Go ape if you want to swing into literacy

17th September 2010 at 01:00

It is the first lesson in September and my new class has formed a circle on the carpet. They watch me intently, waiting to see what will happen next. Slowly my expression twists into one of acute terror. I thrust my hands out in front of me in a last-ditch attempt to fend off an impending horror. Finally my nerve gives way and I let out an ear piercing scream the like of which has not been heard since a giant gorilla took a shine to Fay Wray in the 1933 version of King Kong.

Twenty-six children - with a few bemused exceptions - respond in identical fashion and my classroom resembles a staff meeting when a visit from Ofsted is announced. I pause for a few seconds then leap into the air, bounce around, scratch my armpits and make chimpanzee noises. Now it looks like someone organised a rave in the primates' enclosure at London Zoo. I pause again, then standing bolt upright I crook my left arm, extend my right arm outwards and upwards, bend sideways from the waist and sing "I'm a little teapot short and stout ..."

Ah, it's times like this when I think teaching is the best job in world. What other profession would tolerate such strange behaviour from a senior practitioner? But before anyone accuses me of wasting valuable learning time by playing silly games on the first day back, don't bother. This is one of my most effective drama activities called "Everybody do what I do".

Drama is the key that opens the door to literacy. For is it not written on my learning wall that "We know and show our characters true, by what and how they say and do"? Before children can write effective character-driven stories, they need to become those characters in a practical way: to speak in their voices and experience their dilemmas.

Ah, but "summer's lease hath all too short a date..." and like those spectacular summer sale deals, a new class is new for a limited period only. And it is easy during that first pupil progress meeting in October (in our school that is when the head and deputy play good copbad cop and slap you around the face) to lose nerve and agree to upwardly revise your attainment targets.

By the second half-term you've structured your English lessons around a programme that involves relentlessly practising sentences which embody any literary device that will allow you to colour in another box on their Assessing Pupils' Progress grids.

This is when the excitement of having a new class fades and a dullness creeps in. Almost unnoticed, laughter and engagement give way to sighing and backchat. Then one afternoon when the clock has slowed to a standstill, it happens; you snap at Ryan who in turn stomps out of class while swearing.

Do not despair. At this moment you should take advantage of the fact that for once you have everyone's undivided attention and assume the pose of a gorilla on the Empire State Building demonstrating his utter annoyance at being shot at.

This will transform the learning process: particularly if you forgot to explain the rules for "Everybody do what I do" first.

Steve Eddison is a KS2 teacher in Sheffield.

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