Press pause. Children's films can boost literacy skills and help youngsters analyse what's in front of them. Stephen Manning gets animated
Film has a language of its own. Characters and stories are portrayed through a lot more than just words. Stick on a bit of scary music and you have a villain. But in the next scene, the music changes and you are building up, not just a mood, but a deeper understanding of the character.
The revised Primary Framework places a new emphasis on teaching literacy through film. In response, Film Education, the charity producing materials on movie making for schools, has come up with Picturacy, a CD-Rom resource for key stage 1.
It includes short clips and stills from a range of movies for younger audiences - from computer animations such as Chicken Little and Pooh's Heffalump Movie to the classic Heidi series - to demonstrate aspects of story writing, such as how to describe a character.
"A lot of children, when asked to describe somebody, do so in terms of appearance or behaviour. But Picturacy helps them think in terms of personality as well," says Dawn Summersby, deputy headteacher and literacy co-ordinator at Lawford Mead Junior School in Chelmsford, who has trialled the resource with key stage 2s and the Year 2s in the adjoining infants' school.
Film Education resources are normally geared towards secondary schools, but Picturacy is the first in a projected series for primary. Its six sections - character, colour, music, narrative, setting and camera - explore how different aspects contribute to the meaning of what's on the screen.
The camera section, for example, looks at how the viewer's perspective can tell its own part of the story, such as in the Bee Movie cartoon where camera angles give clues to the relationship between the frail and vulnerable main character (viewed from above) and the large, intimidating worker bees (viewed from below).
Pupils can watch a scene and then create a storyboard by grabbing a selection of still images and choosing the ones that will best carry the narrative of the scene as a whole - not as easy as it sounds. They can also add speech, thought and even heart bubbles (for emotion) to the images to explore what a character might be going through at any given moment.
Paul Ramsey, a teacher at Icknield Primary School in Luton, has used Picturacy with his class.
"The children found that the music and sound effects had a big effect on the meaning of the scene," he says. "You can watch a scene with and without the music and it's totally different, not just in mood, but in what's being communicated about the character. We watched a short clip from Chicken Little where the music shifts from creepy and scary to something more grand and heroic."