Using Film to Teach the Structural Features of Narrative Writing

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This term I have been working to understand what AQA mean by ‘structural features’ in the writing mark scheme of their new GCSE.   Since paragraphing, discourse markers and even sentence structure are mentioned elsewhere in the descriptors then I have fallen back on narrative structure as the place to begin my teaching.

With a unit designed around ‘Other Worlds’ we began under the sea. The first lesson started with a curious picture of the earth taken from space with the Great Barrier Reef visible. The image is unrecognisable enough to be able to ask the students: ‘What can you see?’ My favourite answer was: ‘A marble, Miss.’ The twisting coral amid the sea of blue does indeed look like the eye of a marble. With curiosity stimulated, a clip from a David Attenborough documentary began our work into narrative structure. The images collected by a drone, which zoomed in from long shot to extreme close-up of the reef, provided the way in to looking at the zoom-in structure which narrative so often adopts in descriptive pieces.

We stayed under the sea as we worked with a clip from Jaws coupled with an extract from the text itself. We used the clip where Chrissy is attacked by the shark. Both the film’s narrative structure and the text’s support the teaching of the third person shifting narrative structure. In order to provide an opportunity for students to write in this narrative form themselves, I needed a further stimulus. Breaking away from the underwater theme, ‘The Big Bang Theory’ came to my aid. Using the clip where Sheldon has broken into a ball pit to make use of the play balls to create large scale models of atomic structure, students worked together to create a narrative that takes the point of view of three people: Sheldon, Leonard and the security guard. The high, and differing, emotions of this clip made the shifting point of view easier to achieve.

Our journey into ‘Other Worlds’ continued but this time in space. ‘War of the Worlds’ provided a place to look at rising tension. As we moved towards a further piece of narrative writing, stimuli for content was needed.  A non-fiction extract plus clips from Mars Attacks provided content ideas for a piece of narrative on alien abduction. Using a clip from ‘Batman’ to focus on flashback and a clip from ‘The Princess Bride’ to focus on framing narrative mean that my Year 9 students are beginning to have a range of narrative structures from which to choose deliberately as they plan to write this narrative piece. We have begun our journey in becoming skilled writers.

Narrative structure taught through film has worked to engage and motivate. It has worked as a differentiating tool. It has made learning memorable. All I need to do now is to collect film clips that are more up-to-date – my references belong to time long passed. Fortunately all the clips I have used – other than ‘War of the Worlds’ – seem to have become classics that my current Yr9 already know. ‘Ahh…it’s …’ breathed as the clip begins to roll does have a palpable change on the atmosphere in the classroom so I know that my pursuit of film clips must continue. I might just be visiting the cinema one of these Wednesday nights.


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