Over the past term we have been learning about World War One and our English work has all been based on the superb novel Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo. Ordinarily, I would use a graphic novel or comic to help children improve their writing and look at how can we expand on detail or structure. However this week I decided to work the opposite way. We used Private Peaceful as inspiration to create our own comic strips based on being stuck in the trenches. Instead of writing long flowing paragraphs about the atrocities of war the children were tasked with communicating how horrendous they were in a matter of only a few lines and only seven panels. They were allowed to split the panels up into smaller ones if they wanted but they couldn’t have another sheet, the key was to be succinct with their writing and create the most impact possible in the least amount of space. Unlike this intro there was no space for them to waffle.
In order to do this we had to look at excellent examples of descriptive writing in Private Peaceful. This allowed us to discuss the power of figurative language and how it can allow us to create incredibly powerful writing in very few words. Although they would have imagery to support their words we all agreed as a class that their language needed to be the star of each panel. It was no good having stunning images and lacklustre writing. Of course not all of them found this easy and some still finished with work that was far too generic and full of ‘and then we got out of the trench and then we went into no mans lad’ style writing. But for those children who really pushed themselves and applied what we discussed, planned and modelled together there was some truly stunning writing.
The best examples were all brilliant for different reasons. Some experimented with different sentence lengths to create atmosphere. Others used powerful metaphors or more ambitious vocabulary to create an engaging comic. Knowing that they weren’t allowed to draw their images until they had written out what they needed meant the class was incredibly focused on their work and desperate to produce the very best they could. I won’t lie it was really enjoyable to see how excited they were when I told them they had time in the afternoon to carry on with their comics, you could see how much they cared about the quality of their work. One boy who can’t stand art and was angry at first ended up creating his best writing of the year because he focused so intently on making sure each box said what he wanted it to. He then worked with another boy who loved drawing and explained how he wanted the images to look, some may say this was too much of a compromise but actually whether he can draw or not doesn’t matter when it comes to his English work. He was tasked with creating a detailed story in only seven panels and he did, most importantly he was proud of his work which is a rare occurrence for him in English lessons.
If you can’t read the images quite clearly enough I have included some of my favourite extracts from them below as they deserve to be acknowledged. One girl in particular really impressed me with the atmosphere she was able to create and her parting line of ‘at least you won’t die alone’ really captured me as a reader.
“Sometimes silence is the loudest thing you can hear. It almost seeks you out, teasing you.”
“Waking up to a tsunami of bullets”
“Pressure, no mans land lay ahead, sending goosebumps up my arm, trying to make it out alive is a key thing but trying to not let anyone down is another…”
“I couldn’t ever handle being called a coward though could I?”
“Its gone silent, I hate it when it goes silent”
“There’s this irritating ringing in my ears, might be tinitis, might be my loss of sanity, might be my fear – I’m not sure-“
“Silence filled the air, heavy breathing. Hearts beating. I wouldn’t say frightened is the word describe all this”