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Bill Hicks takes a weekly look at the hot topics in the TES chatrooms

One minute teachers on the TES forums ( staffroom)are discussing matters of high pedagogical import, the next they're comparing notes on preferred sandwich fillings, slagging off last night's TV, or arguing about appropriate haircuts for male primary teachers.

In fact, it's surprising just how close to the classroom most of the thousands of postings we receive each week remain.

For example, one midnight, in the middle of the holidays, a group of teachers are swapping ideas for ability group names. An NQT starting with her first Year 1 class in September wants some more inspiring labels than the usual colours.

Suggestions flood in: fruits, flowers, superheroes, autumnal things, sea creatures, Viking gods, birds of prey. One teacher goes for the international phonetic alphabet - Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta - and explains: "Teacher is base. I can 'radio' across my class to each group.

They can be paramedics, soldiers, radio hams, police, ambulance drivers, and explorers in their minds. It leads to great discussion for infill times."

Polygons seem to be favoured for numeracy groups. As someone helpfully points out, these work because "the more sides a shape has, the higher the group - eg, circles are your 'intellectually challenged' little treasures, then triangles, squares and pentagons could be your little bright sparks.

"It's a subtle way of you knowing which group needs which work, without the children realising." Subtle? How long before one of the "little bright sparks" works out the system and starts baiting the circle group?

A cynical poster suggests going for "a little reality" and calling them "Drongos, Spanners, Capable and Smartarses".

Then again, almost anything you call groups will have some latent and particularly insulting hierarchy. One person likes to link group names to topic work, so that when you do "castles" you might call groups "jesters, knights, noblemen, soldiers, and servants". Looking forward to parents' evening? It's back to colours then.

Reading the TES forums always makes me hungry, so I'll end with our student teachers' symposium on sandwich fillings. The cold Spanish omelette sandwich sounds good - preferable at least to cold fish fingers with vinegar. And if that's not enough to put you off your dinner, digest this:

"One of the teachers at my new school likes to eat chocolate Minstrel sandwiches. It was one of the things that made me realise this would be the right school for me. Teachers!"

Bill Hicks is editor of the TES website

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