Don't do what I did - 'We got wild and wacky with Jabberwocky'

24th April 2009 at 01:00

It was in the early days of my teaching career that I decided my desk-bound and lethargic Year 7 English class on a Friday afternoon might benefit from drama activities over several lessons to help them find their way with Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky.

To explore the narrative of the poem we began by undertaking a standard grammar exercise and prepared by finding all the verbs amid the nonsense verse. The pupils took great delight in finding actions to accompany "whiffling" and "galumphing" and to explore what it might be like to "gyre" and "gimble".

In fact, it was going so well that I thought I would take some time with the pupils to create imaginative pictures of the key characters: the Jabberwock, the Jubjub bird and the Bandersnatch. It was a small step to turn these into life-size masks, and, improvising quickly, we grabbed bamboo canes from the caretaker and attached the masks to the wooden poles so that the pupils could hold them in front of faces as they acted out the nonsense narrative.

But I should have foreseen the chaos that ensued with the poem's references to foes and fighting. As the "vorpal blade" went "snicker-snack", the pupils' bamboo sticks quickly morphed into lethal weapons. After several trips to the medical room and a salvo of stern words, I decided that mime would be the better option and we worked on (non-violent and silent) marionette puppets.

Now whenever I tackle this text I adapt my approach. We still use the drama ideas and lead to a physical retelling of the story, but we use choreographed stage combat techniques and there are definitely no sticks.

Theresa Gooda is co-head of English at Holy Trinity CofE Secondary School in West Sussex.

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