Creativity for control freaks

5th May 2006 at 01:00
Peter Greaves shows how teachers can let go without losing it. This week: Desert Island Desks If we found ourselves on Desert Island Discs, we would have to imagine that we were stranded in solitude with nothing but our favourite music, a great book and a luxury of our own choosing. Instead of blessed isolation, let's imagine that as you are washed up on this sandy beach, you are greeted by 30 children whose last teacher made a raft out of their desks and sailed away. Instead of choosing 10 tracks, you have to choose 10 teaching tools to teach this class. Let's imagine that furniture, stationery and stock needs were met - this is fantasy! What would you choose?

First into my fantasy plastic crate would be the Mr Men books. As a collection they have a power that is truly greater than the sum of each individual tale. The stories are incredibly simple, but fantastical enough to keep a reader of any ability interested. The plot can be understood and followed by a new decoder, the clever characterisation appreciated by a more able reader. Just as appealing are the illustrations. Like the text, these are both clever and simple, meaning that weaker artists can copy with confidence, while more able drawers can improvise and impress. There are loads of them, particularly if you throw in the Little Miss stories too, so pupils can always seem to find new ones alongside their old favourites. Did I mention that they are incredibly cheap, and even cheaper secondhand?

"All very well," I hear you cry, "but what are you actually going to use them for in your desert classroom?" There are all the obvious things in literacy - adjectives, simple beginningmiddleend structures, characterisation etc, but I find that the simple appeal of the books makes them an excellent launch pad for quality discussions in a whole number of directions. The way Mr Happy looks after Mr Quiet by finding him a job in a library helped us think about how we cared for others. The Wizard's magic intervention in Mr Tickle's life made us think about having fun at others'

expense. We can talk about Mr Rude not being welcome in our classroom and what to do if you suddenly feel like Mr Muddle.

Give it a try. Gather a few together and ask who would like a look. Hands will go up in every corner and pleasure will follow. Without wanting to go too deep, the pupils recognise themselves in these characters and, as a teacher, I see them too. Any class teacher could match their pupils to the book titles in a matter of moments.

There are plenty of other good series. I'm finding Secret 7 books are coming back into favour for older readers and increasingly it seems, fiction for older primary pupils develops into sequel after sequel. I reckon though, no matter which beach I landed on, with the Mr Men books, I'd be Mr Happy.

Peter Greaves teaches at Dovelands Primary School in Leicester Email: primary@tes.co.uk

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