English - It's a kind of magic

31st August 2012 at 01:00
Uncover the wizardry of bossy verbs and clear sentences

"Now, cheeldren," I say in my best Eastern European accent. "Ze great Eddisano, international man of mystery and illusionist extraordinaire, is ready to saw in 'alf his beautiful asseestant." I raise my 22-inch, heavy-duty handsaw above my head and flex it dramatically. Sunlight glints off teeth that are honed to razor sharpness. Mrs Bellamy (aka my assistant) is beginning to look nervous. I grin reassuringly but add: "Cheeldren, do not under any circumstances try zis trick at home."

A dramatic drum roll of thigh slaps is cut short by several heated whispers. It appears my assistant is not half the woman I took her for: at least not yet. And before subjecting herself to possible dissection, she would like positive proof that she won't suffer any physical damage. Oh ye of little faith, Mrs Bellamy.

OK, this is how to "model" sawing a lady in half. First, slide a scaled-down cardboard cut-out of the lady inside a sealed envelope that has had both ends removed. Second, make sure that her head sticks out at one end and her feet stick out the other. Next take a pair of scissors and slowly cut the envelope in half. Finally separate the two halves of the envelope to reveal that the lady is totally unharmed. Bow gracefully and accept the tumultuous applause of your adoring public.

There is no mystery about the fact that magic tricks engage children. And trying to figure out how they are done in a practical way is great for getting them thinking. This is why I gave my children a few envelopes, a strip of card to be fashioned into a beautiful assistant and some Sellotape for carrying out emergency surgical procedures. The task kept them totally absorbed for, well, at least 15 minutes, which in eight-year-old terms is almost forever.

When frustration finally set in and the death toll of beautiful assistants began to mount, I decided it was time to introduce the children to some real magic: that of writing clear instructions.

"Now, cheeldren, ze great Eddisano would like to reveal to you the mesmerising power of the clear list of materials and equipment, the subtle sorcery of putting every step in the right order, the wizardry of the bossy verb and the mystical art of the short, clear sentence."

The great Eddisano then demonstrated step by step (in words and in actions) how to apparently cut a beautiful assistant in half without actually doing so. A mystery that is available to all by visiting magic.about.com.

"Are you going to saw Mrs Bellamy in half now, Mr Eddisano?" asks Ryan.

"Of course," I reply, retrieving my 22-inch heavy-duty handsaw from the top of the big cupboard. "Mrs Bellamy? Mrs Bellamy? Whoops, I seem to have made her disappear instead."

Steve Eddison is a key stage 2 teacher at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield. Other "magic" tricks for children can be found at magic.about.com. Resources for instruction texts can be found at bbc.inRvBxRO

What else?

Try TESEnglish's scheme of work and resource pack to get Year 7s started with instructional writing.

Check out the Instructional Writing collection on the TES website for primary resources.

In the forums

Where do you store textbooks? Can you offer any advice to an NQT who is short of storage space in her new classroom?

Find all links and resources at www.tes.co.ukresources050.

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