Telling tales

11th March 2005 at 00:00
Kevin Harcombe uncovers a treasure chest of storytelling gems

In his introduction to The Story Maker's Chest, author Pie Corbett recalls that in his early teaching career he had a story maker's chest, though "it was really just a large cardboard box". Well, so is this, although... admit I only received the prototype and not the final version.

Inside are: two posters depicting narrative pattern (ascending and descending a mountain) and story making ingredients: cards (to help with character, setting, and plot); wheels to aid characterisation; games and the Curiosity Sack. This one is more pouch-sized, and comes with some objects that could be used to inspire a story - a pink feather, a plastic egg, an eye mask, etc - to which you can add your own curios. So far, so-so.

The illustrations on the cards are standard reading scheme fare and look a teeny bit flat (except for the pictures of "Teenage Rebel Girl" and "Dishonest Woman" who are both characterisedcaricatured with plenty of cleavage on display). The starter games are variations of oldies but goldies, for example a "sentence machine" to generate interesting sentences: interactive, instructive and fun. What does your character wish for? Spin the arrow on one of the Story Wheels and you get the answer: a magical talent? A friend?

So far, we have some good concepts presented in a fairly average way. The real treasure trove in this chest, however, lies in the teacher's guide. In essence this is Corbett's many years of experience condensed into one invaluable book - a cornucopia of tried and trusted ideas that will work in any classroom. Many I knew and had used. Some I had forgotten. Some were new. All will be of use. Each chapter concludes with a helpful reminder sheet that can be displayed on the wall or pasted into children's writing books as an aide-memoire.

Many of the activities are drama based - phone the police to report your sighting of Jack climbing up a giant beanstalk, or work in role as agony aunts. Corbett's "voice" carries the whole thing along at a good pace and the children are involved at every stage in developing their own writing tools.

The Corbett-inspired classroom will be festooned with lists of names, descriptions, connectives, digital photos of characters and settings, lists of real phrases used by their teachers and parents, built up by the children week on week.

The suggestions are never dull - children loved turning a typical waiter joke into a story - and the basics are never neglected, just enlivened.

Even the lists (of prepositional phrases, connectives for different stages of narrative) have pzazz. Add the clearest explanation of using paragraphs I've come across, clear and detailed writing frames and a chapter on the pros and cons of dialogue and you have a comprehensive package.

The original story chest was junked by Corbett's caretaker. Fortunately, the real chest is his mind and now we can all treasure it.

* The Story Maker's Chest, costs pound;59.99 and is produced by Philip Tacey Stand B400. www.philipandtacey.co.uk

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