Global creativity for control freaks

20th January 2006 at 00:00
Peter Greaves shows how teachers can let go without losing it. This week: Fish jelly anyone?

As I watched my daughter down a bowl of sugar-laden wobbly stuff at a birthday party the other day, I was forced to ponder the question: "What is the point of jelly?" The answer is absolutely none at all, it's just fun! Jelly makes it fun for kids to have tea by wobbling around and being different. Every now and then, our classrooms can use some learning jelly to bring a different texture to lessons.

If you have seen or read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy you will know of the Babel fish. Space travellers place it in the ear, where it translates any language heard into the wearer's own. In this way, no one ever has to learn another language because everyone can understand each other anyway. Now before you use this as a creative writing stimulus, let me explain how the Babel fish has become a sort of virtual reality. is a very simple web page which allows you to enter text in English and then choose - from a drop down menu - which language you would like it instantly translated into. It works with single words, short sentences or even blocks of text up to 150 words. This obviously has some serious uses. If you have links with schools abroad it allows pupils to communicate with them in their own language. Since it does a reverse translation service too, those schools could also communicate in their own language, which might be nice for them since dialogue usually relies more on their mastery of English, than your knowledge of Greek.

Otherwise, however, the webpage is just a lot of fun! I enjoyed seeing what "Please pick up your book bags and put them on the pegs" looked like in Italian. You should see how long it is in German! I tried out some of my long forgotten school French, seeing how accurate I was as what I had typed was translated into English gibberish. I was quickly convinced that this was something the pupils would have fun with, and they did. It didn't matter that they couldn't pronounce all the words or that they pronounced them wrong, they just enjoyed words and language for a few minutes, slurping them up and savouring how they felt in the mouth. Most gradually refined their translating until they found a word in one language that satisfied them. At that point, they did the equivalent of putting their spoon down, having had enough. The word stuck though and it's common for someone about to go out to play or tidying up the room, to show off a word they know.

Don't try and give jelly a purpose. In the same way, don't feel the need to crowbar educational objectives into this activity. Let the class do with it what you did with it and watch as they "slurp" and smile.

Peter Greaves teaches at Dovelands Primary School in Leicester Email:

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