are trying our very best to keep the curriculum broad and not just turn lessons into revision missions, there are times when you have to focus on the gaps no matter what. However thanks to the work of Wayne Tennent and the technique of text marking that he taught us on a reading course this year I have been able to sneak in some comic based lessons which have also served a SATS based purpose. In a bid to help develop the deeper thinking skills of our year 6 pupils both classes have been working on exploring what a text is truly showing us and what we can read from it. Credit must go to the mighty Jon Biddle who in PPA last week read the fantastic Mr Wolf’s class (buy it for year 4,5 &6 if you don’t have it, great book and they love it) and then said how he planned to use it for some text marking work. Being the resourceful practitioner that I am I stole his idea and did it as well because he said it so therefore it must be a good idea!

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The page in question involved a teacher asking a pupil to say sorry for something that wasn’t really a problem just so they could settle the issue. In predictable fashion the child apologises but doesn’t mean it and didn’t actually care about being sorry whilst the teacher thought he had settled the incident perfectly. We’ve all been there ourselves and will continue to deal with it on a daily basis as long as children exist. We decided to go through and mark all over the text about what they thought the characters were really thinking, why the teacher was settling it this way and what their body language told us about their real intentions. The class picked up on lots of subtle details and nuances that at first glance they had ignored. After marking it we talked about their findings as a class which allowed others to pick up on things they had missed. The discussion ranged from the character saying sorry being sarcastic rather than really meaning it, the teacher being smug even though he hasn’t really settled the issue, turning your back on someone to show them that you don’t actually mean your words and even how rushing off after the teacher has said shows a lack of respect.

The discussion was really productive and plenty of the class had picked up on little facial expressions and clues in the text that others had missed including myself. We followed this task up by looking at three questions based around the text. The questions were based on looking at the text, using a clue from the text and then using their own thoughts about a concept related to the text. The final question was What do you think makes a good teacher? This question required us to discuss all the different areas of life that people teach them in rather than just focusing on teachers at school. Many of the children hadn’t considered just how many different people teach them and how they teach others themselves. This question prompted some interesting discussion which revealed many of them considered a good teacher to be someone who could demonstrate the skills and knowledge required themselves, possessed patience and was kind and caring. Most of the children were adamant that the person teaching needed to know or show how things worked rather than just being people who could tell them what to do. When talking about who the best teachers in their lives were a lot of them recognised their parents or grand parents as people that have taught them a lot along with brothers and sisters. Interestingly some also suggested their parents were the worst teachers because they didn’t have the knowledge or patience to do it properly!

Following on from this task (later in the week) we then looked at another page from the second Mr Wolf’s class book which I felt would address some of the issues we were having as a class. This time we decided just to mark and discuss the text rather than moving onto three questions afterwards. This time we looked at a page where several seemingly innocent lies got out of hand and led to a character believing an old teacher had potentially been abducted by aliens. Working in pairs the class had about 30 minutes to break down the text and explore what was happening and more importantly why it was happening.

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I was surprised by how many didn’t understand what the word ransom meant but this presented a great opportunity to demonstrate how they could use the words around it to establish a potential meaning. About half way through the task after rushing through all the words most of the class started to say they were finished which I knew they were definitely not. Rather than stop there and discuss I simply informed any child who told me that to look further into it and start thinking about more than just the words. After a brief whinge about being made to work harder every group went back to the task and started to pick apart tiny details of the text which led to lots of fantastic paired discussion. Slowly they realised that the page features constantly changing backgrounds which could be related to the way the conversation is going between the two characters. Lots of them picked up on the spotlight on the last panel and the wonky features in the corridor which didn’t fit with the rest of the page. Facial expressions were studied and allowed them to draw conclusions about the intentions of the words as well as answering questions they had about the start of the page. When it came to stopping them many begged for more time as they were engrossed in extracting everything they could.

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To finish we discussed our findings as a class and I teased them towards the idea of fake news and how it is important to be more aware of this than ever. In the previous week I had settled multiple arguments based on children either lying to each other or misreporting events. Their words gathered momentum and got out of hand before thankfully being resolved by the end of the week. This page gave me a great example of this happening and allowed me to draw comparisons to our struggles in class. As a final point of discussion I talked to them about the fake articles that are constantly put up online and the importance of evaluating what you are reading to try and ascertain if it is genuine or not. Quickly I had hands shooting up to tell me about when they had fallen for fake news themselves or examples their parents had shown them being spread on social media. Using the text to get to this point seemed to connect well with them and for those who may struggle to quite understand what I was talking about it gave a concrete example of how a simple joke can quickly get out of hand whether you mean it to or not.

 

 

Formal letter writing using Princeless

This week in English we have been exploring the difference between formal and informal language through the medium of letter writing. Initially many of my students were unfamiliar with the concept but as the week progressed they showed that they could apply the rules consistently when needed. Having finished our planned work by the end of the lesson Thursday I thought Friday presented an excellent opportunity to practice the skill using a different inspiration. After a long deliberation I chose the book Princeless, it’s twist on the classic princess tales that would offer a golden opportunity for the main character to write a letter.

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In the book Adrienne has been locked in a tower by her father so she can be saved. She decides to break out and go on a mission to free her sisters before the same imprisonment can be placed upon them. After sneaking into her castle she finds her brother who relays the bad news that her sister Appalonia has already been locked away with the meanest guardian in the land protecting her. Adrienne sets off in a bid to free her and ends up in a village where she meets her new companion Bedelia. This part of the story was read to the children who took notes about key character names and events. After note taking the task was laid out, they would have to write a letter from Adrienne to her brother Devin explaining how she was faring in her quest to save their sister. We worked together to identify possible things that may have happened after she left the castle and met Bedelia.

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With ideas gathered and expectations established the class then got on with writing a formal letter to Devin from the perspective of Adrienne. At first they struggled to start off the letter, many found it hard to comprehend how I had read them the story but left them in charge of filling in what happens between leaving and saving her sister. Eventually after a little prompting and a few examples being shared they started to let their imaginations loose and started creating events from this journey. Lots of them described the scenery they had passed or made reference to their new companion Bedelia and how she was helping. Some mentioned the dragon Sparky, the supplies they had gathered or even how far they were from finding Appalonia. Most importantly the majority stuck to the rules of writing a formal letter.

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Contractions were abandoned, paragraphs were used in a more structured manner and vocabulary choices started to become more adventurous. I had banned certain words earlier in the week including ‘alright’, ‘ok’, ‘bad’ etc. which caused trouble for some at first but eventually they started to explore their own vocabularies or use a thesaurus to help them improve the overall tone of their work. Words such as ‘ashamed’, ‘informed’, ‘accompanied’ and ‘menace’ started to make their way into more pupils work and today the variety of vocabulary was the best it had been all week. Below are some of the best sentences created or some are examples from writers who often struggle but excelled during the task:

‘After leaving we finally came across a small village. I told Sparky (the dragon) to hide behind a few trees because I do not think civilians react well to dragons.’

‘I am informing you that I am safe. Since you last saw me at the castle a lot has changed.’

‘We are starting out tomorrow beware I might not make it back. Do not be upset if I do not come back but make me a promise. If I do not come home go and save our sister.’

‘I have great doubt that I will succeed brother but I will never stop fighting.’

‘It is getting dark and I am losing sight so I must say my goodbyes and if I do not make it tell my family I love them. It may not go well.’

A lot of children ended their letter with a warning about their potential fate which showed a good understanding of events that were about to occur. It also gave them a chance to discuss their family relationship at the end of the letter whereas the rest had been recounting the journey and trials ahead. Initially I was skeptical about the task but as we had achieved the goals for the week it seemed a worthy risk. On reflection it worked respectably well but having to read a comic to the class because you only have one copy did make the explanation process problematic at times. Ideally in future I would do something similar using either one page that covered enough content or use a comic that I had multiple copies of so the children could follow along more easily.

 

 

Class recommendations

Recently I’ve had quite a few different people asking me about where to start with graphic novels or what they should look at for their class. In a bid to help with this and not be limited by characters on Twitter here are some of my recommendations based on what has been successful in my school and my classes over the past three years during which I’ve taught years 3/4 , 5 and 6.

The essentials

All of these have been a huge success and serve as the perfect place to start if you want to start improving your selection of graphic novels.

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I cannot recommend these books enough and they all get read continuously in my classes. Anything by Raina Telgemeier is always hugely successful with pupils and Amulet often has a list of people waiting to read the next volume.

Worthy additions

These texts are all worthy additions to a class library but may not be as universally loved in a class like the ones above. You often a group of friends may enjoy them or fans of specific genres/ artistic style.

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Most of these are suitable for all of KS2 but teachers in 3 and 4 should be wary that Nimona and Brave may be a touch too mature for the majority of their readers and are more of a 5/6 text.

Niche texts

The books below are all fantastic texts but I have found them to appeal to limited amounts of pupils often due to their specific genres or very different approach. Axe Cop for example was hugely popular with my year 4 boys but most of the girls in the class told me it was weird and they didn’t like how odd it was. However if you already have a well established library these are good texts to add some diversity with or to appeal to a certain demographic in your class.

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All of the books shown in this post are superb and obviously there will be plenty I have missed as well. This guide is just supposed to give a starting point and some guidance to what can be a daunting format of text. Other texts that deserve an honourable mention and may be perfect for your class are below:

Alex Rider series

Ghostopolis

Drama

Baby-sitters club

Hilo

Geiss

Lumberjanes

John Blake

Artemis Fowl

I hope this is useful for those who read it and if anyone wants to speak to me more about it or tell me about all the absolute must haves I have forgotten to mention then feel free to moan at me on Twitter!

Developing details in writing

Recently we have been trying to develop the level of detail in writing across year 6. Currently they struggle to manage more than a paragraph before lapsing into a rushed story that finishes quicker than the setting description at the start. To help them improve this we looked at writing a short description of a picture and then getting them to write what happened 10 seconds before it and 10 seconds after it, 10 minutes before, 10 minutes after and so on. Although not always a realistic option it really helped to show how much they were guilty of ignoring in their writing along with allowing some to show just how well they could do it. In a bid to make the most of this I attempted a lesson on Friday using three different comic extracts and a simple premise. Choose the story you would like to continue the most and do so. Now obviously I didn’t just want them to carry on a story, I emphasised how I wanted to see lots of details, description and depth to their writing rather than the inevitable rushed ending and party to celebrate (you all know the one where the whole town comes to celebrate and if necessary they get married!) I also removed the 10 second, 10 minute premise but all pupils agreed that following that slower approach would help them to improve the detail and description in their work.

img_5522.jpgOne of the three story prompts on offer. (The City of Ember)

I chose three extracts that would offer different challenges including one from the book Monstress (definitely not primary suitable) which was the most difficult to continue writing but posed a nice challenge for the more ambitious writers on the day. The other two extracts were from The City of Ember (see above and below) and contained nice open page endings that could continue in a multitude of different ways. One big mistake I made was giving them the whole page of text instead of just the final panel which seemed too distracting for many or even led to them describing the page rather than the next events, in future use I will only give them the bare minimum of material to ensure greater focus. This issue aside the texts offered a large scope and the class seemed enthused about having the choice of story that suited their tastes best. All three texts were used by multiple people but the page finishing with “Did you hear that?” was easily the favourite, especially with less confident writers.

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Like always success was mixed and some people more than rose to the occasion while others floundered in a sea of distractions (not helped by being the last day of term!) However there was still plenty to gain from the activity and I look forward to repeating it in the future with some different texts and the adaptations I suggested above. Some pupils seemed to focus on the events leading up to these pages more than the next events but in some circumstances they did it very well. Most importantly a more patient approach was displayed in the majority of writing and a desire to use a wider range of vocabulary was evident. Below are some examples of writing that really embodied the tasks intent, showed patience and displayed wider vocabulary.

img_5525.jpgAn extract from Monstress that was very carefully selected due to the books graphic nature and heavy profanity making it unsuitable for primary as a whole text. Well worth reading though for personal enjoyment.

“Their footsteps echoed through the endless corridor.”

“Someone was in the room, a shadow appeared on the wall and it wasn’t human at all.”

“Slowly the candle light lit up the grand beasts face peeping from the darkness which revealed a huge wolf covered in gold chains and jewelry with dry blood slathered over its body.”

“The two stood there paralysed by the sight in front of them, their eyes filled with endless horror.”

“Slowly a dark figure emerged from the shadows.”

“Slowly they walked, eager to leave.”

“A slight cough was formed from the woman suffering on the uneven floor, struggling to breathe and forcing herself to find oxygen in order to keep herself alive.”

These are the best extracts I could find and there were others who certainly didn’t reach these levels but it was pleasing to see that even with some finding the task difficult, there were those who managed to produce some engaging writing. Not all of the work above comes from the supposed best writers in the class as well, several students who often struggle to produce quality descriptive work really rose to the occasion whilst several who often flourish failed to reach their usual heights.

Nobrow Press & Flying Eye Books

This week I had the pleasure of speaking to Sam Arthur who is the CEO/Co-founder of Nobrow Press/Flying Eye Books. As a publisher they are responsible for creating a range of visually stunning texts that span a range of genres and ages. Together Nobrow and Flying Eye are producing a stunning range of texts and helping to ignite the imagination of readers. Recently Netflix have noticed the beauty of their work and created a series based around the Hilda books which have been delighting readers over the past few years, especially in my year 3/4 class last year who were obsessed with the series. After seeing the popularity of the series and an announcement about series 2 being commissioned by Netflix, I was interested to speak to someone in the company about their philosophy and ethos towards the importance of visual texts, along with finding out their opinions on those people who view these type of books as inferior reading material.

 

Why do you as a publisher choose to specialise in graphic/visual texts?

I think I’ve always thought in pictures so for me that became a natural way to create stories. When we first started Nobrow 10 years ago, there were not many publishers specialising in graphic narratives, so my business partner and I saw it as a niche that might be an interesting business.

Some people including many parents consider comics, graphic novels and picture books to be only for little kids or they don’t even consider them reading (including a parent in my class!) What would be your response to people that are so against visual texts and often try to steer their children towards a ‘proper book’?

I have run up against the same attitude even from one of my son’s teachers! I find it astonishing! Reading is reading – if your child only likes reading the ingredients of food packaging or the football league tables I would encourage them to do it more. Reading anything and learning to enjoy doing it only leads to children reading more widely. Reading comics and graphic narratives is a different experience from reading a novel but just because you enjoy one of those things it doesn’t mean you cannot enjoy the other. They are not mutually exclusive! Comics are a great way to introduce reluctant readers to reading for pleasure. Also I would say that the within comics there is a huge range of genres and subject matter, those people that band them together as one ‘type’ are no different to those that think reading is boring!

As a company you have managed to publish lively and engaging work especially in the non-fiction genre which can struggle to be engaging and creative at times. What is the most important aspect you look for in an author when they bring you an idea? How do you ensure that the people you work with bring their work to life in a way that informs and engages?

We look for authors and artists that are passionate and inquisitive in the work that they do. We want to work with people that are striving for the best outcome.

Your books are always noticeably printed and produced in a high quality manner, does your company strive to make sure their publications are the highest quality they can be instead of prioritising quantity of work? If so what makes the quality over quantity motto so important to you?

We are definitely all about quality over quantity. Having said that we believe that every book is different, so we simply try to make each project the best that it can be.

Do you have any upcoming projects on the horizon that you are particularly excited about or looking forward to releasing soon?

I’m really excited about lots of things! In Waves is a debut graphic novel by Aj Dungo – it’s about love, loss and surfing and it will break your heart. Akissi: Tales of Mischief, (by Margeurite Abouet and Mathieu Sapin) is full of the funniest comics I’ve read for ages and it also has some great talking points for school readers and classroom studies. Tyna of the Lake by Alexander Utkin is an action packed instalment of the Gamayan Tales series and I love the artwork… I could keep going, but the best thing to do is take a look at our website – I’m excited about everything we publish!

 

Speaking to Sam and others involved in the company was an enlightening experience. As a company you can tell they really care about their audience and all they want is to make sure that readers receive the very best product they can. Anyone who has read or seen a book published by the company will know that this passion and care transfers onto the page as well. The quality of the books they produce and the way that they engage readers is consistently superb, which is why they are becoming a force to be reckoned with in the literary world. If you haven’t had the pleasure of interacting with a Nobrow/Flying Eye book then don’t hesitate to explore their vast catalogue.  It’s full of gems that will help enhance any library, home or classroom instantaneously. I can’t recommend their work enough especially if you want to liven up your non-fiction collection. To view their work or simply find out more about them as a company visit their website (also visually engaging!) or follow them on twitter using the details below:

https://nobrow.net/                      https://flyingeyebooks.com/

@NobrowPress                          @FlyingEyeBooks

Three very happy children with some of the most exciting books available in the Nobrow/Flying Eye catalogue.