Bestworst lesson

18th April 2008 at 01:00
Best - My best lesson occurred during the time I spent as a young English teacher at Blantyre High School in Glasgow. The group was Year 9 and the idea was for them to produce a front page story about an imaginary robbery. I began the lesson by telling them I was a bank teller from a local bank that had just been robbed. The pupils were journalists from a local newspaper and they had 10 minutes to make up a list of questions to ask me. For the rest of the session, I ad libbed answers to the questions they posed.

The picture that emerged was of three robbers in ski masks and dungarees who were armed with sawn-off shotguns.

The question session went well and was followed by two further periods devoted to fact gathering. The class was divided into pairs to role-play journalists and witnesses outside the bank. Police press releases were then written on the chalk board.

There were only a few computers in the school at that time so the reports were drafted in pencil in jotters and then redrafted on A4 paper. The pupils took great care over their final copies, making them up in the style of a newspaper front page. The finished articles were displayed with pride on classroom walls.

Worst - My worst was the same lesson. Three weeks after the question session had taken place the local bank was robbed. Not only this, but the details bore an amazing resemblance to the story of my imagined robbery - three men in ski masks and dungarees who were armed with sawn-off shotguns.

For a little while I feared that I had inadvertently sown seeds in the minds of my young charges and given them the idea of robbing a bank. Was my teaching career about to end in ignominy? Was I to be identified as a Fagin-type corrupter of young minds? Thankfully it was all a coincidence and I have since used and refined the bank robbery lesson without incident.

Of course, nowadays my classes are able to use ICT packages that allow them to produce realistic newspapers. This means that the final articles are even more spectacular than they were the first time I taught the lesson. But the benefits of the lesson remain the same. Key skills such as talking, listening and writing are covered naturally as the project progresses. Furthermore, the pupils think they are skiving the whole time, when all along they are working hard

Peter Reid is head of Broxburn Academy in West Lothian.

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