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."



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