It is a rare moment in the classroom. All the children have their heads down, apparently absorbed in reading. It's so quiet you could hear a pin drop.
Then, six seconds before the minute is up, the door bursts open and Jessica storms into the classroom. Her face is pale and her eyes are wide with terror. She looks as if she might have seen a ghost. As things turn out, she has encountered something much more substantial - that is, if we can believe her.
I assume a severe demeanour and in my best teacher voice say: "Jessica? How dare you come to school at this time? You are one hour and 15 minutes late! I hope you have a very good excuse."
We are playing Liar, Liar. It's a good literacy starter activity when you want children to do some imaginative storytelling. A child is selected to leave the room and is given one minute to think of an outrageous excuse for being late. On their return, the children will ask questions and decide whether or not the student is a good liar.
Jessica composes herself, takes a deep breath and begins her tale. It's all about a large African elephant that somehow got into her bathroom and prevented her from getting ready for school on time. The class listens with growing incredulity. Some children make notes for future reference.
"Sounds plausible to me," I say, when she finishes, "but let's see what your classmates think." Children are clearly more difficult to convince than teachers, and so begins a fervent judicial process. Jessica acquits herself well, but the result seems a foregone conclusion.
At last it's up to me to summarise. "So what you're telling us, Jessica, is that an elephant answering to the name Big Ears escaped from a zoo in the south of England, hitched a lift up north on the back of a motorbike, sneaked into your house through the cat flap, tiptoed upstairs to the bathroom and climbed into the laundry basket, where you discovered him this morning hiding under a pair of your dad's underpants."
For some reason, the word "underpants" causes hysterical laughter and I have to wait to continue.
"So, what do we think of Jessica's excuse for being late for school?" I ask.
Immediately there is a resounding chorus of: "Liar, liar, your bum's on fire, your nose is longer than a telephone wire."
I, however, am more conciliatory. "Well done, Jessica," I say. "I might use that one myself the next time I'm late for a meeting."
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