Stimulating tasks for telly lovers

5th November 2004 at 00:00
Starting Stories BFI Education pound;27.99 Tel: 0870 241 3764

This is a wonderfully rich VHS compilation of short films for three to seven-year-olds. It starts from the unavoidable premise that most small children watch hours of film and television every week; and it derives from that plain fact a plan of great scope for encouraging speaking, listening and creative activities. Used thoughtfully, it will help teachers to use children's viewing habits as a stimulus for literacy and cine-literacy.

There is a generous introductory section outlining broad investigative questions in which everyone can join. How is atmosphere created? How is meaning made from images? How do openings establish further expectations? These are given focus by being linked to six key terms - the three "Ss" (story, setting, sound) and the three "Cs" (colour, character, camera).

Each of these concepts generates dozens more questions, some of which lead to argumentative and others to imaginative outcomes. Even an inflexible adherent to the National Literacy Strategy will see the exciting relevance of tasks like these.

The central pages of the teaching guide make admirable use of the five short films on the video. These incorporate a variety of animation techniques - cut-out, 3D and drawing - and are well worth watching for their own sake. The little stories they tell, none longer than seven minutes, make use of riotous humour, poignant feelings of loneliness and ideas about friendship, and all of it is done with visual virtuosity. A melancholy baboon lives alone on the Moon, making sure it keeps shining for the Earth where he once lived; a black square and a yellow circle explode into footballers and musicians, haloed angels and stomping dinosaurs; a nonconformist chameleon refuses to become any colour other than red.

Ideas for follow-up work tumble out in well organised profusion. Children are given opportunities to discuss the comic effects of different sounds, to create narrative sequences based on the notion of transformation, to invent hiding places for black cats and green frogs, to write speech bubbles for storyboards or to make lists of actions they have seen on the films that are impossible in real life. But real life will be more interesting when eyes and minds have been engaged by work of this high quality.

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