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Talking and watching

As part of a Year 6 project on classroom talk, we videoed pupils to see how well they followed our "golden rules of talk": listen to each other; build on other people's ideas; be prepared to compromise; don't interrupt; don't think your ideas are the most important.

A group of four, two girls and two boys of similar ability, were asked to make up a story linking four unrelated items (a coin, small mirror, a child's picture in a tiny frame and a jewelled brooch). The children immediately started suggesting ideas about possible connections between them and a story involving time travel, Egyptian sandstorms and lost daughters. One girl dominated the talk, with two others listening and building on her ideas. The other boy was not keen on some of the ideas and, at first, attempted to voice some of his own. Gradually, he leaned back in his chair, folded his arms and made fewer and fewer contributions.

At the end of the lesson the children told the class their story. The collaborators apologised, as they didn't think it was particularly good and the fourth boy simply said: "I told you so."

The video of their discussion was edited to highlight where the "golden rules" were in evidence and where they were not. All four were fascinated.

After some initial embarrassment they added a new rule: look at body language.

Helen Jarvis, headteacher and literacy teacher, Threshfield Primary School, North Yorkshire

Feeling fine

I use these activities to build self-esteem, confidence and relationships in my Year 6 class. The first is a postbox which I leave in a quiet area of the classroom. I encourage the children to write a note to the teacher, outlining any worries about school or home life. I tell them these notes are confidential and they note whether they want a spoken or a written reply. I try to encourage talking.

The notes reveal concerns I might not have noticed and give me the opportunity to talk to each child.

Another idea is "feelings journals". During registration the children spend five minutes recording how they are thinking or feeling that morning - this can be done pictorially or in words. After a quick trawl of these journals I am aware of which children may need sensitive handling that day or a bit of friendly support. It also serves as a written record of their self-esteem or motivation.

Finally, in Year 6 we have SATs. These test children's numeracy, literacy and science - great for those who are good at these things, but not so good if their talents lie in other areas, such as musical or interpersonal skills. So as a whole class, we regularly pair up and write something positive about our partner on a badge or label. This can be anything from being a trustworthy friend to a good trumpet player or athlete. The children then discuss what they have written and share it with the class.

The activity takes approximately 10 minutes, but can wipe away self-doubts among some of the pupils. It is also an opportunity for display and serves to celebrate success for all, not just the ones who are good at numeracy, literacy and science.

John Tilley, Year 6 teacher, Colmore Junior School, Birmingham

Literacy goals met

Helsby High School recently had a successful cross-curricular day centred on a visit by the author E R Reilly. Eamonn Reilly was invited to tell Year 7 pupils about his book One Boy, One Dream, One Club, a story about a talented young man whose dream is to play for Manchester United. He faces the sort of problems faced by teenagers everywhere. The themes throughout the day were football, moral dilemmas and decision-making.

Eamonn started by introducing himself and the story. He gave us background information on himself, how he started writing and where he gets his ideas from. Some pupils then went on to English, where they planned a trailer advertising a possible film of this story, followed by art lessons continuing this work; football skills were then practised in PE.

Another group of pupils did maths first. The resources used are available from Cable Education and are called Maths - Football First. Some pupils carried out investigative or logic-based tasks associated with football, then went on to drama and citizenship. In drama, activities included thinking about how the story continued, with each person in the group taking the role of one of the characters in the book. In citizenship, pupils considered the kinds of decisions which involve a moral dilemma.

The day finished with Eamonn talking about his other books, including two about to be published, and pupils had the opportunity to ask questions about his work.

Carole Sharp, head of maths, Helsby High School, Cheshire

Geography goes gardening

A sustainable garden, designed by our students, will be built at the Chelsea Flower Show in May. It was done mainly with a Year 7 class as part of a geography introductory unit on our area. This project won first prize in a competition organised by Daihatsu in conjunction with the Royal Horticultural Society, but it could be done independently.

We began by looking at continents, countries, our area and finally the school grounds. The task was to redesign the grounds in a sustainable way.

We visited a local wetland centre with a sustainable garden and did internet research, looking at furniture, plants which attract wildlife, and ornamental features. We also looked up local biodiversity action plans.

We then gave students a choice of three sites in the school grounds and discussed criteria for a sustainable garden, including shade, sunlight, and proximity to roads and to the school. They had to choose a site and justify their decision.

They were then given an outline of a hypothetical area on which each had to design a garden with explanations of what the features were and why they were sustainable. A panel of Year 9 students then picked the best features and included some of their own, with some additions.

Then a group from Years 9 and 10, chosen for their artistic ability, drew illustrated plans, and their work was entered for the Daihatsu Green Garden Competition. Among the winning ideas were a tree-like water feature made from recycled car exhausts, a "bug hotel" made from old logs, "bee apartments" in a specially adapted wall made from recycled bricks, a bat house and a hedgehog home.

The students used loads of useful skills along the way, including decision-making, research and justifying their decisions. It encouraged their enthusiasm for other environmental initiatives throughout the school.

Eleanor Smith, Burntwood School, Wandsworth, London

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