Where had he come from? Nobody knows

Ted Hughes' The Iron Man, subtitled a Bedtime Story in 5 nights, is a text I have drawn on time and again with students, as a story, a focus for literacy tasks and as a starting point for thematic Science and DT work.

If unfamiliar the text is a fantastic resource drenched in poetic devices that set scene and create atmosphere. My favourite part of the story is without doubt the opening chapter, that uses simile and rich description, to build up the story, as the central character emerges from the sea with "a head like a bedroom" and "eyes like headlamps" to explore a sibilant and onomatopoeic sea shore washing scene, before crashing from a cliff to the beach below.

If you haven't already then this book is a must read. The animated movie The Iron Giant, although a cracking multimodal yarn and based on the characters in the book contains none of the original's content, though could be used in parts to support the idea of an alternative beginning to the story.

This term we are working to write a narrative text to be developed around the Iron Man as a unit of work on stories set in imaginary places, and rooted in the Sci Fi genre. The outcome will be multimodal and based on the writing of a prequel, stimulated by the opening lines from this story,

How far had he walked? Nobody knows.

Where had he come from? Nobody knows

And one we hope will contextualise our Design and Technology work to create a "pop up" or "animated story book."

As we prepare to start the planning and modelling phase for writing, building on talk for writing tasks, the sharing of the story as a serial, our investigation of other texts, images and the collection of vocabulary, this week in our big write the students were encouraged to have a go and draft their thoughts about what might have happened to the Iron man before Ted Hughes' story began. This will be developed through modelled writing activities a paragraph at a time, using the "box up" method, we were introduced to recently, and based on this story as a model.

Although quite florid, after sharing with the students, this story as a frame will be cropped back into a series of dull structures, for use to scaffold the writing process, and as a model that some of our more reluctant writers can draw on, to develop their own ideas. For others it will act as a means to explore the ideas of setting a scene, developing a build up, presenting a problem, creating a resolution before presenting an ending that links to an upcoming chapter or instalment (something we will engage in during later units of work as we move towards writing chapter stories later.)

As a model I hope it will provide opportunities and stimulus for the students to innovate on a theme, to respond critically, and stimulate further their how their own stories could be improved or might be developed.

Here then is my prequel to the story. If you like it and want to use it please do. Please do return to share your comments either on the response of your students or your thoughts and ideas around other ways you have used or developed it. Thank you.

The Coming of the Iron Man (An alternative beginning)

Hurtling through space, a sleek metallic object shot towards the scrap mines of Germania. Inside the Intergalactic transport ship, Tesca, everything was running smoothly and the solitary pilot made one final check. The banks of still green lights on the control panel and gentle hum of the engine, showed it was safe to go. Turning on the automatic pilot the creature set off toward the gyrolift, to prepare his cargo bay and transporter for the job ahead.

Suddenly the calm was disturbed by a high pitched whine and flashing red lights on the control panel. Spinning around the metal man, spotted a strange object in the centre of the view screen. His enormous eyes like headlamps, changed from green to amber as he realised that roaring towards him like a rocket was a vast space rock. Calmly he walked back the way he had come. Sitting down, he quickly changed course, hoping to steer away from the object's path, but to his shock and horror with every change in course the rock seemed to follow his every move. His eyes changed from amber to red as he realised that his attempts to escape the rock, had brought him dangerously close to a sleeping small blue green planet that was now directly in the meteor's path. Not one, not ten, not one hundred but millions of creatures were now in danger because of his decision to take the shortcut. What should he do? How could he put right this selfish decision?

Bravely the Iron Man parked his craft between the meteorite and small blue marble. He set the rescue beacon, strapped himself into his escape pod, and pressed the button, that sent him racing towards the planet far below where he hoped to hide and await rescue. Spinning through the starfilled sky he watched helplessly but hopefully through the porthole as the meteorite exploded into the side of the Tescas.

Fortunately his plan seemed to work, and as his craft disappeared glowing into the atmosphere, he watched relieved as the Tescas and rock span safely away from the earth like a Catherine wheel. Now he and the people of the planet were safe, the Iron Giant steered his lifeboat towards a crash landing in the planet's vast oceans. Groggy after his crash landing he checked that all was safe outside his capsule. He released the hatch and shakily and uncertain of what was to come he headed for land. Crawling and staggering ashore he started his search for somewhere safe to repair his injuries.

"How far had he walked? Nobody knows.

Where had he come from? Nobody knows. How was he made? Nobody knows."

Original Story Attribution: The Iron Man by Ted Hughes
Image Attribution: Get Glasgow Reading
The Iron Man on Love Reading4kids

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