Soundwalks

The new AQA Language Paper 1 specification uses images as a stimulus for creative writing tasks. Pupils are presented with an image and a statement and their task (for 40 marks) is to write either a narrative or descriptive response. The timing suggested by the exam board is 45 minutes (including planning and checking time).

Like many schools, I’m sure, you are practising this task with pupils across all year groups. It is not a particularly novel way of encouraging pupils to write creatively or to encourage pupils to think creatively.

Whilst on maternity leave I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot more walking. Baby Jack will only really sleep for extended periods of time during the day when he’s in the pram. So walking we go. I’ve used this opportunity to take photographs of anything that has caught my interest or attention and uploaded them on The Picture Frame section of this blog. This opportunity has also made me think about sound as a method for encouraging creative thinking.

Therefore, the other week I pressed record as I walked a portion of a walk. You can access the file here. It is about five minutes long. Apologies the sound quality may need adjusting.

Questions to ask pupils could be:

  • What do you notice?
  • Where are we?
  • What is the weather like?
  • What characters might be involved?
  • When there crescendos/diminuendos/sudden starts or stops?
  • What is the pace of the walk?
  • What adjectives would you use to describe the environment?

Pupils could write in ‘real time’ with the recording in order to capture first impressions or an opportunity to write down phrases or words that may be useful, before being given some time to share ideas and then write their own response. As I listened back to the recording myself I noticed smaller, more subtle noises and stimuli I may not have necessarily picked out from visual cues: the gentle ripple of water; the repetition of a short birdsong; the gentle patter of rain starting to fall. The sound of the wind whipping up about three-quarters of the way through the recording also adds a different texture, and might provide another avenue through which to teach pupils about structure (that pesky question 3!) or the writer’s craft.

This got me thinking about Soundwalks that I had participated in or perhaps, we could argue, performed during my undergraduate degree in Drama at Queen Mary University of London. Janet Cardiff’s mystery walk around Whitechapel and Shoreditch; Platform’s Operatic score around the square mile of The City of London; Graeme Miller’s walk in and amongst the green spaces left in the wake of the construction of the M11 in East London; Nadia Valman’s guided walk of Brick Lane; a theatrical audiowalk around Wapping and the docks of east London. These are London-centric as a significant part of the degree was also about immersing ourselves in the cultural milieu we were working in. These may be useful soundscapes to share with classes.

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