Fine young cannibals

25th September 1998 at 01:00
'The Three Little Pigs' is a great basis for technology sessions, writes Peter Graham

It is an epic story of cunning, bravery and determination. The Three Little Pigs has, over the years, captivated children. The story lends itself to any topic on forces or materials, and can be extended to cover friendship and peer group relationships.

There will always be children who know the story, so opportunities for a lively debate are plenty. The wolf's fate can vary from a dip in the cooking pot to an offer of friendship, which provides flexibility and guidance for a design and technology lesson.

My lesson - for eight to nine-year-olds - started with the story, and a discussion soon followed between those who believed the piggies deserved better and those who wanted to join the Wolf Protection League.

The children's task was to design, build and test the strength of a house made of straw. Much of the groundwork had been covered earlier. Previous lessons had concentrated on vocabulary, and the children's experience of drawing diagrams and sketch maps, labelling and working on two and three-dimensional knowledge increased their confidence.

Grouped into pairs, the children wasted no time in identifying two of my assessment criteria. They were to identify a need for their particular design and work out how this could be met. In other words, or rather in their words, how could they prevent a glut of "piggy sausages" or "wolf stew"?

The array of designs and the co-operative nature of the work was impressive - it obviously helped to group together children subscribing to the relevant "protection league". Words flowed freely, so much so that somebody mistakenly used the word "cannibal" when describing the wolf's eating habits. A strong believer in spontaneity, I threw a question to the class. "What is a cannibal?" A long pause ended when one of the children, deadly serious, replied: "Somebody who repairs cars."

While I was still trying to work out the connection, the children planned and made their model straw houses. Straw is not the easiest material to work with, but ingenious attempts were made using Plasticine, string, glue and tape.

The children knew each design would be tested for strength with a hair drier, but the idea of a fair test seemed difficult to grasp as the straw started to fly in all directions. Fortunately, all the models remained standing, and the subsequent discussion and written evaluation carried out by each child allowed them to reflect on their original ideas and to suggest improvements.

It wasn't until I got home that I worked out a possible cannibal connection - maybe cannibal equals mechanical and mechanical equals mechanic?

The lesson gave the children a chance to use new skills, expand vocabulary and evaluate tangible products, and provided me with plenty of assessment opportunities, curriculum coverage and spontaneity.

It also produced a lot of laughter and fun, which, after all, is a precious ingredient in teaching.

Peter Graham teaches at the German and English-speaking Charles Dickens primary school in Berlin

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