1666 and all that

7th December 2007 at 00:00
From stick-on boils to fake blood, teachers are getting pupils in the moment and making English memorable, says Hannah Frankel.It may be writing week at Christchurch Primary School in Ilford, Essex, but these seven-year-old pupils are yet to put pen to paper. Instead, they are exploring their own makeshift tunnel created in the classroom, complete with sound effects, pictures on the whiteboard and darkened windows.

They are working on Anthony Browne's The Tunnel, but rather than reading, discussing and writing about the book, teachers are encouraged to "put children in the moment" well before putting pen to paper.

"Learning needs to be as fun as humanly possible," says Georgie Jones, lead literacy co-ordinator, "so we go to a lot of effort to include the visual, audio and kinaesthetic in everything we do."

The subsequent lessons are as diverse as they are creative. Seven-year-olds studying the Great Plague and the Fire of London relished stick-on boils and fake blood.

Circus performers have taught tricks such as plate throwing to inspire instruction writing, constructing a persuasive argument (for and against the use of circus animals) and creating promotional posters.

"We try to start any writing with the most interesting, inspirational stimulus we can think of," says Georgie. "We're a multi-cultural school with lots of languages, so we use a range of sources."

Although almost 93 per cent of pupils speak English as an additional language, they achieve well above the national average. This year, 97 per cent of 11-year-olds gained level 4 or above in English, compared with 80 per cent overall, while 26 per cent of Christchurch's seven-year-olds got level 3 in writing - double the national average.

In March, Ofsted praised Christchurch for its "outstanding" English, with writing described as "particularly effective".

"Lessons in English are vibrant and exciting," it says. "The teaching was outstanding, with an overwhelming sense of fun and adventure."

Writing targets can be met through a clear whole-school initiative, focused and supportive senior management team and high but realistic expectations, argues Georgie.

"It can take time to plan, but because of its cross-curricular links, a vivid experience centred around the Fire of London will cover history, drama and literacy in one go," she says. "It is well worth the extra effort."

Writing also has to have a purpose, she adds. Some pupils spent a week creating a newspaper, which was displayed in the new library.

"It gives pupils confidence to see their work on display and being celebrated," says Kevin Baskill, headteacher.

"Our approach to literacy is all about enjoyment. If they enjoy it and believe they can do it, they achieve staggering results."


Book: The Boyhood of Burglar Bill by Allan Ahlberg, Puffin, pound;8.99. You don't need to like football to enjoy this generous book, even though a local cup competition provides the plot, nostalgically set in 1953. You only need to be - or have been - a nine-year-old.

Resource: Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by TS Eliot, HarperCollins Audio, pound;10.99. Sir John Gielgud and Irene Worth bring Eliot's classic felines to life, relishing the knockabout rhymes, the jokes and puns and the mock-heroic adventures that involve everything from train journeys to outrageous crimes.

Website www.bbc.co.ukschoolradio teachersnotes. The notes for First Steps in Drama provide dozens of ideas for stories set in a variety of times and places.

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