Sequencing in film to support writing

Sequencing story or information is an important activity that happens in primary school classrooms every day. It plays an important part in comprehension and involves identifying key elements of texts and then putting them in order.  Have you ever asked a child to retell a story and they tell you every single detail which takes forever?  This is a child who has not yet developed the skills of identifying key points or events. This type of sequencing is a form of summarising and  is a key skill used regularly in Reciprocal Reading.  Although it can be taught through text, it works just as well with film. But we can take this work further and use the images as a support for writing and this is what I want to focus on.

The first thing to do is to select a range of images to work with.  It helps to have the key events and other images so that children have to make a choice between what is essential and what is not.  The number of images you work with also matters. Too many will be overwhelming, too few will not give enough choice.  If you want to boil down a story or process to 5 images, you might use between 10 and 15 depending upon the age of the child and their experience with sequencing.

Working in pairs or small groups is essential for sequencing activities because it is the discussion that takes place that is one of the most important elements. Children may need support to develop meaningful discussion. These activities are exemplified using the wonderful film El Caminante but are generic and can be used with any film.

Activities involving sequencing of images:

  1. Reduce the images down to 7 and compare with others, justifying choices. Now reduce to 5 and compare again. Each image could then be studied to look at use of colour, camera angle or positioning within the image to identify the effect on the reader that the children want to create. If the above image is chosen as a key event, the focus of the tightrope walker before he sets off is shown by the fact that only the village across the tightrope is in focus with everything else blanked out. It is hazy suggesting it is a long way away and not easy to reach. We see it through the eyes of the narrator from the same view point as the character. The colours are warm oranges on the character with a bluey grey suggesting distance again.  The discussion around these points can help children to identify what to convey when writing this scene.  You could play around with the scene with KS2 pupils by asking some pairs to write about it using colour, some to write about it using focus and then compare which, if either, is most effective.  With younger children, you could orally plan how this part of the story might be written and then draw a story map  as a mnemonic.
  2. You could choose your images not to tell the story from the main character’s point of view, but from others in the story. In El Caminante you could tell the story from the point of view of the villagers, villager pov,  or the children.  Would this change the images that you choose? Again, camera angle, colour, positioning in the image could be looked at as ways to support telling the story. In KS2 children could choose whose point of view they want to tell the story from and compare their choice of images. This activity could be developed further by children choosing one of the images and creating it in groups. Then another child could take a photograph of the freeze frame from a bird’s eye view, a worm’s view, your eye-height view and a view you have made up yourself.  These can then be compared and the effect of each discussed and one chosen that is the most effective.
  3. You could use the images to create a completely different story. This activity is closer to the independent writing end of the continuum than the other two activities. It is a much more challenging task which could be used in KS2. See an example here. (own story from images)
  4. Sequencing can be used as a predictive activity before viewing the film.  You could provide children with 5 or 6 images which they put into an order and generate the story around.  This will help set ‘watchers’ in children’s minds when they see the film which will focus on whether the story being told is similar to or different from the one they imagined.  This is what active readers do to monitor their comprehension.  This could then develop into a writing activity or could stay as an oral retelling but comparing the different stories would be an important follow up, particularly discussing the differences.
  5. All of the above activities are about developing ideas about whole stories but images from film can also be used to build up to a particular effect such as tension or suspense.  Here, rather than writing the whole of the text, the images are used to write a couple of paragraphs.  Children could choose a particular event in the story they want to focus on and either you or they, if they have the skills, could collect images that build up to the critical point.  These can then be discussed in terms of camera angle etc but also where long, medium and close up shots are used. Again, at this point children could freeze frame one of the images and explore taking photographs of the frame using different camera angles and distance of shot and comparing them and the effect.   It would work best if the class has studied how an author has written a section with tension and the devices used by the author explored.

How do you use sequencing in your classroom?

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