23rd June 2018
By Chris Frame – Year 4/5 teacher at Dogmersfield Primary, Hampshire.
In co-constructing an island kingdom, we captured the interest of the children in my class. It was their island and they have taken ownership of the stories that are told on it. The paranoid Queen captured their attention and they wanted to find out what she would do. They were motivated by the intrigue that had been created and they wanted to know what the Queen would do and what stories would be told.
The aim is to discuss the nature of obedience. Should you obey a Queen whose decrees are based on paranoia and mistrust or does the lack of obedience fuel that mistrust. In order to do this we need to create concern and investment in the Queen. In order to build tension we now need to portray the Queen in a much better light. We need to see why the Queen is so paranoid.
Creating long term dividend.
The process of developing the Kingdom and the Queen has created a long-term dividend. The detailed and forensic planning process, discussion with colleagues and constant reflection and critique has led to a long-lasting series of learning opportunities which we can draw upon without needing to hook the children in. We can now tell stories about anyone on the island. We can invent stories in this fictional world that help us explore other concepts in our own lives, we can use the Kingdom for all kinds of writing opportunities outside of the fiction. The scene is set, the main characters and their motivations are understood, the problem has been explored. Now we can explore the rich history and tapestry of the fictional world we have created.
Story structure, tension and a build your own adventure.
One of the stories we have already told is that of a group of smugglers who are smuggling arms and gunpowder into the island in order to make an attempt on the Queen’s life. In order to tell this story we went back to the island and drew upon the map human geography – buildings, settlements and other human features. We then talked about what happened in these places and the lives of the people involved. Three boys had created a smithy – a weapons factory as they described it. We talked about where they got their raw materials from and I deliberately refuted their suggestions. I did this for too reasons. Mainly it was because they would need to come up with an authentic way of getting iron and gunpowder on a small island kingdom with a paranoid Queen at the helm and secondly because I wanted to explore cause and effect with the class. If the Queen know you had gunpowder, what would she do? If the Queen knew you were making weapons, what would she do? Eventually they came up with the idea that they were smuggling these things into the island via a boat and a contact they had with a smuggler from another Kingdom. We then spent time as a class investigating their plan and we decoded a coded message from a smuggler which revealed the rough location and timing of the next shipment. Unfortunately for the smugglers, this message had fallen into the hands of the Queen’s guard who then presented their findings to the Queen. We then set up a drama session where we had two groups of people, the Queen’s confidants and a band of smugglers. I explained that we were going to tell the story of the smugglers and their attempt to get gunpowder and weapons onto the island. They went off into their groups and briefly discussed what they thought would happen in their story.
I then explained that there would be three ‘voices’ that I would use. The voice of the facilitator who agreed with the children the ‘givens’ of the fictional world. I told them that we were governed by the laws of the real world and so no fantasy element could enter the story or nothing ‘out of this world’. We agreed some other ‘facts’ about our story so we all knew the boundaries in which we would be working. This conversation was a facilitated one where we could all contribute and agree the facts of the story. I then talked about the narrator voice whose job would be to move the story on when it was needed. Finally I introduced the idea that I might have to step into the story and assume a character if it were required. I would have three voices with the learning: facilitator, narrator and character.
To begin, the Queen stood and decreed what she wanted her guards to do in order to capture the smugglers. She said ‘I want you to take a boat to the Southern ocean and search for Smyth (the incoming smuggler)
I began the narration…
The Queen’s guards rushed away to the quay. Readying the boat to sail, they clambered in and began their treacherous journey in search of a smuggler that they didn’t really know existed. The ocean was empty and nothing could be seen anywhere. The guards kept their eyes peeled, looking for any sort of movement around them.
They paused at this point and relaxed because the next paragraph in the story was about the smugglers.
The gang of smugglers slipped through the late evening darkness towards the rendezvous point, not knowing whether Smyth would be there or not. The lookouts high on the cliffs kept their binoculars trained on the ocean, looking for Smyth but also the Queen’s guards. Slowly the gang tiptoed towards the shore. There was no sign on Smyth.
And here it hit me… so we stopped and I asked the children what they thought was going to happen next. The Queen’s guards thought that they were going to catch Smyth the smuggler and the smugglers thought they were going to get their goods. So I asked, would that make a good story and they said ‘no, it would be boring’. So now we talked about story structure, we had the setting and the characters, we had the problem and we were taking steps towards the resolution but the resolution needed tension and intrigue and no side could completely win, that would be boring. There had to be a cost to both groups of children and they understood this and began coming up with ideas.
So, we carried on and the Queen’s guards spotted a boat, pulled alongside and captured the sailor.
But at the same time, in the next narrated paragraph, the boat the smugglers were waiting for arrived at the jetty.
Before we could find out who was on that boat though the focus shifted back to the Queen’s guards who arrested someone (me in role) called Robinson who was shipping grain to the island but was arrested anyway, just in case.
The boat at the jetty, which was a different jetty to the one the guards were looking out for thanks to a cleverly placed coded red herring of a message, did indeed have Smyth on board and the goods were smuggled.
We now had a series of events leading up to a climax where the deal was done and the smugglers escaped. The end of this chapter was how the smugglers and the Queen’s guard would deal with what had happened and plan what would happen next. In the words of a child, the battle was won by the smugglers but we’ll win the war.
In doing this, I had taught story structure and we had discussed how to build tension in a story through paragraphing, repetition and linking paragraphs or ending different paragraphs in a similar way with a twist. All through the voices of facilitator, narrator and character. This time, due to time, we didn’t write it down but we really should have done. Next time we most definately will.
Just to be clear, the planning at the beginning was tough and detailed but now it is quick and easy, probably for two reasons. Firstly, the effort was put into the beginning and the steps into the fiction. Secondly, the children and I are planning the next steps by the way in which the current steps happen, spotting problems and fixing them. As more opportunities for learning present themselves and more questions are asked, the more the planning falls into place. You don’t need to think about how you are going to hook the children into the learning because that has already happened. From the steps into the island I now I need to teach: how rivers start and how they form the landscape, coastal erosion and the creation or arcs, stacks and stumps, co-ordinates and mapping, code writing and breaking, story structure and tension in stories and a bit about Tudor kings and Queens.