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Postcards from the edge

Every picture inspired a story for primary pupils on a photography project in Poplar. Carolyn O'Grady reports

The postcards that children at Bygrove Primary School in London send to penpals in a Canadian school are very different from the bland shots of the icons sold in London's tourist shops. No Big Ben, no Tower of London.

Instead, shots include a typical East-end tower block (right), a favourite dog, and a view of a boy's trainers as their wearer is about to descend a child's slide.

The pictures were taken by Bygrove pupils, using disposable cameras. Each is a "Postcard from Poplar" in Tower Hamlets where the school is based.

They are part of a project designed to develop skills in photography, literacy and oracy, and to bolster the children's sense of identity within their community.

Organised in collaboration with the Poplar Partnership, an Excellence in the Cities initiative, the project involved Year 4 pupils and four members of the partnership. The main activity was taking photos in the school and its surrounding area. They also took the cameras home to record family life.

Before setting off on their photographic expeditions, each group of three pupils is given six resource packs (see box). These introduce them to photographic skills such as the use of filters and flash, close-ups and different perspectives.

The class also looks at the language used to describe photographs - words such as light, shadow and reflection - and are given a writing frame to help them express their reaction to photographs contained in the pack, using, if they choose, these key words.

Next is a photographic walkabout. "For some it was the first time they'd ever had a camera in their hands. Some had never taken a picture before," says teacher Rabinder Benning. "They were very excited."

The pictures are developed by the partnership team, and each of the groups selects one which could be made into postcards for the school's use, whittling them down through a succession of secret ballots. The others are made into a school display.

The children sent their postcards to a school in Canada, and are also writing to one in Peckham where pupils have carried out a similar project.

"We didn't want them just to say 'how are you?' We encouraged them to describe the project and to offer tips on how to take good photographs," says Rabinder Benning.

Each child was given an album of the photos they had taken, and they also used their photographs as inspiration for story-writing, the results of which can be seen on the classroom walls. "I liked it when we went to different places and saw different objects. I liked the statue of a person and the one of a dog. I liked the way it looked," says Tahfim. "I liked doing reflections," says Jubayer. And Luke describes how he found a church eerie and wrote his story, "The Shadowy Ghost", in response to that feeling.

"They produced something which we can use for years to come," says Rabinder Benning.


Say cheese!

Each resource pack containsl Laminated colour photocopies of five photographs to inspire imagination and discussion;

* cardboard viewfinder frames in different sizes, and squares of different coloured Perspex to act as filters;

* a selection of word cards to aid their vocabulary when describing a photograph, for example reflection, light, shade, contrast, foreground, background.

An A4 sheet with writing frame (examples):

* I've been looking at lots of different photographs. There's one in particular I picked out. Let me tell you why I chose this photograph.

* When I first looked at this photograph I saw...

* Then when I looked a bit closer I noticed...

* It made me feel...

* It reminded me of...

* I also liked...

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