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By Charlotte RonaldsActing Editor, Child Education Plus

A new website is taking picture books and making them accessible in all forms of communication. What a clever idea, says Charlotte Ronalds

Marvin the sheep

Signed Stories (www.signedstories.com) is a free website from ITV that contains well-known stories fully accessible in sound, sign, text, pictures and animation. Designed primarily to help improve the literacy of deaf children, it also has great potential for hearing children. And, with a pledge that they will upload one new book every week, the site is well worth a look. Below are some activities that focus on just two of the books available – there are many more.

Penguin

In Polly Dunbar’s story, a young boy called Ben goes to increasingly drastic lengths to get his new penguin to talk. Yet Penguin prefers to say nothing… until something happens to Ben, that is. This is a wonderful story of friendship and how we all have different ways of expressing ourselves.

Spot the sign

Play the story on the interactive whiteboard and point out the different modes of communication to the children. What senses are they using when engaging with the story? Explain that the woman is signing the story, which is another form of communication. Have any of the children seen this before? For whose benefit do they think she is signing?

Now play the story again, only this time without the sound. Encourage the children to look at the signer and spot any clues to the story. Do they recognise any movements and what they mean? (They should be able to spot gestures for hello, tickle and penguin). Are there any signs they find tricky to work out? Let them join in the action every time the line Penguin said nothing appears.

Mime time!

Put your finger on your lips to show you want quiet. Then say you have just communicated to the children without speaking. How did they know what you meant? Ask if any of the children have ever played charades; you might want to play a quick game or two to illustrate the concept.

In pairs or small groups, challenge the children to make up a very simple mime to perform to the class. Explain the concept of miming and communicating through movement, and read the interviews with Natalie Pollard and Jason St Lawrence, who signed Penguin and Marvin Wanted MORE! (See below.)

Encourage the children to think about obvious movements and the use of actions, gestures and facial expressions. Shy children may require some support to use big and bold movements. After each performance, hold a class discussion to see if everyone understood what was being mimed. Which performance was most successful?

Penguin speaks!

In the story, Penguin comes across as very uncommunicative – even when Ben ties him to a rocket and sends him whooshing into space. Do the children think Ben is right to be frustrated with Penguin? Could there be a reason why Penguin is so quiet? At the end of the story, Penguin finally communicates in his own, and very beautiful, way. Show the children the interview with Polly Dunbar and read her explanation of Penguin’s way of talking.

Rather than using voice or movements, Penguin uses pictures to express his feelings. Ask the children to do the same, portraying a day at school. Emphasise the use of different colours to show emotions.

Marvin Wanted MORE!

In Joseph Theobald’s story, Marvin is the smallest sheep in his flock – until he starts to eat. The trouble is, what Marvin eats is never quite enough. But after one gigantic meal, he soon realises that he’s bitten off more than he can chew. This is a very funny book with a strong message about self acceptance.

Marvin’s munchies

In the story, Marvin decides to get bigger by eating more and more grass. When that stops being enough, he eats whole forests, then whole countries, until he finally jumps to the Moon and eats the world! What other things could Marvin have eaten? Cut out pictures of food and other objects from magazines and place them in a hat. During circle time, let children pull out a picture and mime Marvin munching on the object. Can the other children guess what it is?

A baaaad tummy!

Marvin eats so much that he is sick (children will love joining in signing this part of the story!). The world comes tumbling out of his mouth, and Marvin reverts back to his original size. Marvin’s friend Molly is thrilled to have him back to his normal self, and Marvin seems much happier, too.

Talk to the children about the different emotions Marvin would have felt during the story, and read the interview with Joseph Theobald. Using the ‘Marvin emotion’s’ activity sheet, ask the children to draw simple facial expressions encapsulating Marvin’s different moods. Use their drawings to talk about how we all make similar facial expressions, which allows us to ‘read’ other people’s emotions.

‘Ear, ‘ear!

Take the class outside, or somewhere else that is noisy, and ask them to cover their ears. What do they notice? Say that we take our hearing for granted and that we don’t realise we are constantly using it. Ask the children to imagine what it must be like not to be able to hear. What sounds would they most miss? Challenge them to write a few sentences describing their favourite sound and how it makes them feel.

It’s a sign!

Children will love learning how to sign their names, and Signpost (www.signpostbsl.com/learnBSL/fingerspeller) will show them how. The British Sign Language website (www.britishsignlanguage.com) contains oodles of videos showing the basic signs. The emotions/feelings section is especially useful if children want to sign Marvin’s different emotions during the story. And there are some free basic sign language activity sheets on our own website, too!

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