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Sunday, 26 January 2014

Using Music to Inspire Writing

I have been a massive fan of the Literacy Shed for a long time. I have been lucky enough to be able to be part of the team and contributed some ideas and now offer training through the site. The idea of using visual media such as short films and animations certainly helps engage and inspire writing in many different ways. Probably the biggest one is that nowadays children access stories through TV, film and video games a lot more than books. This doesn’t mean using videos can’t help encourage children to read, in fact as a starting point, using videos to initially engage children can then lead to them wanting to know more by reading the book. However having the immediate visual and audio to give children ideas for their writing can have a massive impact.

There are aspects of a film that appeal to different learning styles more than a book may. There is one aspect that I have really been looking at developing as a tool to inspire writing for a while. What most if not all of the videos on the Literacy Shed have in common, despite the different storylines, characters, method of film making (stop motion, CGI etc) is that they all have background music. This music responds and reacts to what happens in the film, the tempo, volume and type of instrument can create and portray any atmosphere within a story.

The initial idea for this came after attending a training session by John Murray.  John, the author of the best selling Reading Explorer book series, showed how reading skills can be developed through film and also music. His training was superb and well worth looking into for developing reading and spelling in your school. It started making me think about how important music is in our lives; how particular songs remind us of special places or occasions; the importance of music for advertising; the fact music can spark a range of emotions and actions from smiling to crying to dancing and singing.

When children are watching films, tv shows or playing video games, they are subliminally listening to the soundtrack and associating it to the atmosphere of the scene. Without even knowing it, children would be able to infer what could be happening in a scene just from listening to some music. Film soundtracks are particularly useful as within a song there are sudden changes in tempo and atmosphere. Some of the best soundtrack music I have used has been from the Disney Pixar films. I have been watching a lot of Disney, which is bound to happen when you have three 2 ½ year olds. I decided to use an example this week to inspire some writing.

This was the music I played for the class.





To begin with, I let the children infer what could be happening. I asked the children to write one word to sum up the overall track. I listed some of these on the board. I then asked them to listen again but stopped at particular parts, asking if they feel the mood or atmosphere has changed and can they think of a word to describe that part of the soundtrack. Again we shared some ideas, this helped shape the basic plot of our story. I questioned why they thought it changed? How it changed? I then asked the children to think about what could be happening in this scene. At this point, I could have allowed children to use their own ideas and write 35 different stories depending on how they interpreted the music, which would show how incredibly diverse music can be for writing could be and how children’s own experiences of music can dictate their story. However to model some sentences for the whole class to use, I took one example and went for that. I then asked the children to note take as I played the song and asked questions. One child suggested that the song sounds like someone is trapped, searching for a way out and eventually finding a way to freedom. I then started with questions for them to think about:

You wake up, what do you see?
What is the temperature like?
What can you hear?
How do you feel?
What do you start to do.

At 46/7 seconds suddenly something happens?
What could it be? Do you find something?
A ray of hope? Is it at first a false alarm?
How does that make you feel?

Again at 1:23 it changes again, you escape what happens?
What do you see? How do you feel? What do you do?

With all their notes, the children then had to write their story based on the music. I was so impressed by how the music had captured the children’s imaginations and helped them depict a story through their previous understanding of music linked with film. After demonstrating some exciting sentences which they could use. I challenged the children to try and edit their writing to the music, which is a nice way to keep children’s writing concise when they have constraints through music. I also encouraged them to read it out loud to a partner and ask them for feedback, does it set the atmosphere along with the music? If not, how could they change it?

Once they had completed I asked the children to record themselves reading their writing on top of the soundtrack, using an app called BossJock. I am really impressed with this app, which allows children to create podcasts and radio shows. Here are some examples of the children’s efforts:






Although some children recognised the initial song, I didn’t reveal the film until the end of the lesson. I revealed it was from Finding Nemo and showed the part of the film where it featured. It was an interesting point to show children how they interpreted the music and created a completely different story to the one from the film.



Here are some other examples of music which I feel could be used to inspire a range of different story ideas. Please if you use music as a way to inspire writing, please contact me, so I can add some more examples here. Using music to inspire writing is also part of the training I can provide in schools. If you are interested, please visit here.













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