How Forfar Academy Created Comics and Book Trailers for #ScotTeenBookPrize

Having seen the positive impact that participating in book prizes can have on pupils’ reading, we were very keen to take part in the reading and voting for the Scottish Teenage Book Prize, and also enter the book trailer and graphic novel competitions. We chose a second year English class we thought would respond enthusiastically. Also, their teacher had recently gone through some digital learning training, and so the book trailer competition was a great chance to put this into practice.

Introducing the books and the competitions

Even those who are not keen readers were eager to be part of conversations around the books

As with any class, there were some pupils who were keen to read and those who took a bit more persuasion. Reading abilities also varied within the group, and as such some were daunted at the idea of reading three texts in a relatively short period of time. To ease them in, we introduced the award and the books via a fun speed dating exercise, ensuring that it was high energy.

For the speed dating exercise, we put away all the chairs in the library and just had groups of tables, each of which had one of the shortlisted books on it - this had pupils curious from the off. Pupils were split into random pairs, and on the blow of a whistle, they had to go to a table and then discuss first impressions of cover, blurb and first lines. We provided a booklet so pupils could make notes on each book and give them a rating. When the whistle blew again, they got together with their partner to discuss their thoughts, then it was all repeated. After everyone had the chance to look at all the books we got them to line up in birthday order to choose their first book. We released them in groups of five and they basically charged towards me and the books!

To further incentivise the reading, we used the competitions, promising the fun of creating graphic novels and book trailers as the prize – but only once the books had been read! Leaving the library armed with their first book, pupils seemed enthusiastic and more relaxed than they had been 50 minutes previously. Throughout the weeks that had been allocated for reading, there was informal competition amongst the pupils in the class as to how much they had read. Even those who are not keen readers were drawn in to this, and were keen to be part of classroom conversations around the books and their reading.

The graphic novel competition

We were thrilled that they had transferred the skills and techniques we had previously taught into their own production

Graphic novels have long been an integral part of our English curriculum. As part of our S2 CfE course, and as a way of developing skills learned in S1 in the advertising unit, we all teach a unit based on the graphic novel of Anthony Horowitz’s Stormbreaker. This includes looking at panel shapes, onomatopoeia, speech/thought bubbles and camera shots and angles. We learn about how to ‘read’ a graphic novel effectively, then use the techniques studied to create our own graphic novel page. This is based on what they think the next two pages of Point Blanc: The Graphic Novel will be.

Within the school library, there is a graphic novel section which is constantly updated. Borrowing figures show that they are a popular choice with our pupils, and every year there is a surge in borrowing the rest of the Alex Rider series in graphic format after the teaching of the unit.

Pupils were therefore well equipped with the skills required to create their own graphic novel scene for the competition. As such, it was set as a homework task, and the class responded well. Looking at the work that they produced, we were thrilled that they had transferred the skills and techniques that we had previously taught into their own production. The quality of the work suggested that they really enjoyed the task.

Snapshot from a comic by Jessica Addison of Forfar Academy

A snapshot from a comic by Jessica of Forfar Academy

The book trailer competition

In contrast, the creation of book trailers was new to both staff and pupils. As a school, we are investing heavily in digital learning and the technology to support this. This project seemed like the ideal first step into this brave new world, especially as it coincided with a pupil-led staff session on how to use iMovie. A chance to put that CPD into practice!  

In retrospect, we should probably have spent longer discussing outcomes with pupils before they started out, to ensure that they knew what they were aiming to produce. Previous learning about camera angles during the graphic novel unit didn’t translate easily to film. Time was allocated for storyboarding, but ultimately the storyboards weren’t really used - we were all (staff and pupils!) just far too keen to get in front of the camera and start creating films!   

Snapshot from a book trailer from Forfar Academy
Pupils were very inventive in terms of how they created their content. Every part of the school environment – including the pond, which doubled as the river in The Last Soldier – was incorporated, and pictures from library books were used when the school just couldn’t provide the correct ambience.

Creating the films caused a real buzz amongst the pupils, which in turn generated a lot of interest from both other staff (including our SMT) and pupils. Great fun was had by all, and we learned a lot from our initial mistakes. For example, we have learned that creating a quality film takes a lot longer than we initially budgeted time for, and in future we would allocate more time to planning and editing to allow for a more polished final product.

We really enjoyed our time working on these projects, and would recommend it to others. The icing on the cake was learning that one of our pupils had come second in the graphic novel competition. It was great to see his efforts rewarded, and will inspire others next year. We can’t wait!

Find out more about the Scottish Teenage Book Prize and the graphic novel and book trailer competitons, including our comprehensive activity packs to support each competition.

Looking for inspiration? You can check out the winning entries to last year's competitions here.

Shona Page and Janet Spence

Shona Page is a librarian, and Janet Spence is an English teacher, at Forfar Academy.