Story telling through the iTunes Charts!

Have you ever thought about why social media sites such as twitter are so popular and enjoyable? Why one of the quickest growing social media site is based on videos no longer than 6 seconds? One reason is because of the constraints they enforce. These constraints challenge us daily to be creative, experiment and play with language with amazing results. Most tweachers, without realising it, are constantly playing with words, phrases and sentences when constructing their tweets. One hundred and forty characters is sometimes not enough but that is the beauty of twitter, get your message across with that constraint. Sometimes I ask my children to do the same - sum up a book, evaluate a lesson/learning, tell me about your weekend in no more than 140 characters. It doesn't seem like much, but is a challenge that encourages children to think about language.

Sometimes less is more - take the wonderful 100 word challenge website. It is a perfect length to showcase writing but again provides a constraint in that children have to be concise, choose words effectively and with purpose.

Some of the most creative web videos I have seen recently have come from Vine. A website/app that only allows people to create videos that are 6 seconds in length. On paper sounds ridiculous, how would that be popular? entertaining? Yet this constraint has produced some of the most creative videos I have seen lately. Click for some examples. Again there is no reason why this can't be set as a task with children - create a 6 second video to sum up a book, poem, lesson!

I am always trying to challenge children with their writing by adding constraints. It challenges them, engages them but most of all gets them playing, experimenting and discussing words and language. My favourite resource for this is Alan Peat's book - 50 ways to retell a Story. This book provides 50 different and challenging ways to tell a story, most by adding a constraint.

Today, I tried a new type of constraint which really challenged the children but also got them excited about their writing. I came across this picture a while ago on facebook which sparked this idea:

After investigating further, I came across this story and shared it with the class, I told them there was a secret theme running through the story, they had to be detectives and try and work out the hidden secret -
The challenge for the children was to then retell a familiar story by using vocabulary from a hidden theme, they could use chocolate bars, confectionary, shop names, famous people's surnames or the most popular choice song titles. To help generate ideas, they used the iTunes chart of music singles. 
From this, they had to sneakily drop as many songs in their story, making sure it makes sense and still retells the familiar story. It was a real challenge for some, however it had the whole class talking and playing with language and that was the aim. The challenge inspired some; others loved the humour it generated. While not all finished stories were perfect, I enjoyed walking round and listening to some of the children's discussion around their story. Here is one example, see how many popular songs they managed to sneakily drop in:

Red Riding Hood 
First of all,my mum had to WAKE ME UP for me to go to Grandma’s house. I set off riding my DARK HORSE ,I felt like a MILLION POUND GIRL: the sun was shining , birds are tweeting , EVERYTHING IS AWESOME! I saw the ROYAL’S palace and I could hear TRUMPETS. On my journey, while I was daydreaming and COUNTING STARS, I got lost. If I LOSE MYSELF TONIGHT, I thought, I would be WAITING ALL NIGHT! WHAT NOW? 
All of a sudden I heard a DIBBY DIBBY SOUND ,a voice said “HEY BROTHER, why are you CRYING FOR NO REASON?" 
“I’m sorry I’d RATHER BE on my own, I’m going to my grandma’s to STAY THE NIGHT.” Little did I know the wolf was a MONSTER and one of the  DEMONS... OF THE NIGHT. Sneakily, he got to Grandma’s first, she was POWERLESS and the wolf gobbled her up faster than a TSUNAMI, this is the BEST DAY OF MY LIFE! The wolf thought. 
I arrived at the door unlocked, I shouted Grandma but all was silent "Grandma SAY SOMETHING,” I shouted. 
“MY LOVE” a peculiar voice came from the bedroom. I walked in, "are you ok?" 
”I’m not really FEELING MYSELF” my Gran responded. 
"Why what big eyes and ears you have” I exclaimed 
"GOODNESS GRACIOUS, LET IT GO," said Grandma, “I’ve had enough on my plate today,” said Grandma (or so she called herself.)
With a loud ROAR the wolf jumped out at me “don’t eat ALL OF ME” I said.
At that moment a woodcutter arrived “TIMBER” he cried and cut the wolf open and releasing Grandma. ” THANK YOU,” We both said.And that was the STORY OF MY LIFE!

For some other examples of stories children created please visit our blog. What I would love to see are any other efforts from other classes and children, creating stories with hidden themes throughout. If this inspires you to try it with your class, please tweet or post a link in the comments for all to see.


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