Horrid, horrid, horrid

22nd January 1999 at 00:00
Boys love unpleasantly violent stories, which canbe turned to good account, finds Sally Ballard.

Many boys enjoy gruesome and violent reading. The images they pick up often find their way into English essays, horrifying many a secondary teacher.

So what does the Year 7 to Year 9 English teacher do when faced with sentences full of blood, guts, death and torture which she feels are unnecessary and unpleasant?

Philippa Hunt, senior lecturer in education at the Roehampton Institute, has some advice on how to keep boys reading and writing while steering them towards a more literary approach.

"Boys love horror. And there is absolutely no doubt that horror stories, with the computer games they play, are influencing how they write. Try not to be too horrified at what they are producing. What affects us will wash over them," she says.

It is important initially to set guidelines on what is acceptable and make sure the class understands them. Praise is important if an essay has been well sustained. "Make a celebration of the work rather than 'Oh my God, how awful'. But then start unpicking."

Boys tend to enjoy analytical work, says Hunt. Draw up charts and discuss which words make the work powerful, which key words convey the meaning. Look at the verbs and try substituting other verbs to see if the piece is strengthened or weakened. Do the same with adjectives and adverbs.

"You have to make them think about what they are writing. Often the type of programmes they watch on television will be reflected in the type of subject they write about. There is no good stamping your feet and saying 'this is disgraceful'. If you encourage them to shift their reading on to other subjects then their writing will reflect that. What you have to do is to find some other books to put their way."

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* Get the class using the computer to share reading and writing by compiling a database of book title, author name, the age suitability, the genre, a few words about the book and the name of the child inputting the information. "Kids love sharing," says Hunt, "and this is where it works particularly well. If a pupil really likes science fiction he can go to the computer and look up science fiction. If he likes the type of books that a friend reads, he can just type in the name of the friend and the computer will bring up all the books that the friend has read. Kids are happier to read what their friends suggest than what is suggested to them by adults."

Above all, says Hunt, "just keep them reading. I get angry when parents and teachers want to ban them from reading horror. It is far better than not picking up a book at all".

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