Taking students outside to create an interactive narrative from their surroundings will transform work into play
Asking a child to write a story as a way of improving their literacy is not uncommon. But getting a child to write a "storywalk" - where the tale is revealed to readers chapter by chapter as they walk to particular locations - probably is.
It all started when I won funding from the Shine Trust, a charity that supports educational initiatives. The money supported a project that I had pitched, which made use of the outdoor space around my school and the surrounding area to improve three things: children's speaking skills; their creative and descriptive writing; and group work and peer interaction.
The idea was that a reader would walk a predetermined route and, at certain locations, a chapter of a tale would be downloaded to their mobile phone or tablet.
Thanks to the funding, I was able to work with innovative storyteller Chris Jelley, who also designed the software needed to bring the idea to life. With the technology sorted, the children and I set about constructing the stories.
The process was fairly simple. The children walked around the local village, using iPads or cameras to photograph landmarks and locations that they found inspiring or interesting. They made notes of what they could see, hear and smell in that area.
Back in the classroom, the students voted on the locations they wanted to include in the storywalk. Initially, the areas were noted on an Ordnance Survey map of the area, which helped to fine-tune the children's geography skills; later, the locations were added to the storywalk program, so that a pin appeared on the online map at the spot where the students wanted the chapter to be revealed.
This was where their literacy skills came into play. The children created a fantasy story that they felt was appropriate for the chosen locations. The class came up with stories that featured unicorns, dragons, crocodiles, giants, fairies, dinosaurs and Father Christmas, to name but a few characters.
The children were very conscious of the fact that their stories would be available to the public. This gave them the motivation to write to the best of their abilities, so dictionaries and thesauruses became tools that were picked up daily and voluntarily, rather than things that I had to nag students to use.
Once the chapters were completed, the children wrote directions to help readers travel from one location to another. We walked the routes again, but this time the children looked out for landmarks and identified points that they could use to personalise and perfect their instructions.
At this point, the intention was to publish, but the children had other ideas: they wanted to provide illustrations and photographs, too.
Now, five stories have been written, geo-located and illustrated by the students. And, as ambassadors of the walks, they accompany readers on the routes, explaining how the stories were created and how they work.
The impact on reading and intonation skills has been substantial, and the children's confidence is improving all the time. They also clearly enjoy the process. One student was overheard saying: "I love Tuesdays because we don't do any work!" The truth is that Tuesdays are when we work on the storywalks - the children just don't see it as schoolwork.
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