For the past three weeks we have been carrying out an intensive study of Michael Morpurgo (the year 5 unit “Significant Children’s Authors”). This has led to some really amazing writing so I thought I would share what we have been doing.
We began by studying the book “Blodin the Beast”. This is an excellent allegory about the oil industry and a really classic tale. We spent the first week completely immersing ourselves in the story, covering a few pages at a time and using drama to explore what might happen next. The children took on the roles of villagers and we improvised and developed role plays. After reading the whole book, we looked in detail at Morpurgo’s use of language. Specifically, we looked at how Morpurgo uses very specific nouns (something Pie Corbett often mentions as an important element of Talk for Writing) and lots of WOW words for verbs and adjectives. Each child was given a photocopied page on which to highlight nouns, adjectives and verbs and to think about what it is that makes them so effective. They also used a thesaurus to look up exciting alternative words and we added these to a working wall.
In the second week we moved slightly away from Morpurgo by looking at the poem The Magic Box by Kit Wright. Wright uses many of the same techniques as Morpurgo in his choices of nouns and adjectives, and this gave us even more ideas for WOW words that could be used in our writing. The children really enjoyed studying this poem and the other two classes went on to write their own poem “The Magic Carpet”, linking to Shanga’s carpet from “Blodin the Beast”. We did not have time to do this unfortunately as we were preparing to perform our own version of Blodin for our class assembly! Something really excellent that came out of this was some indepth discussion on alliteration. I was able to move the children on from an awareness that alliteration is when several words start with the same letter, to realising that authors deliberately choose to do this for effect. (for example, in The Magic Box the words “wash ashore” contain “sh” sounds mirroring the sound of the sea)
In week 3 we moved from immersion and analysis into creating our own versions of the text. On the first day we continued work on alliteration. Thanks to an inspired suggestion from @robsteadman, I began by showing some pictures on the IWB – a snowy scene, the sea, a lake and a jungle. First the children created a soundscape by repeating a sound that they would associate with each scene. EG: fffff or c-c-c-c for cold, sh for the sea, l and p sounds to create the effect of lapping water, etc. After this we moved to choosing a word that begins with that letter and could go with the scene. So for example, with the icy picture, the c-c-c sounds became a soundscape of words such as crystal, cool, clear, calm. The children really got the hang of this well and it was an excellent way to explore alliteration. They went on to create alliterative sentences based on the picture of their choice, using a dictionary to help them find interesting words. These were added to the working wall and the children loved seeing each other’s ideas.
The next day we focused in on nouns and played a game of verbal tennis where I gave the children a root word such as “tree” and they had to work in pairs to take turns saying lots of alternatives – eg oak, sycamore, willow, ash. We repeated this with words such as bird, big cat, blue, red, etc. Afterwards we worked on writing sentences starting with an adverb and including very specific nouns and adjectives.
I had explained to the children at the beginning that we were working up to creating our own scene in the style of Michael Morpurgo and so as we went through the weeks we had been adding to the working wall and also creating a marking ladder with success criteria based on their observations of what it is that makes his style so special. We are also reading “Running Wild” as our class reader which supported their ideas based on Blodin the Beast.
On the last 2 days, the children worked on making a plan for their piece. I showed them the picture “Surprised” by Henri Rousseau as their prompt and this proved to be a very inspirational picture. The weather is stormy, there are wild animals and many interesting details to look at. They spent one lesson just putting together their ideas – planning alliterative sentences they could use, selecting nouns and adjectives using a dictionary and thesaurus, and exploring their ideas ready for the final day.
In the last lesson all I had to do was to remind them of the success criteria they had decided on – I put on the Big Writing timer for 45 minutes with the Surprised image on view all the time, and they were away!
I am so pleased with the work they have produced. There are some absolutely fantastic word choices and they have really absorbed and recreated the elements of Morpurgo’s work that we had hoped they would. Here is a link to one example: http://avenue5d2011.wordpress.com/2011/10/02/amazing-writing-from-sarah/
I would definitely recommend this approach and have found it has inspired some truly fantastic work – especially as this is only halfway through the first half term of year 5!