Beowulf, Lego & Dark Echo

A couple of months ago, I came across an app called Dark Echo on the Apple Appstore. In this post, I want to share some of the processes towards generating descriptive writing, using Beowulf, Lego and the game, ‘Dark Echo’.  First of all, here’s the trailer for it, as well as a short demonstration so you understand what it’s like in-game. Be warned though! It’s rather creepy in parts.

Game Trailer: 

Level Walkthrough Examples: 

‘Trapped in darkness, you must use sound to guide your way through threatening environments. The sounds you create will bounce off obstacles, revealing the shape of the surrounding world. It won’t be long before your only way of sensing the world attracts a horrifying evil that devours both sound and souls.’

‘Survive through 80 levels that will make your heart race and leave you with an irrational fear of red lines. A foreboding soundscape, best experienced with headphones, sets the tone for your journey. Explore, solve puzzles, and most importantly – stay alive.’ morpurgo-_beowulf

Let me explain where I started with all this, and I will come back to Dark Echo in a moment… At the time, I was teaching my class about the Anglo-Saxons and introduced them to the poem ‘Beowulf’. For our class read, I ordered Michael Morpurgo’s version, which they were completely transfixed by — especially part one: the story of Grendel and Beowulf. After seeing Mat Sullivan’s excellent resource of using Lego for developing locational writing and pathetic fallacy, I decided to concentrate on using an emphasis on colour for conveying emotions, such as they do in Disney and Pixar. (Ironically, the class loved discussing this!) I began by asking the class to list down some emotions, based on such colours from some film stills, later adding to their word banks and word books.  Pathetic fallacy – what is it?

Pathetic fallacy is an effective technique used to make locations in writing come alive, and it’s a lot simpler to do than it sounds! Mat Sullivan (@inspiredmind5)

He’s right — it really is, and it’s such an effective technique which I love using in story writing, poetry, generating suspense and in this case, descriptive writing.

Download Mat’s ‘Developing High-Level Writing Skills’ here:

Through the use of Lego, Mat took this a step further. Not only have you got the hook straight away, but a perfect opportunity to stimulate rich vocabulary, characters and settings. Here’s an example of one of his scenes from last year.    Importantly, at the start of year five, my class weren’t that familiar with making a location a character, and, like the character in a story, you’d expect it to develop, as well as react and respond to surrounding influences.  Another thing they struggled with was the appropriate choice of vocabulary. Still, I ensure this is a key part of most lessons and registration time when they arrive (or have time). Using this approach, we turned our concentration towards our own Beowulf model – a dramatic scene that portrays the moment that Beowulf walks into Heorot to find the aftermath of Grendal’s complete obliteration of the Great Mead Hall.

I showed them this:    We focused upon the colours, grey, brown and red, generating adjectives that we then used thesauruses and online thesauruses to improve, but ensuring they were appropriate and, well, worked. As a shared write, they came up with this with some help from me:       You can see some of their writing here, on LendMeYourLiteracy and on our class blog.

How we used the app ‘Dark Echo’:

Just by chance, I came across this app and was hooked straight away. It’s original and fairly simple too. Through the use of certain senses, you must find your way out of each chamber-like room. Only by changes in sound and colour, can you figure out what the terrain is like or what may be lurking around the corner. Perfect for developing tension in writing.  My class loved it and were totally engrossed. Naturally, because of our links to colour from Mat’s Lego prompts, the pupils knew we needed to generate some effective vocabulary. This time though, I wanted to create some tension and onset dilemma in their writing. Be warned though – DE is rather scary the further you progress, so choose the scenes carefully if using in class.

Some suggestions: 

– Ask the learners to close their eyes and listen. What can they hear? Where are they?

– Concentrate on the colours red, black, white and blue. Generate adjectives for emotions, or maybe nouns that link to these, but this time, instead of using these for pathetic fallacy and personification, you could apply to the character’s feelings and emotions.

For example:

RED –  horrified, fearful, agitated, nervous, intimidated, frantic, petrified…

BLACK – lonely, isolated, abandoned, alone, deserted, entrapped…

For the colour WHITE, you could put emphasis on verbs; actions that the character or person is doing in this place, as mirrored when dragging your finger, leading you out of danger and hopefully into safety.

Jasmine’s first draft:   I gave this group some choice exciting sentences and they really tried hard. One of their aims was to vary sentence openers and they are also practising maintaining ‘tense’ – something they often find hard to do.

– As they are playing the game, pause and write down how they feel at particular moments 😮 – Use thesauruses to improve word choice. 📒

– Create an internal monologue of the character. 👤

– From a chosen scene, create a narrative for what happens next📝

– Use Comic Life to organise screen shots for remembering story sequence📲

– Create a recount of the ordeal😱

– Make a film trailer for their story based on their Dark Echo experience📺

– Create an emotions graph📈

– Sequence the ordeal by freeze-framing 🎢

I hope you’ve found some of what I’ve used in class useful and interesting.

Thanks to some fantastic resources from Mat @Inspiredmind5 and @alanpeat.

Enjoy, but remember… watch out for those red lines. 👀

Download the game here:

Download Mat’s Lego Locational Writing PDF here:

Using Question of Sport’s ‘What Happens Next?’ as a Writing Stimulus

I have fond memories of watching quiz shows growing up. In particular, BBC’s Question of Sport. Recently, I wondered about the possible use of the ‘what happens next’ game as a writing stimulus in the classroom, and wanted to share some potential ideas with you.

In case you haven’t seen QoS before, here’s an excerpt from the show, airing a snippet from a game involving Exeter City.

As a part of the programme, contestants in the game are given options to what they believe happens next based on selected sport footage. As you can see from watching the conclusion to the question, Jamie Mackay scores but the ball sneaks through the net and has to be finished off by Adam Stansfield (RIP). Somewhat unpredictable I know, but engaging and it will hook the learners.

There are so many other videos available online and they don’t have to feature short snippets of edited footage like this one below.

In this video, ten questions are presented requiring an answer for each, which are great fun and thoroughly entertaining. (Please be careful though, as this particular video shows Cantona’s famous stamp on a fan in the crowd.)

I believe such footage is an excellent hook and could possibly be used in many ways to engage writers, generating discussion and stimulating possible ideas and imagination.

1) You could ask the children to discuss in teams what they believe happens next.

2) Share their ideas from one (or more) excerpts from what they think may follow.

3) Finally, show the class what happens. Were they close? Was anyone right?

You could do this with any video, pausing at the moment before and allowing the learners to delve into their imagination. It’s always incredible what they come up with!

Gathered suggestions may resemble the following:

‘The player takes on the keeper, chips it towards the goal but misses an open net!’

– Firstly, to extend this, you could create a narrative from the first or third person. Using carefully chosen Alan Peat sentences (such as ‘3 Bad – (Dash) question’, ‘3ed’ and ‘_ing, _ed’, emotion word (comma) etc.), invite the children to extend their original idea. A superb writing opportunity.

– A brilliant way of organising this, is to use Mat Sullivan’s (@InspiredMind5) comic planner approach. Using screenshots from the clip, which can be placed on the template, ask the children to produce a Roy of the Rovers style comic, using speech, internal monologue and detail to continue their story. In my opinion, Comic Life is the best software (currently) for producing this digitally, allowing users to add speech, thoughts, captions, onomatopoeia and narrative; even their own photographs to create a dramatisation/reenactment of what will happen.


Children could also write from the perspective of the opposition, instead of the sports person in question. It could even from the viewpoint of a fan! In addition, I’ve blogged before about writing from the perspective of an inanimate object before. This could be a goal post, the ball, the stadium or the floodlights…

– Also, learners could recount the event, either in the form of a diary, blog or newspaper or online article. Lee Parkinson (@ICT_MrP) has some good ideas on his blog and in his ebook about the use of iMovie and Morfo to create commentary.

– Pupils could use Explain Everything to analyse what happened. It could even be used by the children to note and discuss what they believe could have happened next. This would be great fun! And remember, it doesn’t even have to be sport – plenty of short films and animations can be used too.

– Finally, I leave you with a great video from The Masters at the weekend. Jordan Spieth, the outright winner and only 21, is stuck behind a tree on the 14th at Augusta and is up against it, with an object right in his line. I wonder what he was thinking? I don’t think anyone could have guessed what was about to happen next – I certainly couldn’t!

Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 21.55.52

Jordan Spieth at The Masters, Augusta, 2015

This is one short video that I’ve found but it is important to add that the app Vine is a superb tool for accessing footage online. This app shows six second footage and great for pausing at any chosen moment, just by tapping the screen. Video is looped continuously but the material available online is huge! You just have to choose carefully.

I hope some of these ideas are useful and if you have any suggestions, please share them!

Using GoPro First-Person Footage as a Writing Stimulus

I’ve been thinking and writing about Go-Pro cameras for a while now and wanted to share some ideas on here; even if just to make you aware how useful certain footage could be to stimulate quality writing, as I see real potential in them.

What is Go-Pro?

Firstly, Go-Pro is a type of camera that fits to a helmet or part of the body, to give the user the ability to record video footage from a ‘first-person viewpoint’.

Within extreme sports, such as surfing, sky-diving and other adrenaline sports, these cameras are widely used and can be so impressive and fascinating to watch.

Here’s a first-person video of Kelly McGarry’s (a daredevil mountain-biker) backflip over a cavernous 72-foot wide canyon.

Daredevil Mountainbiker:

Writing Ideas:

– Write a narrative/story of the daredevil ride.

– Write a recount or blog of the ride, with you as Kelly McGarry from before the event and after. 

– Create a news report as a sports journalist who was there on the day. 

– Using Lee Parkinson’s 15 Lessons for the World Cup e-book ideas, which you can buy here, you could record a pre-race commentary using Explain Everything – an app that Lee suggests in his book. I absolutely love this and used it recently in history, teaching about Anglo-Saxon settlements – see Lee’s great blog on its use on marking here

– You could generate vocabulary linked to the person or even location. See my previous post on using vocabulary art for this approach. 

– Write a description of the location, focusing on pathetic fallacy, a type of personification I’ve learned from Mat Sullivan and Alan Peat, where nature is given a ‘human form’.

What About Other Footage I Could Use in Class? 

There’s so much about! I recently shared Huffington’s Top 26 videos on my digital magazine, ‘Moving Writing’ on Flipboard which is here:

Huffington Post’s Top 26 Go-Pro First Person Videos:

There are some great first person shots and not all are sport related either, such as this Lego man from Canada (my birth country), who travelled all the way to space. Children will love this!

Lego Man Enters Space:

Writing Ideas: 

– Children could write about their incredible day from the perspective of the Lego man. 

– Using Mat Sullivan’s comic planner, writers could sequence the events, adding internal monologue and dialogue to the story. 

– Twist the end. What happened after? Pause the video and get the children to come up with an alternate ending, possibly starting an intriguing new story! Again, the use of a comic planner here could be vital! Make the moment at the end of this video the start, using an ‘in media res’ opening. 

Or what about this guy jet-skiing through a canyon? Looks like great fun! Reminds me of the pod race in Star Wars: Phantom Menace.

Jet Skiing Through a Revine:

The Telegraph’s top 10 from last year is excellent as well, which you can view here.

One of my favourites is this: a Go-Pro camera attached to an eagle.

Writing Ideas: 

– Allow the children to comment over the footage in the style of David Attenborough. They could use Explain Everything or iMovie to create their documentary on an eagle or other animal. 

– Create some descriptive writing, focusing on the senses, with writers listing things they can hear, see and feel based on the video, with them as the eagle itself soaring above this beautiful Alpine landscape. 

Imagine the engagement and potential writing you could obtain from this.

What if an eagle was to soar through a city…

This could also generate an interesting debate and discussion, as the aim of the above has been to increase people’s awareness (in cities such as London) of the threats to endangered species like the Imperial Eagle seen in the video above.

Please have a look online and feel free to ask me on Twitter for any suitable ideas or links you might need @johndcotter.

My advice is have a look and see what you can find, but also, be mindful of some of the content and language used in some of the videos, as some of it is rather ‘extreme’.

Thanks for reading – I promise to update this with further videos and links I’m allowed to and will always credit the author, creator or person with the original idea. Cheers.