Get in your Delorian and let’s travel back in time…(and apologies to those who have read the previous blogs – I won’t be long!)
A number of years ago, when working as a teaching and learning consultant in Lincolnshire, I began to explore the possibility of looking closely at the illustrations within picture books to help develop writing strategies and increase the practical aspect of writing development. As I worked with teachers they talked about a difficulty they often experienced: children seemed to be short of strategies to generate vocabulary when asked to write about the illustration in front of them when there appeared to be ‘too much to focus on’.
Subsequently, I created a series of tools that became know as Detail Detectives, named because the children became detectives to investigate an image in specific detail; their eyes became magnifying glasses.
Thank you to everyone in the past twelve months who have shared or used these tools, particularly @MrS_Primary for inviting me into his school to deliver training, @ReadingRocks for allowing me to deliver a session at #RRGoesToUni and to those who attended and to everyone @ClubPictureBook for their continuous support and encouragement. As I write @MissNCleveland has just shared a superb piece of writing inspired by a Detail Detectives strategy I posted about previously – Explosion – and I’ve added it below. Thank you.
Over the last year I have shared further strategies to support writing in Parts 1-3 and after a little break here is Part 4.
Detail Detectives: Collect4
For those of you who have been following @DetailDetects1 you will know that I am a huge fan of using grids to break up an image into smaller sections. Like Jigsaw, Beehive and Plot, Spot and Jot, Collect4 does just that but with an emphasis on collecting ideas before evaluating which of them to use. This strategy could also be used on a working wall, drawn on the table, taped on the carpet large-scale or on the playground.
Sydney Smith‘s illustrations from his exceptional new picture book, Small in the City, are good examples to use. There are many aspects of this illustration which help to set the scene as the protagonist walks through the snowy street. I’ve placed a 4×4 grid on top. The number of columns and rows can be adapted. Children then place one counter/ring onto one of the boxes and ask the following questions:
- What can we see in the box?
- What is to the left or right of it?
- What is above it?
- What is below it?
These initial thoughts in the form of nouns can then be built upon using descriptive and positional language. For instance:
What can we see in the box?
boy, coat, wellington boots, snow, pavement, scarf
A boy wearing a green coat, woolly scarf and yellow wellingtons walked on the snowy pavement.
Try these – What is to the left or right of it?
snow, stool, shoes
What is above it?
pictures of fish, bricks, window
What is below it?
(not applicable to this image but imagination may be used to suggest: road, cars, motorbike, sledge)
These ideas can be developed by adding adjectives, verbs, adverbs and so on and consequently into sentences and paragraphs. The more comprehensive the list, the more choice to be made as a writer.
Repeat this using three further counters/rings one at a time. There may be some repetition, e.g. snow, but then that is where we decide that only one or two sentences are required to describe that aspect of the illustration.
I have added red rings as this may be a strategy that two children work collaboratively on to share and discuss vocabulary and sentence choices.
Why Collect4? Children collect inspiration from 4 boxes.
Detail Detectives: Torchlight
The quality of picture books at our disposal is quite extraordinary and another gem to add to the collection is David Litchfield’s Lights on Cotton Rock. If you are a fan of E.T, Close Encounters of the Third Kind or perhaps even Stranger Things, you will love it.
Torchlight is a simple yet effective idea for focusing the eye as a torchlight does for us in the dark.
On the illustration above a ‘torchlight’ has been placed (not the one held by the girl!). Starting from the actual point, work your way up the inside of the torchlight towards the top right corner. What do you see first? Sky. What comes next? Red hair. Then? A child’s face, open mouth, wide eyes, woolly hat. Finally? Stars in the sky. These initial ideas can develop according to the focus of the learning.
Now try two torchlights. The one starting at the left-hand bottom corner will provide some description of the setting before we move onto the second in which we see a boy and girl swinging through the jungle. So, again, start from the point of the first to see what you can find inside the torchlight. When you reach the end start from the point of the second. There is an opportunity here to collect many ideas and reject any repetition.
Just look at what could be missed if we didn’t look in detail: the shapes of the leaves, the different plants, the variety of creatures, the colour variation. With that in mind, the torchlight could be used to identify colours viewed or as a verb collector. Focus the Torchlight as you see fit. Children in the class could have a range of aspects to find before collating them together for modelled/shared writing.
Why not trying an actual torchlight too.
The illustration is from Nora Brech’s stunning Cornelia and the Jungle Machine by Gecko Press.
Detail Detectives: Snowball
Deciding what to write and how much is a challenge for many children. The stimulus needs to be engaging and provide numerous possibilities. Snowball provides a structure for the children to help construct a piece of writing with the intention that the writing snowballs. There is a close link to the strategy Writing by Numbers but the focus here is on confidence building. Like many of the strategies, I think it would be an excellent tool for a 1:1 or group session or modelled/shared writing.
In the illustration above, from Jacqueline Woodson’s The Day You Begin and illustrated by Rafael Lopez, I have placed five snowballs. Each snowball represents the quantity of ideas we’re looking for, with perhaps the focal point, in this case the mother and daughter, placed in the largest snowball. So, for instance, we may only expect one idea for the smallest snowball, two ideas for the next one and so on.
Lets start with a word – leading to a sentence about the tree – in the smallest snowball.
Then let’s move to the river for two ideas, perhaps about the fish, the flow or the colours.
Our next snowball is placed on the palace. So, let’s generate three ideas about what we can see there.
Our next snowball is in the sky with a book, bird and a star to describe, perhaps using more than three ideas.
Finally, the largest snowball. We can go to town here describing the mother and child, their clothing, what they are doing, their held hands and perhaps their relationship with the sky and the whole illustration.
Snowball is a build up of ideas, identifying the focal point first, before selecting four other elements of the illustration which will create the scene before we reach that focal point. There is no right or wrong here, it just depends what your focus is and what you want the children to achieve so play around with the positioning and order of the snowballs. Alternatively, give children the freedom to select the position of the five and what the focal point would be.
Detail Detectives: Gi_Ant
This is a strategy I’ve used before to try and help children view an image differently, to take a viewpoint within the illustration – and to jump into it eventually. And yes, to those who know, it’s by Anthony Browne.
The idea is simple: to find and describe elements of the image which differ significantly in size and then transport yourself into the image; what would you see if you were a giant in the picture? What would you see if you were an ant?
So, what can we see in the illustration which is large in scale? In this case, the trees, the branches, the forest as a whole.
What can we find which is small in scale? The grass? The girl’s shoes? Buttons? Of course perspective and depth could play a part but that would potentially confuse things- let’s keep it simple.
Is there anything we can find which we haven’t mentioned yet? Girl. Axe. Trunk.
After collating a list of large (giant) and small (ant) elements plus the things that don’t fit into those lists, let’s jump into the picture. The lists will help this part.
You are a giant walking through the woods. Look down, what can you see? Be careful, what could you stand on? This may provide opportunities to introduce language linked to looking down, e.g. ‘Down below…’ or ‘Beneath my feet…’ Think about how small those things are from your position. Could you use language linked to size?
Now, imagine being a tiny ant. This time think about what is all around you (grass, flowers, the camp fire) and what you view as you look up. Consider the size of the girl, the trees, the axe. Again, lots of opportunities to use the language of size and perspective, e.g. ‘Up above…’ or ‘High in the distance.’
Thank you for reading Part 4 of the series. Do please get in touch if you have any questions and, if you use any of the strategies, feel free to share.
Duke Skywalker @DetailDetects1 @KarlDuke8