Google Earth is our Paper – Part 4: Improve the Story

In today’s literacy lesson, the third in our Google Earth storytelling unit, we made the leap from audio or spoken parts of the story to some written work. 

The use of the mapping in this story has provided us with a structure through the escape route we chose and also it has provided us with a rich visual stimulus for story content. The bushes James has to break through in his bid for freedom have caused scratches and bruises and ripped his clothing. The building site we have seen has caused James to be covered in dust and mud. In our story he hides between two large lorries and we stretched out with our senses (Jedi style!) and saw workmen chatting on a tea break, heard drills banging into the ground and the smell of diesel fumes from machinery. All of this has been generated from studying the satellite imagery in our story location.

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Over the last few days we have been working on generating a bank of good vocabulary for the escape, which we have on our WOW WORD display. Through discussion and thesaurus work we have gathered lots of verbs and adjectives that have already proven valuable for the children to use in their stories. We have also tried to generate lots of different alternative sentence openers – many of the recorded audio sentences began with “I”. We used the verbs we had generated and coupled them with adverbs to generate powerful sentence openers. Again these are displayed on the wall for the children to see and use in their work, and in fact many of the improvements made today included many of the examples you can see.

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Today the children used this language work to improve the sentences they had begun in their Vocaroo audio. Underneath the code for the Vocaroo player they added <p> for a paragraph and then wrote an improved version of their audio. We encourage them to make small changes to the original sentence, so just add a WOW word or begin the sentence in a more interesting way.

Here is an example of what one of the placemarks looked like and a second image of what the same item had included in the placemark properties. You can listen to the audio for this example here. The children coped well with writing in this way and had no problems with the coding as it is so simple.

The combination of audio and written text has allowed the children to really improve their writing. I have always been very encouraged when the children have used Voicethread and I think that a technology based audio element can be a powerful way to scaffold the writing process.

I believe that in this unit there have been a few ingredients that have contributed to improved storytelling:

  • Google Earth’s imagery provided the class with ample inspiration for what to be creating in their story – they could see and explore it in front of them. They were not looking at a piece of paper and trying to drum up something.
  • The confidence and comfort that they have with the main character and the background to the story.
  • A clear and purposeful backbone to the tale – James is escaping.
  • An agreed escape route. The whole class can then discuss the various moments in the escape. The sharing and peer support is vital.
  • Easy audio recording has provided the children with a quick avenue into generating story content. There is no password/login/signup/complex method/knowledge/skill barrier to using Vocaroo. The children were recording their ideas immediately.
  • Audio and text situated on the image at where it happens in the story brings, often disparate, storytelling elements together.