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Jools, abba gd day, c u on blcny, luv romeo x

Teaching shakespeare to teenagers can be demanding at the best of times.

But Mike Kivi has brought the Bard to teenagers in a North Wales pupil referral unit who would not otherwise have read his works - thanks to predictive text.

A poet and teacher, Mr Kivi has been a part-time English teacher at Rhyl's Project 11 unit, part of Denbighshire's support services for young people, for three years.

During that time, the 64-year-old has discovered how to communicate to 40 teenagers in their own language.

In one lesson, four pupils are searching for words from one of the songs playing on the CD hidden in a word square. On the walls are lyrics from reggae legend Bob Marley's 'Stand Up For Your Rights'.

"Whatever I'm trying to get at, the first thing I do is a word search because it doesn't have the inhibition of spelling or punctuation," Mr Kivi says.

"Most of our pupils have reading problems and have cut off from books altogether. With Shakespeare, I show them Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet film with the subtitles and not the sound, so they have to read.

"I then give them a chunk like the balcony scene to translate into SMS and they enjoy that."

Mr Kivi retired in 1999 after teaching in some of Liverpool's most socially deprived areas, but then found he could not write poetry without the stimulus of the children. He decided to go back part-time, even after he had a heart operation.

He constantly refers to cultural references that his pupils understand such as Catherine Tate, films, music, text and their own conversation, which is allowed to flow. Rather than ask them to read a poem and comment on it, he asks questions first.

"They like to know what they're reading, so I give them questions in time order so they know where to look in the text," he says. "With a bit of luck, halfway through they get into the rhythm."

Just two of his pupils are studying for GCSE English; most are taking an entry-level certificate.

"This is a behaviour unit. That's what it's all about, the academic work is additional," he says. "We're not looking for exam results but real skills, enabling them to work and speak together, or with adults, in a mature way.

"Most of these children rejected mainstream education by the age of 11.

Here it is a social situation."

Mr Kivi, author of dozens of books of poetry for children and teenagers, says he can identify with his pupils.

"I had a bad secondary school experience in Liverpool. I was bottom of the top class for five years. The teaching was very formal and my school report was atrocious.

"I know what works because I was a sarcastic and cynical teenager myself,"

he says.

* www.mikekivi.com

RnJ O Romeo, Romeo!

Whr4 art thou Romeo?

Deny thy fathR refUz thy nAm; o, f thou wilt not, b bt sworn my luv, Ill n longer b a Capulet Tis bt thy nAm dat iz my nME; Thou art thyself, tho, not a Montague.

wot's Montague? it iz nor h, nor f%t, Nor arm, nor fAc, nor NE othR pRt Belonging 2 a man. O, b som othR nAm!

wot's n a nAm? dat whch we caL a rOz By NE othR nAm wud smeL az swEt; So Romeo wud, wer he not Romeo calld, Retain dat dEr perfection whch he owz wo dat title. Romeo, doff dy nAm, 4 dat nAm whch iz n pRt of thee tAk aL myself.

Luv u.

Jools xx

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