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Coded communication

Add interest to any topic by putting work for students into code, using the wingdings on Word. I have used this from Year 7 to sixth-form and on topics ranging from chemical reactions to cities in the developing world.

This example is the beginning of a letter from Brian, who has gone to work for Oxfam in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and is writing to his friend Keith about conditions in the favelas (shanty town). The information Brian gives can be anything the teacher wishes students to know about life in the favelas.

Students are told who the letter is from, who it's to and the general content, then left to work it out, or more help could be given. Even with the barest information we can work out the common letters e, a, r, i, t and h. We know some letters will be capitals - D and K - and that the "mailbox wingding" is punctuation.

Double or triple-space lines so students can translate the letters under each line. Tell them some words can be split by the code. For example the word "working" at the end of a line may be split into "wor" on one line and "king" on the next.

For younger students all the symbols can be given while for older students only a limited number need be given so they have to use their reasoning to add the unknown letters. A carefully chosen heading can give most or all of the letters needed and some thought can be given to English and grammar.

For example discuss e's role as the most commonly used letter in the alphabet, punctuation as part of the language, or "ing" being a common ending. Code can be used in language lessons too.

Adrian Chapman, former head of humanities, Blatchington Mill School, East Sussex

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