Crafting An Epic: How to Inspire Writing With Apps
Inspiring creative writing can be a real challenge, especially with boys. The project detailed below produced outstanding results both in terms of output and levels of motivation. By combining two apps within the same project, the children were able to walk right into the realm of the Vikings…
As a part of the Viking topic, we were set to cover the literacy unit of historical stories. The year before we had studied Beowulf and created a nice little collaborative writing activity that ultimately lead the kids to create a saga that mirrored the structure of the first part of that famous tale. What I wanted to achieve for this year’s version of the unit was greater immersion in the story to raise engagement levels to something unparalleled. The answer came in the form of two apps used in very different ways.
BECOME THE HERO YOU WERE BORN TO BE…
First up was the legendary Morfo app. Within Morfo, users have the ability to purchase additional costume packages, one of which is called “Fantasy Heroes.” The idea was simple – have the children actually become the hero of their own Viking saga. They scanned themselves in and added a range of costume details to create an authentic look. Some modified their faces so much that their own parents did not recognise them! They then chose a Viking name (there are several online name generators) and exported a picture. These picture were stuck into their English books and mind-mapped around with descriptive detail, first focusing on physical traits seen in the image and then expanding to include details about clothing, weaponry and actions.
This led to the opening paragraph of the saga- the introduction of the hero. Straight away this varied from the structure of Beowulf as he doesn’t arrive until much later. In fact we used the classic five part story mountain structure to highlight this difference. The children were instructed that nothing could actually happen in their short introductory paragraph and that their job was simply to build the description of their hero in the most interesting way possible. The fact that the hero was actually them saw levels of enthusiasm for writing that I had rarely seen in over a decade of teaching! They were given one other rule for the first paragraph – that it had to end with the hero arriving at a mysterious castle…
ENTER THE CITADEL…
The Epic Citadel app was created by Epic Studios as a tech demo to prove that the Unreal games engine powered Infinity Blade game could run on iOS devices. It is essentially a large virtual castle and surrounding grounds that the user can navigate around freely. There are no tasks, no characters and no events to contend with. When I first saw the app in action, I was sure it could be harnessed to inspire detailed description of setting. This was something we had been looking at by using busy pictures as a source but this was something else, giving the writer the ability to literally walk the streets, look around and absorb the world around them in 3D. The only problem was it was empty! This potential problem fixed itself though as the nature of the sagas we were crafting actually allowed it to make sense that the streets were strangely empty.
We told the kids to have a play with the app – always a great idea with a new app as they will learn the controls themselves and enjoy the freedom. After a few minutes, we reconvened outside the city as this would be the point in the story where their character would be standing. We explained that they were to re-enter the city assuming the role of their hero. What would they be thinking? Naturally the first answer offered was “where is everyone?” We told them that it was a mystery and that something bad had happened here involving a beast (as in Beowulf) and they would have to find out for themselves. They took notes as they manoeuvred back through the streets, detailing the things they could see (or not see!) before beginning to engage their imagination and consider what could be smelt and heard too. We discussed the reliance of humans on their sight as the primary sense and how a mystery could be built by utilising the other senses first – a strange smell, an unusual sound, rhetorical questions to show thought patterns…
Throughout the session they also snapped screenshots of locations which were then printed in thumbnail size for their books. This build-up section of the project was set to end with them finding some concrete evidence (blood on the walls, claws marks across a door or even a hidden survivor) but not with the creature itself. I have found that during narrative writing, children find this to be the toughest section to compose. Using the story mountain analogy I often refer to them wanting to “run up the mountain” i.e. rushing to reach the action. This time we didn’t have that issue. The focus, enthusiasm and attainment throughout the independent writing based on Epic Citadel was truly remarkable. Across the board, students crafted the best writing I had ever seen from them.
THE SAGA CONTINUES
At this point in their saga writing we moved away from apps and used some other concepts to design and defeat their beasts. It is always important to find balance within pedagogy and utilise the iPad as one of many tools for learning. However by engaging the kids so well through the opening sections, they were positively chomping at the bit to complete their epics. A display board was designed including samples of writing and images of their heroes and several children were able to share their sagas around a campfire during a Living Museum event.
IDEA FOR THE SEQUEL
How would I develop/refine the project next year? Here are a few ideas:
- Create ebooks based around the sagas including performance content
- Have the children draw the body for their character underneath their Morfo face before min-mapping.
- Use the Castlerama app instead of Epic Citadel. The premise is identical but the tone is naturally more dark and mysterious.
- Create Morfo videos in character and use Aurasma to augment the display images with them.
A detailed look at a writing project using a pair of clever apps to inspire creativity.