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Encouraged to tell tales

Some years ago our Years 5 and 6 were lucky enough to have a series of visits from a storyteller. After she had left, I devised this lesson to give children a method for remembering main events in order to tell a story orally. It has always worked well and since then, it has proved useful in helping pupils to summarise what they have heard or read, to select main points and to plan story writing of their own.

* Children are organised in groups (mixed ability is fine as a scribe can be appointed if necessary).

* Provide lots of small pieces of paper to each group.

* Tell or read a short story - a traditional one is always successful.

* Ask every child to write one thing that happens on one piece of paper. Emphasise that it is only an event you want, not a description.

* Let them carry on putting one event per piece of paper until they have finished or you call time. If all the children can write well enough unaided, work individually and in silence at this point.

* Get the group to arrange the papers in a sensible order, discarding any duplicates and adding any omissions. There will be lots of good discussion here. You'll appreciate the previous silence!

* Check the list as a class to agree the outline. On the first occasion, I make a largeclass plan like a flow diagram and let individuals and groups use it to retell the story in any way they choose. The plan provides the "hooks" for their memory and they are encouraged to add the "frilly bits" themselves to make an interesting version. The least confident have enough prompts to ensure success and everyone can enjoy themselves at their own level.

Most junior classes will enjoy the lesson and with some practice in the method, children can become quite proficient in picking out and ordering key points for a variety of purposes. It is an invaluable study skill, and one which many adults use when preparing to speak publicly. It's only a small step to the little pile of index cards nestling in a handbag or inside pocket!

Carol Ward is former head of English at Linslade Middle School, Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire

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