The play's the thing

21st April 2000 at 01:00
DRAMA, LITERACY AND MORAL EDUCATION. By Joe Winston. David Fulton pound;14.

From the Puritans who attacked Shakespearean theatre as "a show-place of all beastly and filthy matters" to the contemporary spin-doctors who hope to infiltrate New Labour messages into TV soaps, Authority has always been fearful of the moral power of drama.

Joe Winston's new book is full of advice on how that power can be unleashed in the classroom. The centre of his text consists of detailed and practical schemes of work for each year in the primary school, taking stories from a variety of sources, arranging them into a sequence of drama lessons with clearly defined objectives, and questions that can be explored in discussin.

Transforming a frog into a prince can be exciting for five-year-olds, but it can also develop empathy for those in extraordinarily different circumstances. For younger juniors there's a Japanese tale of a girl who persuades her fellow-villagers not to dump their nightmares in the sea but to make them into kites and play with them; this explores ideas of group and individual responsibility and how to deal with fears.

The suggestions complement the National Literacy Strategy with some much-needed emphasis on the symbolic role played by objects, on the extra-verbal significance of gesture and music and on the connections between verbal and social behaviour. It is timely and valuable.

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