It helps if you're crazy

4th February 2005 at 00:00
Weird, wacky and wonderful are the ingredients for success, says Steve Owen

My recipe for a lively classroom? Take a suitcase of old clothes, a fixation with Kylie, West Ham, badgers, chickens and other quirky animals, and as many references to bogies and bodily functions as possible. Add a life-size skeleton called Keith, a fluff ball called John wearing second-hand pants, and mix together with a large splash of self-denigrating humour.

Obsessions work well: in my case chickens, badgers, Kylie and West Ham.

During the year I constantly refer to these fixations. I'll be on the phone to Kylie in numeracy, or I might be writing reports on Chicketenstein, or investigating the aerodynamics of badgers and chickens in science.

Alternatively, I could be calculating the perimeter of West Ham's pitch in numeracy and its possibility as a home for lonely badgers in DT.

In my cupboard I have a suitcase filled with a variety of objects: from a record player to a beard, and a supply of weird and wacky clothes, especially hats, which can be used as props to dress kids or myself when taking on roles. The class knows that when I go in the cupboard, someone or something different is coming out!

Different accents, attitudes and actions immediately get their attention.

For example, musical maths works well; pupils might dance to times tables jazz, or sing their answers out in different styles from opera to rap. And try doing a spelling test in a different accent.

You never know what can come in useful: I moved rooms this year and found a 15cm fluff ball at the back of the room, with no legs, mouth or nose, just two eyes and ears. I named him John and introduced him to the class; he's my favourite teaching tool. We were writing biographies when I came across him, so I explained the facets of John's life, including the fact that he had been born in a crisp packet on the M25, and I've been adding to the story of his evolution ever since.

John and Keith, the skeleton, are used in all subjects as points of reference: John can be thrown around in mental maths, used as a conch in PSHE, both he and Keith can be used as subjects in writing, used to demonstrate notions of force in science, and I've even tried to sell John and his pants in role play. John and Keith dissipate any kind of tension in class, so they're useful for behaviour management too.

The pupils really enjoy my classroom props: John and Keith received more Christmas cards than I did! One child even bought Keith some socks, and the latest rumour was that "Keith and John were going to Australia together"

Bizarre, but it works for me!

Steve Owen is a Year 6 teacher at Kings Hill primary school in Kent. He has been teaching for three years and has responsibility for modern foreign languages, creativity, history and educational visits. He is also an advanced skills teacher

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