Send shivers down your pupils' spines and you could inspire an excited rush to the bookshelves, as GP Taylor reveals. For each of the past three years I have spent three months visiting schools across the UK promoting reading and creative writing. Apart from being asked to leave a school for saying the word "fart" to a group of 14- year-olds, things have always gone well.
But in October 2006, I was confronted by a class of bored, distracted primary pupils. In the previous five weeks I had visited almost 100 schools, but for some reason my usual routine wasn't working. I realised that I had to do something quickly. Then it came to me - ghosts.
From telling them about plot and character, I suddenly asked the group if they liked ghost stories. Every hand shot into the air.
I began slowly, thinking on my feet as I made up the story. The atmosphere in the room changed as they listened intently. Two girls gleefully gripped each other's arm, while the boy next to them grinned, hoping to be thrilled even more.
Even in my own mind, the library became a dank old house, the home of an old lady with a toothless cat. When a spectral nocturnal visitor stamped across the ceiling above us with a loud bang, 200 children leapt into the air. The scream rang out down the corridor, quickly followed by rapturous laughter.
In the hour that followed, two more tales of the supernatural came to life. Good always conquered evil and fears were laid to rest. Outlines for stories unfolded and pupils even told stories of their own to the rest of the class. Intertwined with the story-telling was the message about the wonder of reading. I realised that I had found something that children were interested in regardless of their age, gender or cultural background.
Soon the stories became more structured and elaborate. They looked at legends and myths, and borrowed characters from Shakespeare. They tread the line of being thrilling without becoming too scary. I always emphasise the great thread of spookiness in classic English literature from CS Lewis to Dickens and Tolkein, and I now try and research the folklore of the area I'm visiting, in order to give it an interesting local feel.
It seems to be a recipe for success. The only complaint from pupils is that the stories are not scary enough, but a teacher in Romsey once jumped in her seat and threw her clipboard in the air at the pinnacle of a ghostly thrill.
Somehow stories that thrill prick a part of the child's imagination that inspires them to read. Oral storytelling is a part of our culture and, with practice, teachers can easily incorporate it into their English lessons. It will capture the imagination of even the most reluctant readers
GP Taylor was an Anglican priest before becoming an author. www.gptaylor.info
Tips for storytelling
- Convert a story from classical literature, such as an abridged version of A Christmas Carol.
- Ensure the story is age-appropriate. The aim of the session is to enthuse pupils, not to terrify.
- Disperse the tension with laughter.
- Include local interest. Every town has a ghost story and one school I visited had haunted toilets. I called it The Phantom Flusher. Local legends can always be followed up as a class project.
- Rehearse before you start, including the art of the silent pause or hushed breath.
- The National Literacy Trust's list of recommended local storytellers is available at www.literacytrust.org.ukrifpro jectzoneresourcesEvents.htm.
The TES Magazine is asking readers to come up with their own ghost story, with the chance to have your work published in the magazine, and add a touch of sparkle to your Christmas. Send in your short story - of no more than 1,500 words - to firstname.lastname@example.org to reach us no later than Friday, November 30. The best entry, as chosen by our judges, will be published in our special Christmas edition on December 21, and the winning author will also receive half a dozen bottles of champagne.