History can be a marvellous way of improving children's writing skills, especially when combined with technology. Nicole Ivett shares some timely ideas
As literacy co-ordinator I am always looking for ways to motivate our pupils to write. History is a good subject to get the imagination going, but how best to bring it to life?
We decided to try a PowerPoint project for Year 4 that would not just show the children a particular historical episode, but immerse them in the sounds, visuals and stories to give them a step back in time.
The subject we chose was "what was it like for children in the Second World War?" Sheila Quinn, our higher level teaching assistant, created a shared file on the era with photos and video clips from the National Archives, sound clips from the BBC, and extracts from fictional and first-hand accounts. Some pupils searched for their own resources. This helped them to establish an accurate picture of the time and provided a useful focus for classroom discussion.
Children who would normally shy away from textbooks were able to access a variety of sources. They used the resource file to produce three slides, for which they chose backgrounds, created text boxes and imported the stills and clips. The idea was to think about an audience and choose a style that would be interesting and fitting for its subject. Some pupils chose greyscale and a type style to give their work a historical feel; others altered the text boxes to look like evacuee labels.
The best sound effect we found was a bomb going off, so we used that one between slides.
They began to plan their own stories. One pupil, Tyla, came up with a tale about evacuees meeting a German soldier, while another, Rebecca, wrote a story about meeting a spy who turns out to be just someone who doesn't want to fight in the war.
They realised that good quality historical fiction depends on creating an accurate picture of the time. Through their stories they were able to tackle sensitive issues such as having to leave friends and family. They also began to recognise that the past can be interpreted in different ways. When the children were ready it was time to put everything together and produce their PowerPoint story.
We felt that, overall, the writing was of a better quality and included far more detail and description. They were able to develop character and setting in a far more confident manner. They empathised with their evacuee characters, who took on a life of their own.
The pupils demonstrated they could use ICT to present information in different forms and for different audiences. For the staff, this is only the beginning of a creative, cross-curricular approach that we hope to develop
Nicole Ivett is deputy headteacher and literacy co-ordinator at Linslade Lower School, Bedfordshire.