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Coat of many clues

With a little preparation you can turn your pupils into detectives for the day. This activity worked well with my Year 6 pupils.

Bring an old coat into the classroom and present it to the class. Explain that they are going to write a report on the coat's owner and that they will have to search for as many clues as they can.

Prepare the coat beforehand, loading the pockets with objects that will enable you to guide the children through the lesson. Enclosing a wallet or purse is a good start - include photographs, membership cards, lists, tickets and receipts. The style and condition of the coat should be noted - is it new, old, fashionable, worn, stained, used for a particular activity or trade?

Start to build a profile of the owner - male or female, age, height, weight, possible occupation, married, single. Then begin to add extra information such as hobbies, interests, recent movements, personality, lifestyle.

The lesson works well if the teacher leads the session, asking children to search the pockets in turn and discussing the objects they find. Each object can be interpreted in many ways - there is no right or wrong answer.

Try to encourage the children to think logically and link any predictions about the owner to the objects found in the pockets. After writing their report, you could ask them to draw a picture of how they think the owner of the coat might look.

This is an easy activity to stage. I arranged for the deputy head to pop in during registration and warn them not to approach a man in a black leather jacket who had been seen in the school grounds. Ten minutes later, a child from another class brought in a leather jacket "found" in the playground.

It took quite a while before the children realised it was a set-up, but by that time they were totally immersed in compiling their reports.

As well as developing speaking and listening skills, the children learned about inference and deduction, which come up regularly in comprehension tasks. Discussion about the owner of the coat also touched on citizenship, which can be explored further during circle-time debates.

Giles Hughes, arts co-ordinator, Colmore Junior School, Birmingham

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