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Year 5 case study: 'The Four Elements: Earth'

Pupils from Earlsfield Primary School, London worked with Joachim Beuckelaer's 'The Four Elements: Earth'. Listen to one of their stories and find out from the teacher how the painting turned reluctant learners into inspired story tellers.

Using a painting for storymaking
Using a painting for storymaking: a pupil's approach – 1 min

Year 5 teacher Jenny Purdy, Earlsfield Primary School

"The paintings 'The Four Elements' by Beuckelaer were not high on my list as paintings to use with my class as part of this project, as I thought the children would find them hard to explore and work from. How wrong could I be? This set of paintings turned out to inspire and capture the imagination of even the unlikeliest children in the class.

Detail from Joachim Beuckelaer, 'The Four Elements: Earth', 1569

"The paintings provided informative scenes from which the children could leap and take their writing anywhere they wanted. I was keen to get the children to invent a story for a painting that had no known narrative. We had previously retold stories and the next logical step was to invent.

"We first explored the 'Earth' painting and discussed who the characters might be and what they were doing. We suggested dialogue for the characters and thought about the scenes before and after the scene in the painting.

Detail from Joachim Beuckelaer, 'The Four Elements: Earth', 1569

"I was so surprised at the variety of ideas they had and even the use of the Holy Family, who were pictured as tiny figures in the corner of the painting. The children storyboarded their plan for their story using the 'Earth' painting at any point they wanted.

"Then, based on their storyboard, they created a box plan, which was a written plan in sections to organise their ideas. This helped structure their ideas and write their story in logical steps."

This painting would definitely be one I would use again and again after the fantastic experiences I have had with this through this project. Their written work was of an excellent standard and I am confident to say that it was due to thoroughly engaging with the painting, being inspired to create a story that had never been written."