Snail of a tale

4th April 2008 at 01:00
How do you teach about Africa? Land snails might not be at the top of your list, but they won't fail to captivate pupils and enhance their learning, says Imogen Woods

Why did I buy my class a tank of African land snails? Well, when I designed my curriculum topic, Africa, for Years 5 and 6, I wanted to teach lessons with impact.

I started by asking the pupils to design a concept map of Africa. They categorised their own maps according to features such as animals, people and schools. Then I hid the snail tank under an African cloth and asked the children to think about what they might find. Finally, the snails were introduced to the class.

When I uncovered them the pupils were amazed - I was surprised by their reaction but the snails were huge, as big as their hands. We discussed what questions we could ask about them and what learning areas could be explored.

The children wanted to find out where the snails came from, what the climate was like, how the snails liked to live, what they needed to eat and what kept them healthy. This quickly progressed to learning about the continent as a whole, as well as paired work researching aspects of a range of countries.

As I observed some of my more kinaesthetic learners I noticed that they relished snail care duties that involved harvesting snail eggs, cleaning out the tank and making sure the snails were warm enough by checking their tank temperature each day. This not only increased their motivation but made a significant impact on their learning in other areas.

The most surprising effect was how keen the pupils were to handle the snails.

One of our parents donated a tank, another some tank cleaning equipment, another some cuttlefish, "because they need calcium, Miss Woods".

The project became a positive experience in other ways. We are now the proud owners of nine baby Chew Magna-bred African land snails that are growing by the day and the whole class is able to handle them gently.

Imogen Woods is a Year 4 teacher at Chew Magna Primary School in Bristol.

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