Amazing Grace:Empathetic News Reports From Multimodal Beginnings

Last year I borrowed aspects of the adapted QCA history Unit "Why do we Remember Florence Nightingale?" to support literacy activity and non fiction work around the life of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. This term working on recounts and newspaper reports we again delved into our history theme on life in Victorian Britain, for inspiration and context for our work. This time the heroism of a young Northumbrian woman, Grace Darling lit our fire.

Being a Northumbrian by birth I remember being captivated as a child by the story of Grace Darling, the 22 year old lighthouse keeper's daughter who, with her father rowed out from Longstone Light on the remote Farne Islands to rescue the stricken passengers and crew of the SS Forfarshire. The story is a cracking yarn and as such I decided to use this as the starting point for a series of talk for writing activities, some empathetic writing tasks, before using our experiences to create headlines and a newspaper report on the events that surrounded the rescue.

The "Shorething" Website from the RNLI contains a subsite about our Heroine. Much of the work we developed in class grew through "talk for writing" stimulated and supported by the flash based literacy resource linked to above. For colleagues in Key Stage One, perhaps in the North East this space and resource might be a useful starting point to explore and consider an adaptation of the above unit of work to consider why we remember Grace Darling?

Our Unit began however with a "Newspaper Foray." In groups children were given a local newspaper, and challenged to find, cut out and collect a given newspaper features, and these were used to chart the kinds of things that appear in the text type. We cut out the paper's name, its price and publishing date and used these to make a large front page, onto which we stuck the various elements we had found, moving on to label and name them. The key feature we wanted to work on first were headlines, and so some initial discussions around what they were and how they worked began.

In pairs the students were given collections of newspaper headlines and asked to discuss and predict what the stories behind them might be. What clues had lead them to believe this? The children were asked to share the predicted stories behind one headline of their choice, and others were asked to identify the headline they thought the story came from again giving reasons why they thought this, and because we are once again revisiting punctuation, they were asked to use actions to indicate the beginning of their sentences, and to show where these ended.

Following this students were asked to use a collection of photographs captured from newspaper stories, firstly to discuss what the story behind the image might be, before choosing one and then creating a short headline for their image. The children then shared their headlines, while we as a class tried to identify the image that had stimulated it, giving our reasons as we had before.

Building on these tasks we began working with the "Shorething" Flash File, as a visual stimulus and secondary source to engage with the story. In addition I provided locational information, to provide a sense of remoteness for the Islands. Using Quikmaps, I tagged a satelite image of the UK and the North East Coast, showing Bristol, and then Bamburgh and the Farne Islands. This first of all allowed the students to see where they lived and how this related to where the story took place. Zooming in on the Farnes and the Longstone Light, added to the sense of scale and a certain wow to what they were seeing. What I didn't expect however was how this "real setting" combined with the story we had shared already, would stimulate "speculation" and "inference." As we zoomed the map in on the islands, and the rugged nature of the coast began to become apparent, a series of very animated discussions began children suggesting places around the islands as they appeared where they thought the Forfarshire might have sunk and the reasons why. This was completely unprompted but really exciting to hear, the real setting drawing the children into the scene.

As well as using the "Shorething" Flash file as a shared text, I also used screen captured images to support sequencing tasks on the IWB, and to support the talking for writing and drafting process for students. We used them as a focus for discussion and the generation of vocabulary, and then used zones of relevance tasks to consider what vocabulary would be best to use to apply in particular scenes. The images were also used to support visually the recount and story telling process through inclusion in writing frames and storyboards, to stimulate planning and vocabulary choice and discussion of interesting paragraph or sentence openers. As we were writing the children were also engaged in tasks that challenged them to make their points as short sentences that captured the flavour of what they really wanted to say. This is the opposite of what we tend to expect in story writing using VCOP, where children are encouraged to flower up and expand their sentences, the real challenge here was for the children to select carefully from a powerful verb bank to support their shortened and punchy sentences.

After writing their final reports the students were encouraged to create headlines for the story, pulling back again to our starting point, to summarise their stories. The children not only had a good time playing with the genre they learned much about Grace Darling and the event for which she is famous. I feel that their writing outcomes were really impressive too. Their turn of phrase, vocabulary choice and general style of the work, lead to some of the children being asked to share their work with the Y6 children who were about to start a similar unit, with their writing being used as the starting point to refine and extend engagement with the writing process by their older peers. A number of students also asked if they could share their work on the class blog and a couple of examples can be found by following this link, and this one too. I hope you enjoy.

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