One of my favourite websites is The Literacy Shed. To many teachers it will be nothing new, but there may be others out there who haven’t been fortunate to stumble upon this vast resource of videos and short movies designed to inspire young people to write.
The premise is simple, a curated collection of videos from around the internet that have been grouped into similarly themed ‘mini-collections’. There is a ‘Fantasy Shed’ and a ‘Thinking Shed’, allowing teachers, who short on time, to browse through and find a video which might be suitable for their class. Each video also contains useful hints and tips for how it could be used – some have Philosophy for Children type questions linked to the video, others with ideas for writing opportunities.
One of my favourite videos is ‘The Blackhole’ . A tired, seemingly overworked, man is in the office late at into the evening. He moves to the photocopier and instead of his printing coming out, an A3 sheet with a black circle comes out instead. When he tries to place his cup down on the paper, his cup disappears into the black hole. Amazed, he uses the black hole to raid a vending machine, before using it to break into a locked office and finally into the office safe. It doesn’t end well for our curious character; his greed leading to him being locked inside the safe. It’s about 2 minutes long and beautifully explores themes such as right and wrong, temptation, greed and finally the consequences for actions.
I used it last year back in the UK with my Year 5 class. It lead to a lovely discussion about whether what he did was wrong. The main line of argument, proposed by the children, being that he is working hard, long beyond the other employees and management and that it could be argued that he deserves to take some of the money from the safe. With a little trepidation I decided to try the video with my mixed ability Year 3 class here in Shanghai. I wasn’t sure if the themes would be obvious enough to lead a deep discussion, but I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong. Our subsequent discussion covered all the intended themes of greed, morality and consequences. Everyone in the class was desperate to share what they would do in the same situation, with a 50/50 split on whether they would destroy the black hole, with many concerned that they wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation to use the black hole for immoral purposes.
Following our discussion it seemed logical to offer the children the chance to write. The children were given the freedom to choose what they wanted to write about. Some chose to carry on the narrative – what happened when the man was found. Others chose to create a newspaper report, complete with interviews with key witnesses. We had diary entries and detailed descriptions of the world within the black hole – for one girl it was a world filled with princesses and fairies. There was almost silence in the room as they wrote, with the quiet buzz from engaged children with exciting ideas.
This is just one lesson, from one video on Literacy Shed. There are hundreds of videos and many, many different lessons you can teach from each video. Don’t be afraid to use these videos across age groups, like me you might end up being pleasantly surprised!