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Punch drunk

Right in the middle of the key stage 1 national curriculum tasks, I found myself demanding that my children talk to me about everything they did. As a Year 2 teacher, I still had to gather information for teacher assessment. The children were no longer allowed to pick up a book without awaiting the same old questions. Who is your favourite character? What will happen next?

There had to be a better way of gaining information from children to match the national curriculum levels in speaking and listening, reading and writing. It was down to me to buy the same Punch and Judy theatre that had been effective for teaching 10 years ago.

For Pounds 17.99 I bought a plastic cuboid box theatre and a set of five puppets. Children were allowed to take it in turns to put on their own show for a small group before presenting it to the whole class. This was timetabled for 11.40 each morning and sometimes again in the afternoon. What amazed me was that every child wanted a go - in fact they would do anything to get inside the box.

We spent the spring term studying traditional tales and fairy tales and this gave the children the setting they needed. The five puppets changed characters from day to day, with no real problem.

The children learnt by their mistakes - they soon found out that they had to speak clearly and loudly. Children are the best audience and soon tell each other if they can't hear.

Their voices changed according to the character they became; at one stage parents could not tell who was playing the puppet. It certainly could not be their child; she was far too shy and quiet to be the big bad wolf!

I learned much from listening to the children and making notes on their ability to re-tell a story.

Children who had found it so hard to produce independent writing were quite happy to write a whole story (usually with a happy ending) just so they could get into the puppet theatre and bring it to life.

It became important to plan their stories because if it didn't have an exciting part or a good ending, the other children would stop listening and start to chat amongst themselves. They were happy to re-draft their original stories because there was a reason for doing it.

The future is full of children's plans. For instance, we will design our own puppets to fit our stories rather than buy more.

We have created a haven - for no more than Pounds 25 - where children can hide away from the realities of life and disappear into a world of fantasy, especially when we are having to put them through the stresses and strains of national curriculum tests.

Rachel Crouch is Year 2 teacher and special needs co-ordinator at St Joseph's RC Primary School, Carterton, Oxfordshire

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