Set text characters take a fall

23rd June 2006 at 01:00
Teaching a set text often involves students tracking the development of the main characters; but what about the minor character who features in only a few scenes? Exam questions sometimes thrust these folk centre stage, but revising them can be a bore. This is where a hot-air balloon comes in handy.

I've found balloon debates are wonderful for getting a class to look again at a range of characters. The play or book becomes a hot-air balloon, struggling to stay afloat over the ocean and needing to shed someone as excess baggage. Groups can be allocated a cast member to defend; their preparation involves producing notes about where the character appears and their contribution to the plot and these provide the basis for a speech in character from a spokesperson in each group.

The debate should be a fun and lively affair. The prospect of plunging from a great height into watery oblivion usually focuses the minds of the speakers. Others can take the role of chairman or the floor, who are given their turn to support their character or attack the opposition. Responding to the arguments of others focuses the class on what their person contributes to the work. Tybalt, for example, appears only three times and has 36 lines in Romeo and Juliet; but there can be passionate argument about whether he is minor at all. My students always prefer it when an activity doubles up for English and literature marks. We call it a BOGOF (Buy One, Get One Free) and this BOGOF balloon debate rarely fails to take off.

John Gallagher

Head of English, Stratford-upon-Avon Grammar School for Girls

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