Have you heard the one about the teacher who cracks jokes to turn pupils on to literacy?

16th March 2007 at 00:00
HOW DID the letter A get to the front of the alphabet? He had a pushy mother.

Funnily enough, that line may not be sanctioned by Jim Rose, the Government's primary adviser, but Ian Billings maintains that his literacy-based jokes are an effective tool for teaching primary pupils to read and write properly.

Mr Billings, who created the children's TV series Chucklevision, has developed a 45-minute routine, which he presents to key stage 2 pupils.

Highlights include an introduction to the Punktuation Marks, who demand to be articulated after complaining that words get all the attention. (A full stop is sounded as a raspberry, while a question mark is a sidelong intake of breath.) Mr Billings also hypothesises on the final adventures of famous children's characters, once they have gone into retirement. In old age, for example, Peter Pan tends to forget to take his fairy dust.

"I want to make literacy fun and accessible," said Mr Billings, who taught drama for more than 10 years. "I look at story-telling, at beginnings, middles and ends, how you can make your hero and villain stand out. And I tell how stories evolved from cavemen to nursery rhymes and folk tales."

To demonstrate the continual evolution of folk tales, he imagines Little Jack Horner leading a crime squad to investigate whether Humpty Dumpty was pushed.

Much of the material for his show is drawn from primary curriculum requirements.

"It's a starting point," he said. "The curriculum makes quite a few teachers laugh, doesn't it? And I squeeze and tweak things."

He will take his show to the Edinburgh Festival in August. Until then, he will tour primary schools, delivering his routine along with a three-hour literacy workshop. He hopes it will help pupils to see literacy as a fun activity, rather than a subject to be studied during lessons.

"Fun is conducive to creativity," he said. "If you're not a bit daft and a bit silly, it doesn't flow as easily. Pupils think they're having fun, but they're actually learning at the same time. That's the trick."

Mr Billings can also adapt the show for key stage 1 pupils. A recent performance at Boldmere infants in Birmingham included a simulated battle between chips and sprouts in the school canteen.

Judith Savage, assistant head, said: "Just holding a pencil can be exhausting for young children. But this allows you to get away from national curriculum writing, which is just deathly.

"It shows how you can manipulate words and make them funny. It makes us rejoice in the very rich language we have."

Sam Caley, 7, agreed that the show was a change from the usual literacy lessons. "He was teaching us how to stretch our imaginations," he said.

"But he was teaching us funny stuff. Teachers don't usually do that."

ianbillings@yahoo.co.uk

GET THIS

I was in a book shop the other day, and a sign said, 'A third off books', so I bought The Lion, The Witch.

Why is there only one word for 'thesaurus'?

A man came up to me in the street and said: "Give me two pronouns." I said: "Who? Me?"

Double negatives are a no no.

Why does 'monosyllable' have five?

Shakespeare walks into a pub. The barman says: "Get out, you're bard."

Avoid cliches like the plague. (They're old hat.)

Who needs rhetorical sentences?

What do we call Santa's little helpers? Subordinate clauses.

A man entered a punning competition. To give himself a better chance, he sent 10 to the judges. He hoped one would win, but sadly no pun in 10 did.

Subscribe to get access to the content on this page.

If you are already a Tes/ Tes Scotland subscriber please log in with your username or email address to get full access to our back issues, CPD library and membership plus page.

Not a subscriber? Find out more about our subscription offers.
Subscribe now
Existing subscriber?
Enter subscription number

Comments

The guide by your side – ensuring you are always up to date with the latest in education.

Get Tes magazine online and delivered to your door. Stay up to date with the latest research, teacher innovation and insight, plus classroom tips and techniques with a Tes magazine subscription.
With a Tes magazine subscription you get exclusive access to our CPD library. Including our New Teachers’ special for NQTS, Ed Tech, How to Get a Job, Trip Planner, Ed Biz Special and all Tes back issues.

Subscribe now