All fired up
The creative curriculum provides opportunities to teach history through literacy, drama and art. At Pear Tree, we chose this approach to learn about the Great Fire of London in 1666.
Pear Tree is a special school in Kirkham, Lancashire, and our pupils, aged from three to 19, have severe learning difficulties.
The whole school took part in a history week on the theme of the Great Fire, with drama workshops over two days.
The story was based on simplified text and digital images on a PowerPoint, with sound effects to represent the fire and a water spray to simulate the attempts to put out the fire. We also used Big Macks, a communication aid with 20 seconds of memory, on which sounds can be recorded and played back when pressed. Some pupils recorded shouts like "Fire!" and "Oh no!", which allowed the sensory pupils who vocalize but do not speak to add voice in the drama.
Pupils worked together as they "read" the story and became familiar with the text. Then they made the props. A bread oven was made out of a cardboard box with brick shapes painted on, while strips of polystyrene were used for burning timber that made up the framework of the houses. Tissue represented the flames.
On the second day, the props were assembled to create Pudding Lane where the Great Fire started. We acted out the story using PowerPoint but this time pupils took turns playing the role of Thomas Farryner, the baker. For the older children, some other drama techniques were introduced: key stage 2 were statues, holding a pose to represent how they would feel if they were running away from the fire; key stage 3 did soundscapes as a whole class event.
Working round the circle we created the sounds that imitated the spark being dropped, the fire taking hold, Thomas Farryner trying to put it out by stamping his feet and then crying "fire" to wake everyone up.
It was powerful drama and afterwards the pupils went back to class and wrote about the story using emergent writing or the school computer. The results were fantastic.
Louise Jackson is assistant headteacher at Pear Tree School in Kirkham, Lancs