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Smooth operators

Once a year our school's assembly hall is turned into a buzzing scene of activity as teams compete in our technology competition.

Teams of pupils from different Year groups are given engineering challenges. This year they had to design a remote-controlled buggy to transport a beaker of water across a bumpy course without spilling it. The buggies were based on battery-driven cars and the course was modelled from chicken wire and papier mache.

After a briefing session, pupils had two hours to design, build and test their buggies. They discussed ideas with each other, drew designs and tried things out. Each team had a minimal kit of materials - scraps of card, lolly sticks, rubber bands and a small set of tools.

Most teams lost points because their buggies were rigid and spilt water, but the best teams overcame this with devices that absorbed the buggie's tilting and jolting.

Each year I invite a guest designer or engineer to judge the competition and this year it was John Dominey, one of my star former students who now works for the government. The judge checks that the buggies fulfil the brief and gives scores for ingenuity, sound construction and reliability.

We then have a short awards ceremony, when everyone is presented with a certificate for taking part and the captain of the winning team collects a trophy.

Simon Smith, head of design technology, Colfe's School, Greenwich, London Business board tuck in Every Monday at our small rural school starts with a board meeting, which I chair. The 12 Year 3 children run a weekly tuck shop, open to the whole school, including staff and parent helpers. I suggested the idea as a way to enable children to experience real buying and selling. The tuck board is divided into three committees, each with an adult helper: la finance committee, which is responsible for paying for stock, sorting out change, counting floats and totalling the takings at the end of the day; la procurement committee, which is responsible for working out what stock is needed, deciding whether to cut prices, working out a unit cost and making sure all sale points have the full range of stock; la buildings and marketing committee, which sets the shop up and clears away each week, and makes price labels and posters.

The items for sale are all healthy snacks and cost less than 20p. The children have liaised closely with the family of one child who has a nut and egg allergy.

It has been wonderful to see children become more confident in handling money. They have earned the respect of the rest of the school, and at morning play they talk about what they bought, the change they got and any bargains of the week. Even the Reception children get involved, and after our harvest festival in church the Year 4 children who run the sale of harvest produce asked to have the tuck shop open after play just for them because they didn't want to miss out.

I hope that eventually the children will take turns at chairing board meetings and taking minutes, and take over running the committees, including reporting back at the board meeting. I think they have ambitions to run a daily tuck shop.

Sandra Webster, teacher, Wimborne St Giles CE VA First School, Dorset Wild cards, crazy stories I use a pack of index cards with the name of an object or a photograph on them to stimulate pupils' ideas for writing stories. It's an alternative to giving them a title or opening sentence and is especially useful for able writers who need something different.

I try to vary the the objects and photographs between the mundane and the exotic. I have about 150 cards and items include a wristwatch with a cracked glass, a pair of cheap sunglasses, a silk tie with a floral pattern, a penknife, a mutilated class photograph, a tin of brown shoe polish, a library card and a notebook filled with code. Each student chooses two or three cards at random. Each chosen item must then play a significant part in the story they write.

Another way of using this pack is to give pupils random cards while they are writing their story: the idea being to introduce that item into the story as soon as possible.

This has roused the jaded interest of many a class and has led to stories from the horribly contrived to the subtle and clever.

Gareth Evans, teacher, diocese of Victoria Nyanza in Isamilo School, Mwanza, Tanzania True target language I developed this activity with my class of learners from post-GCSE Italian up to bilingual level but it's easily tailored to younger students.

The class simulates the editorial board of a TV Channel which they've named Il Faro d'Italia - the Lighthouse of Italy. Each student is a journalist responsible for looking for news about Italy and reporting it weekly to the rest of the group in the form of a news report covering politics, sports, arts, music or unusual events.

We close the programme with a game called Falso Falso Vero inspired by the English TV game Call my Bluff. Each week, I divide students into groups of three and assign a word or a sentence, which may contain a typical Italian expression. Each team decides who will provide their correct definition and who the misleading ones. The rest of the class are the audience, trying to identify the correct definition. Each member of the audience can ask one question of the panel.

The game creates humour and the choice of definitions gives an insight into cultural differences. It allows every student to speak. Colleagues and I demonstrated the game to much laughter at the prize ceremony when our course won a 2003 European Award for Languages.

Marina Mozzon-McPherson, senior open learning adviser and tutor of Italian, institution-wide language programme, University of Hull Full house for poems To encourage Year 7 and 8 students to look forward to poetry lessons I introduce them to Poetry Bingo. Everyone uses the same poetry book (I like Poems for over 10 Year Olds, chosen by Kit Wright, Young Puffin).

Pupils find the page number of their favourite poem and write the number on the board. When the board is full, it's "eyes down" as I become the caller.

Whoever wrote up the number I call must decide whether to read it out loud themselves, give it to someone else to read, or share the reading.

Another game is to form the class into groups of four to six. Each group member must read aloud a poem they've chosen. I choose one person in each group to say "1, 2, 3" and, on the count of 3, every one points to the poem they liked the best (it can't be their own). Each group must then "perform" their poem to the whole class to decide the overall favourite.

Winning poems can then be toured to other classrooms or displayed on the wall.

Claire Trethewey , head of Year 7, Bury Grammar School (Girls), Bury, Lancashire

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