Huw Thomas invents verse to help the memory
I cannot forget the fact that Richard of York gave battle in vain, or that every good boy deserves favour. Those teachers who taught little rhymes and tricks to recall key facts brainwashed me in a way that political propaganda can't.
These days I gather or construct my own. So for my Year 6 children: The range is the difference between high and low.
The commonest value is the mode.
The total divided gives us the mean.
And the median's in the middle, right in between.
Of course it's rusty and you have to explain what the total is divided by - but it stops them confusing these three. I love poetry, but I'm no poet but there is something liberating about verse that has a completely different objective to it. Forget the beauty of literature, find me a sonnet that defines condensation and evaporation.
Then there's the story rap, unashamedly boosting children's narrative writing but I still believe that if Tolstoy had learned it he would have muttered as he scrived (bear in mind all such raps require the boom-ba-choog backing track):
End and begin
Middle fills in
Name to a face
And put 'em in place
How're we walking?
Look who's talking
There you have my constant nag at children to plan the beginning and ending together then bridge between the two with a good middle, the need for characters I can believe in and a place. "How're we walking?" asks for those descriptive words to be thought about, and "Look whose talking"
reminds us to demarcate speech with care, then the final two ingredients present the balance of flair and interest with commas and full stops.
And it doesn't need to rhyme or even be of any length:
Rough slow, smooth fast
Friction grips things that pass.
To which you can add:
Slowing down by air resistance
Streamlining gives assistance.
I can't be the only one who trots out ghastly doggerel, in full appreciation of its ability to communicate this sort of thing, so I'm calling to colleagues everywhere - send it in. We can print a selection of the best on this page. Let's get that poetry in...
Huw Thomas is a Sheffield headteacher