Ted's teaching tips

17th November 2000 at 00:00
What on earth is this? Will any child in the land even get near identifying it, or will most assume it must be a character from a movie? Try asking what it is and then feeding in clues as pupils respond: it's real, not fiction; it's a plant, not an animal; it's very smallI Leaves We certainly know what leaves are, since we are up to our ankles in them every autumn, but what purpose do they serve (make food for plants, and in turn for animals and humans)?

How can a leaf make food (by photosynthesis: the (green-coloured) chlorophyll absorbs sunlight and works with enzymes to break down water into (a) oxygen, released into the air, and (b) hydrogen, which combines with carbon dioxide to make sugars; so the sun's radiant energy is converted into food energy)? What do leaf hairs do (absorb water, even catch insects)? Why do leaves change colour in autumn (the green chlorophyll colour fades and exposes other coloured pigments, such as carotene (yellow) and betacyanin (red))? Why do leaves fall (as they age the base of the leaf softens and weakens; they get blown away; a sealing layer forms, leaving a scar over winter)?

Imagination Here's some food for the imagination. Dream up a living creature that this could be (space bug, owl, insect, bat, mite, gremlin)? Pick one of the features, such as the two "eyes", the "claw", the "scales", and invent a lifestyle for your imagined animal (what it eats, where it lives, how it moves). It is tmpting to see it as hostile, but think of a friendly version (a pet, domestic animal, servant).

Hobgoblins What sort of fantasy creatures do storytellers invent (gremlins, fairies and elves; cartoon characters, such as Micky Mouse and Superman; unicorns and dragons; muggles, mudbloods and dementors)? What do such fantasy creatures do (fly, carry out magic, make us laugh, scare people, talk a funny language)? Why do writers make them up (they can do things that humans cannot, adding to the possibilities in the story; they may make a bigger impression on the reader than human characters)?

Writing Give a name to the imagined creature in this picture and write a story or poem describing what it is like, how you meet it on a journey and the events that follow.

This looks like a character from a horror movie. Are such films harmless or good entertainment?

For Feeling scared is normal; horror movies are part of a long tradition going back to nursery rhymes and the Big Bad Wolf. People watch them for a laugh; they're not really frightening, because they are so obviously over the top.

Against Anxious people can be terrified by the vivid images in horror films, resulting in nightmares. Why should they be shown in public cinemas when much better films, including exciting and even scary ones, are available? Children should not be allowed to watch them.

Ted Wragg is professor of education at Exeter University

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