Back From The Future

Fast-forward to the year 2999. Imagine the written word has become obsolete, that all text is electronic, and that there are no paper copies of anything. What happens if all electronic data is wiped out by a virus and all recorded knowledge is obliterated? It’d be back to paper and pencil. But what if no one can write by hand any more?

Back From the Future is a literacy programme suitable for upper KS2 that uses this futuristic quandary to engage children in writing for real purposes and audiences. This experiential writing experience focuses on using virtual and real experiences as the stimulus for writing.

Calligrapher-in-Chief, Time Traveller 27, has been sent to enlist the help of some ‘Scribes to Save All Texts’ (SSATs). Their mission is to preserve the written word and imperilled texts through a flock of non-fiction and fiction writing activities. The resource consists of a manual and a DVD. The manual contains excellent teaching notes and walks you through what to do step by step. Each of the 12 units follows the same organisational design, and embedded within this structure you’ll find a clever collection of ideas for energising children’s writing. All units link to DVD transmissions by Time Traveller 27, a likeable and fun character who children will readily engage with. The teaching notes offer plenty to get your teeth into. In fact, you’ll have to be selective and frugal with your planning as you could easily get immersed. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but it’s important to keep moving in order to complete the assignment otherwise it could lose its sparkle and fall a bit flat.

The manual also contains model texts; writing, word and sentence activity sheets; and a list of suggested texts for whole-class and independent reading. The model texts are creative and fun, set in the context of the stories Little Miss Muffet and Little Red Riding Hood. These imaginative and amusing texts are ideal for using as exemplars and analysis.

The writing activity sheets offer a good selection of tasks including categorising and sorting, editing, text reconstruction, text evaluation, and persuasive role-play. Word and sentence activity sheets focus on close reading and editing, grammar and punctuation, spelling and word play. Here you will find a decent mixture of challenges, games and extension activities.

The success of this resource will depend on how much children will buy into the idea of endangered texts and possible annihilation of the written word. Some teachers will have to work harder at selling this than others, but I can see scriptoriums, writing labs and communication centres sprouting up all over the place. You might use the resource for SATS-style preparation, to assess children’s knowledge and understanding, or as a creative project in its own right.

This is an expensive resource. The book and the DVD will set you back £100. However, Back From the Future is perfect for kick-starting creativity, inspiring speaking and listening, and helping children become more confident and motivated writers. When combined with careful teaching, this resource will certainly help children improve their attitude towards writing and develop their role as writers. In the right hands, it has real potential to help children distinguish and differentiate between key text types and help them understand why writing should never be allowed to appear on a list of obsolete skills along with adjusting the tracking on a VCR and milking a cow by hand.

Our Verdict

The Future's Bright

Back From the Future reminds me of a garden gnome we once had in class for a few weeks. It suddenly went missing and ransom notes started appearing with photos of it standing in exotic locations.

This kidnapped gnome scenario sparked some fantastic writing and helped play its part in closing the gap between reading and writing attainment.

Experiential writing scenarios like this are essential to children’s writing development and they don’t come much better than Back From the Future.

Pie Corbett