I nearly died laughing learning to write

16th March 2007 at 00:00
Ian Billings, teacher-cum-comedian, is using jokes to turn pupils on to literacy

HOW DID the letter A get to the front of the alphabet? He had a pushy mother.

It may not be sanctioned in official circles, but Ian Billings maintains that his literacy-based jokes are an effective tool for teaching primary pupils to read and write properly - and he is taking his unique brand of comic learning to Scotland later in the year.

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

Highlights include an introduction to the Punktuation Marks, who demand to be articulated, after complaining that the 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 talk about 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.

Mr Billings will take his show to the Edinburgh Festival in August. Until then, he will tour primary schools, delivering his routine with a three-hour literacy workshop. He hopes it will help pupils to see literacy as fun, rather than a subject to be studied. "Fun is conducive to creativity. Pupils think they're having fun, but are actually learning at the same time. That's the trick."

Judith Savage, an assistant head in a Birmingham school visited by Mr Billings, said: "Just holding a pencil can be exhausting for young children. But this allows you to get away from national curriculum writing, which is deathly. It shows how you can manipulate words and make them funny. It makes us rejoice in our rich language."

Sam Caley, 7, agreed that the show was a change from usual 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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