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English - Raise a cap to creativity

Engage their imaginations with the help of a simple prop

Engage their imaginations with the help of a simple prop

The humble hat has been an integral part of literature since its inception. Hats can transform the course of a narrative, from Beowulf's boar-tusk-encrusted helmet, designed to strike fear into the enemy, to the sorting hat that sets the destiny of a young, untried wizard in motion in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Some literary hats become so famous that they do for hats what Hoover did for vacuum cleaners - most people wouldn't think of the Sherlock Holmes hat as a "deerstalker". Other hats spawn new literary expressions such as "mad as a hatter".

Hats can tell you a lot about a person and, as a physical prop in the classroom, they are invaluable.

Give each pupil in a class a large (preferably A2) piece of paper in different colours and get them to make a hat, which they should then put on. Ask them to "assume the personality" of the hat and write something - a diary entry works well - in the first person. As an exercise, this is effective in moving pupils away from the purely physical look of the character to the more subtle idea of personality.

The physical act of wearing a hat can in itself be revealing. Use this in creative writing to show how clothes and actions reflect or reinforce personality. A hat is also a good aid to role play; it adds a layer of protection to the pupil performing (much like Jack's mask in Lord of the Flies), but also reminds the audience and other participants that this is an activity that requires sustained characterisation.

Finally, a more analytical use for hats. The de Bono Group's Six Thinking Hats can offer a remarkably useful structure for writing analytical and persuasive essays. The crucial part of this is that the pupils get to make and wear the hats as they learn to use them.

And so concludes a hat-trick of ideas on how you can make your teaching less old hat. The point is that hats, or any other kind of prop or stimulus, can give pupils the opportunity to be more focused and engaged in a less inhibited way. These resources offer a simple, kinaesthetic and creative approach to learning that pupils enjoy.

Adam Webster teaches English at an independent school in Surrey and blogs on creativity and innovation in education


Want to make a paper hat? Follow Instructables' guidelines.

For a Macbeth activity making use of the de Bono technique, try AsaAnne's thinking questions. If you are new to de Bono, hainesd offers a simple explanation of the Six Thinking Hats technique.

Who killed Roderick Hunter? Stimulate speaking and listening with a murder mystery from Temperance.

Use ClaireOCallaghan's "Create A Box" improvisation activity to create props within pupils' imaginations.


In TES English forum teachers are looking at ways to spice up their lessons. How can you make reading a play in class more exciting? And how can music be used effectively in lessons? Share your ideas.

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