Year 6 case study: 'Bathers at Asnières'

Pupils in Year 6 of Deansfield Primary School used Seurat's Bathers at Asnières to develop their storytelling and drawing skills. Listen to one of the pupil's stories and see how the teacher used the painting to hone his class's writing skills.

Georges Seurat, 'Bathers at Asnières', 1884

Storytelling: Inspired by Seurat's 'Bathers at Asnières'
A peaceful scene is shattered by an explosion - a story by a pupil in Year 6 at Deansfield Primary School, London - 3 mins
Transcription

Transcript

A Year 6 pupil at Deansfield Primary School reads a piece of original writing, created for the Out of Art into Storytelling project

Deansfield Primary School pupil:

150 years ago, Paris was so beautiful. Trees lined the boulevards like soldiers. The lush greenery stayed green through the whole of Paris. And the most captivating river in France lay soothingly. This river was called the River Seine.

But 100 years ago, gargantuan, monstrous, factories grew. Just outside Paris in a small town named Asnières, lived a family of two boys, seven girls and their mother and father. Claude started working at the age of 14 and his younger brother Laurent started when he was only 10! They had to work for their infirm parents, because they needed money.

Claude and his friends would wander to the River Seine for all of their lunch breaks. Henri and Pasquale would always jump in, but Claude just dangled his legs in, whilst thinking. The delightful, sequinned river shimmered all the time, and the clouds circled the sky.

After a particularly gruelling morning, Claude and his friends again went to the river, but with their new friend Pierre. Pierre's dog jumped around merrily. Pierre lay down with his dog, whilst Claude just sat at the edge. He pulled a dull, boring piece of string out of his pocket. He tossed it in the river like a rod and watched the circle of ripples faint away. Peace at last.

Suddenly, a thunderous explosion rocked the river, the rowing boats and the ground beneath their feet. The factory! All of the boys were on their feet. 'Quick!' bellowed Claude. He shoved the damp piece of string in his pocket, not caring about getting his pocket wet. He sprinted as fast as he could. 'Speed up guys!' shouted Claude. All Claude could think about was Laurent. His heart was powerfully pounding against his chest.

Crowds of spluttering, coughing, hard-working men forced their way out, whilst Claude battled his way in. Workers tried to stop him but Claude had one thing on his mind: Laurent.

He sped down one flight of stairs, fighting flame and smoke. He made it. In front of him stood a huge oak door. 'Laurent, Laurent, mon petit frère!' said Claude. He threw his hand at the handle. 'Ahhhhhh!' Flames burnt the handle, which in turn burnt his palm. A pink scorch covered his hand.

He kept trying, but the handle wouldn't stop burning his flesh. He stuffed his hand in his pocket with rage, there he felt a soggy mush -– cold string. He stared at it like it was a diamond necklace. He had a thought. He started wrapping it around his hand, as he could feel the dampness of it. Every second feeling like an hour, he had one last hope of saving his brother.

Finally he finished. For the final time, he shoved his hand at the door. He didn’t feel a burn, as he gradually turned the handle, until he heard a click, then he pulled it with all his might. The door opened. He slowly walked in searching for Laurent.

He saw a faint figure. 'Laurent!' he screamed, which made him cough. He darted over to Laurent. He tried and tried to lift him up, but the smoke made it too hard. Claude wouldn't give up. "Come on", he said to himself, which forced another cough. He gradually lifted him up. He tried to run, but just couldn't. The weight of Laurent slowed him down. It felt like a year, but it was really one minute. Flames licked him. He took five minutes to get up the stairs. 'Yes!' he shouted as he saw light. He got closer and closer, but suddenly… everything… went… white.

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Year 6 teacher David Westerby on the impact on his pupils:

"I began Year 6 (taking up my Year 5 class) with a four-week project on the ‘Bathers at Asnières’. The aim was to use the principles from the project to engage children with other paintings. There was already a very high standard of writing within the class, but I really wanted to hone their abilities in creating contrasting settings and atmospheres."

"The 'Bathers' seemed the obvious painting, as it has the calm, peaceful atmosphere, which children could have fun 'destroying'".

Starting with a game

"I began by using a piece of string, which children could make into anything they wanted and I ended the game telling them that it was something that could save someone's life. Following this, I told them a story I had created, with the 'Bathers' as the central scene: a serene setting that is shattered."

"We used drawing and vocabulary work to draw out key images of the story and embed these in the children's minds – as well as their ability to recreate them using figurative language."

Georges Seurat, 'Bathers at Asnières', 1884

"Alongside this we were doing watercolour artwork using sections of the painting and retelling our story through photographs using Comic Life. These activities allowed children to talk much more about the effects that they wanted to create and to articulate how each step of the story could be captured in a single image."

Flair for language

"Next, the class retold the story in their own way and were allowed to change it in any way to make it 'their’ story. The quality of writing was absolutely wonderful throughout all the different abilities within the class, with storytelling language permeating all stages of the narrative to engage the audience."

"Their confidence in creating the contrasting images was excellent and they used complex language features with flair. They were also meticulous in their presentation for display and were keen to recreate the beauty of the painting through their own writing."