Creativity for control freaks

15th October 2004 at 01:00
Peter Greaves shows how teachers can let go without losing it. This week: Keeping in line

You know how pets are meant to look like their owners? I'm developing a theory that classes line up like their teachers. You get the scruffy rabble, the long and straggly, the silent but deadly. Younger children in particular seem to be able to morph their faces to replicate the look they are being given by an eyebrow-raised teacher at the front of the line, index finger attached to lip.

So how about a creative teacher? How can my line reflect what my teaching is about? Lining up and moving around is probably one of the most paranoid elements of my teaching. I know that if visitors to the school see my pupils moving around in a noisy and disorganised way, they make a judgment about the teacher that I am.

Because of this, I "manage" the line. I make sure that Sam will not end up standing next to Sohail and that neither of them will be able to spend any time playing with Rachael's hair. When you add together assemblies, breaks, lunchtimes, PE and ICT times, we spend a lot of time as a class getting organised. It seems a shame to just line up each time.

I started by getting them to line up in register order. The first time took ages and I had to abandon it, but next time I allowed for the fuss and we discussed family names, alphabetical order, and how you can politely suggest that you need to squeeze, rather than just hurl yourself, in. We then moved on to reverse register order which helped us identify who was in the middle of the register, because the person in front was now behind and vice versa. Now it's quite slick and one of the first things pupils explain to new ones.

I'm now experimenting with different ways of lining up. We've tried age, shoe size, socks in rainbow order, alphabetical first names, and longest to shortest little finger, although we did all have to stop and admire Lewis's double joints that made us all a little queasy. There are endless possibilities, including curriculum links. Many of the National Literacy Strategy's phonics in practice games and the numeracy strategy's oral mental maths starters involve pupils ordering themselves. Asking pupils, for example, to add the number of letters in their first name to the number in their second name could then lead them to lining up in total order.

Of course Sam, Sohail and Rachael are all wearing the same coloured socks.

As I beckon Sam to join me at the front with a smile, he grins and I have a moment that perfectly encapsulates creative control freakery. I am also smiling because I realise that lining up tomorrow from shortest to longest hair could not put them further apart.

Peter Greaves teaches at Dovelands Primary School in Leicester. Write to

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