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Me and my shadow

Bob Jelley talks to Gerald Haigh. Bob Jelley is head of St Giles Middle School, Warwickshire. Always keen on children's writing and books for children, his best lessons invariably come under the general heading of English.

"My real favourite is a straight crib from Sandy Brownjohn. She did a course in Warwickshire some years ago and it changed my English teaching completely, " he says. "The lesson is intended to inspire the children to write about the making of a shadow. What it does really is introduce pupils to the idea of moving from concrete to abstract ideas.

"You start by talking about shadows they might know of - famous ones such as the one in Peter Pan, where the Nurse pulls the window down and cut's Peter's shadow off. There's also an interesting shadow idea in Ursula Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea.

"Then you talk about the quality of shadows, and with luck someone will start to let their imagination go. They might say that a shadow has to be flexible, and it has to be able to grow and shrink quickly - perhaps as you pass a street light.

"It also has to be a good mimic, because it copies everything that you do. The children start with concrete, physical properties - that because it's black for example, it would need to be made from tar or black paper.

"After a while you start to move into more abstract ideas - and someone will say that a shadow is fast moving for example, like the dark breast of a cheetah, or that a shadow is able to change quickly, like a dream. Always, you see, there's this move from the real to the abstract.

"Then when you have these ingredients, you talk about how ingredients are mixed together. You'll ask for words and phrases from recipes - 'weigh in a little ofI' 'fold gently inI' 'a shake ofI' "They do their writing then - 'The making of a shadow' , and perhaps you let them draw silhouettes on black paper and stick them to their work. I'd do this lesson with Year 5 or 6 - perhaps it works best with Year 5.

"Sandy Brownjohn's books and ideas are pure magic. They introduced me, for example, to the idea of teaching children to write in different poetic forms such as haiku, and I find that they really do assimilate these and produce them later when they are able to choose their own forms."

u Sandy Brownjohn's To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme is published by Hodder Stoughton Educational, Pounds 11.99. Her new book of poems for children, Both Sides of the Cat Flap, will be published by Hodder's Children's Books in July.

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