Assembly point - Hammer home the message

28th November 2008 at 00:00
A collection of `items of pleasure' may appear to be the basis of a funny assembly, but not everything is what it seems, as Jack Williams explains

It was an assembly involving an umbrella, a hammer, a baseball bat and a can of Carlsberg lager, which months later was being described by one of my sixth form students as "mint".

Why? "Because you gave us a new catchphrase," he said. I realised then that in these days of celebrity culture and diminishing attention spans that getting back to basics seems to work.

Teachers use methods that simplify their message and engage individual pupils in almost every lesson, but I had never quite put these into effect in an assembly, assuming that a loftier tone was needed.

I turned to my eclectic mix of props for this particular assembly. My premise was that these were "items of pleasure" - to keep the rain off, knock in nails to hang, in my case, a cuckoo clock in my house, for playing sport and, obviously, for drinking.

As I introduced each prop I embellished its usefulness, repeating: "This is an item of pleasure" with pauses for effect and the accompanying laughter.

Then I turned the message on its head by reintroducing each article as "an item of evil" explaining the use of baseball bats as gang weapons and alcohol-fuelled aggression.

I remember the silence in the hall - particularly when I exposed the hammer as one of the most popular weapons of choice in cases of domestic violence.

Repeating phrases, pauses and juxtaposition are staples to us in the classroom so why not in an assembly?

My account of the Carlsberg Foundation's charitable works and its position as one of the most philanthropic organisations in Europe came as a surprise to them, another example of throwing them off guard.

By the time I came to the message even some of the most apathetic pupils were ready to hear it: "The man who made the hammer doesn't know what its use might be. He doesn't come along with his creation to help knock nails in just as teachers don't know what use their teachings will be put to. They will not be there in the exam room to help."

I may only have reached one or two in the audience, but that is probably one or two more than usual.

But how evil is an umbrella? One of the most important basics is to leave your audience with something to think about

Jack Williams is deputy head of Hillcrest Grammar School in Stockport.

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