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A right royal choice

Pupils can develop thinking skills by looking for answers in a story, says Crispin Andrews

"What's going on, then?" said Daryll, looking up from the packet of crisps and can of drink he'd just finished wolfing down.

"Search me," shrugged Sophie. Staring out of the window at next door's cat chasing butterflies in the garden, Darryl's sister hadn't been paying attention to the film either.

Accessing a story, whether visual or written, means thinking. At a basic level this could simply mean recalling what has happened, whereas more advanced skills, like the observation of "hidden" occurrences and the piecing together of key facts, can be used to predict future events.

The Norse myth "Odin Faces an Evil Man" is ideal for developing thinking skills. To help defend the Earth from the Giants of Jottenheim, divine royals Odin and Frigga train two young princes in the ways of kings and heroes. While Odin helps the boy Geirrod to develop his strength, speed, cunning and bravery, Frigga nurtures wisdom and compassion in the elder brother, Agnar. The big question is: who will make the better king? In the second part of the story, we find out.

Here are opportunities for children to learn how to enquire, process information and reason all in one. First, present data from the story.

Start with Geirrod and Agnar's remarks as they are about to leave the island for home. While Agnar thanks Odin and Frigga, and promises to strive to do his best to fight the battle for the Gods, Geirrod, convinced that he will be a hero, bemoans the fact that his elder brother blocks his way to the throne.

Ask questions to aid deduction and, from this, prediction. What do the responses of the two princes tell us about their respective characters? Some might observe Geirrod's impatience and contrast it unfavourably with Agnar's calmness and modesty. Others might see Geirrod's greater strength and determination as important in any future battle against the giants.

Ask what will happen next, to turn around the interrelated thinking process and move the focus on to the next part of the story. Children need to locate, sequence and compare relevant information and, from that, infer, to reach a conclusion. What do we know about Agnar and Geirrod and their motivations? What are their states of mind as they set out for home? Predict the outcome.

Now begin again with an opinion or piece of reasoning. Odin and Frigga each favour a different prince. Ask the class to vote for the best candidate and then get each to ask someone on the other side either to justify their opinion or define a situation where their favoured prince might show himself to be a good king. To do this, the children will need to locate relevant information in the text. Again, the interrelated thinking process - enquire, process information, reason - resolves.

There is a twist in the tale. Years later, Odin visits the realm of King Geirrod. He is confronted with new evidence about the characters of both princes, realises that his original opinions were flawed - and takes terrible action to put the situation right.

l 'Odin Faces an Evil Man' appears in The Children of Odin by Padraic Colum and Willy Pogany. An online version can be found at: www.sacred-texts.comneuicecoocoo12.htm

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