How to make a science fiction epic in your school

Need to create a background of a police station, spaceships and more? use the places in your school! Watch the video to see how it’s done.

https://youtu.be/Pj08JLqRlsw

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Rosetta – my new novel

In the ancient world, people thought that comets were bad omens, signs of terrible events to come; in ROSETTA, a comet leads to a revelation that changes the lives of everyone on the planet. William is head of the Rosetta space programme, facing cuts in funding and opposition to his work. When the Rosetta probe starts to send back strange pictures and messages from a comet it has attached itself to, he sees his chance to convince the world that his work is of crucial importance for humanity.

But William and his team get more than they bargained for, as they start to find clues to a puzzle that goes back thousands of years, and that will take them to Japan, France and Spain on the trail of Isaac Newton and a mysterious French explorer. And the longer they delay in figuring it out, the greater the misunderstandings between the US, the EU and Russia over what has been discovered become, and the greater the risk of war.

cover2

Rosetta is now available on Amazon.co.uk

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01I0GE7YA

 

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Making a mini-theatre

One of the secrets of achieving high levels of oral ability is repetition. Lots and lots of it, repeating the key structures and vocabulary. Which brings us naturally to the question of how to get the young learners doing it again and again without getting obviously bored? The trick is to subtly vary the activity. Give it a little twist and the students think of it as a new activity. With this in mind, getting the students to make their own a mini-theatres is a fun and effective activity.

Begin by teaching a story. Once they know it well (this might take quite a few classes – don´t rush it) they can either perform this or, in my case, I got them to write their own version. They used the original story as a model and changed the characters in it. Be sure to get them to use the model story, and not try to think up a completely new story. This is almost always far too difficult. Anyway, once they know their story, then make the mini-theatre.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQpUC-2umCY&list=UUY5okGKR2UxTcJUb-Kbxvlg

In the video you can watch a couple of examples which the students painted. If using paints is not an option where you work, you could just give them the card and get them to do it for homework. I stuck the characters on to the drinking straws with sellotape. I did originally try having the figures stand up, but it proved easier to have the children stand behind the theatre and hold the straws.

Show them how to tell the story using the puppets. I demonstrated it for them, showing them how to make sure the puppets were facing the audience as much as possible. Get them to take it home to tell the story to their parents. Parents love it! They often don´t get to see how much their children know.

It might be a good idea to have them bring the mini-theatre back to class after a week so that it can be used as the background for future stories. They can then just make new characters.

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A two person panto

Here is a simple panto I performed with a colleague for children on Halloween. A king come on, chats to the children and shows off his new crown. He keeps getting interrupted by the cleaner who turns out to be a witch. She steals the crown and the King goes to here castle to get it. They find a magic book and the children learn the spell and then they help turn the witch into a cat.

The script is essentially the same as the panto “William and the witch” on the website (plays for teachers to perform), I just substituted a King for the knight, and then the witch steals his crown. All the audience interaction is identical. The kids who saw last years one didn’t notice!

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Horrid Henry and the Book of the Dead: Putting popular characters in your plays

My class of 8 year olds absolutely love the Horrid Henry series written by Francesca Simon. When I asked them what they wanted to do for their summer play, they all shouted out with glee “Horrid Henry!” Your class may have their own favourites, Dora Explora, Sponge Bob, Ben 10, Indiana Jones, Lara croft or whoever. Now where on earth are you going to find a suitable play at the right level for your class? Google! Really? Try it. I started writing my own plays for Spanish children learning English precisely because there was nothing available already written. Well, I say nothing. Yes there were some scripts for half a dozen characters about someone cheating in an exam and getting caught. There was another set of plays about everyday situations, like going on holiday. The children go shopping and….wait for it… they buy something. That was it. But honestly, has anyone actually ever performed these plays? So I think the chance of finding a Horrid Henry play is about zero. Which brings me to my point. Don’t even bother looking! Just take a play you already have, and change the name of one of the characters to ….Horrid Henry! Seriously, that is exactly what I did for Horrid Henry and the Book of the Dead. I took another play, Lara Croft and the Crown of Immortality (this was of course just a simple play in which I just called the heroin called Lara Croft – same principle) and turned Lara croft into Horrid Henry. I then added a teacher and Bob’s your uncle.The play was done without a script but I have wriiten up what we ended up with  (the script is on my website).

Did the children notice? I have been doing plays for 13 years and no one has yet even noticed that they all have more or less the same story. So, no, no one noticed. And they loved it. You can add Horrid Henry, or Mr Bean, or Dora Explora to any story. Robin Hood, The Pirates of Santa Clara, it doesn’t matter. You don’t even need to change the story. Just call Maid Marion’s friend Dora and there you are! I actually use the same principle with what I call my “Dramatic dialogues” . These are simple one page dialogues for pair work which practise key grammatical structures. Not very exciting but I found that by simply giving the characters names such as Mr Bean, James Bond, the children found the them funny. I love teaching children, they are so easily fooled!

Do you do any drama with your students? I would love to here about your experiences.

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Harry Potter and the Magic Ball

Here is my latest play performed by my class of 7 year old Spanish children. Although I didn’t use a script (I based it on an earlier version I did many years ago that’s also on the website) I’ve put a script on the website based on what we ended up with, should anyone wish to perform it. It’s a fun play and built up of quite simple scenes.

http://youtu.be/fEBMgOpeyBE

The show was fun but exhausting. I actually had both my classes performing one after the other. The 7 year-olds kicked off the show with Harry Potter and the magic ball, which was hectic as I write myself a part in it, I was Dumbledor. The children were brilliant! Not just on stage, but with the change over. The curtain closed at the end of the play, the children charged off, leaving their swords on the side, and sat in the auditorium, whilst my 8 year-olds came on, grabbed the swords, got into position and off we went with play number 2: Horrid Henry and the Book of the Dead.

Great fun but I was also doing the music via a laptop off-stage. It actually worked out well, having the computer just behind the side curtain. I could literally charge off stage and “clic” on the song and hey presto. Having music or sound effects is wonderful but the big problem is that one often has to do it from a sound booth – which is not really feasible for most teachers as we need to be there on stage behind the curtain, organising props, changing scenery etc. The computer just off stage worked really well. This time I just had music for the fight scenes, Mission Impossible as the ninjas ran from the back of the auditorium and climbed onto the stage to rob the bank (Horrid Henry) and songs at the end of each play (Horrid Henry finished with “I’ll always love you – the theme from Titanic” – the kids suggested it, no me!). But next year I think I’ll add some sound effects, such as rain, thunder, you know, to set the scene! I’m thinking of “War of the Worlds” for the summer – the Jeff Wayne version! Now that is music!

Do you do any drama with your students? I would love to here about your experiences.

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Summer Show 2013

Summer Show 2013

My latest show for the parents. My six year olds are presenting Harry Potter and the Magic Ball, while my seven year olds will present Horrid Henry and the Book of the Dead. (which is basically the Lara Cruft play on the website) – June 19th.

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This is the Self Preservation Society…

I love this song! I bought the sound track and edited the instrumental version, which has the funky music, with the vocals (and added some pictures to accompany them). I am now wondering how to get a car chase into my next children’s play, just so I can play this soundtrack. A bank robbery, two card board cars on stage. Children making the screeching sound of brakes as they go round corners…

A lot of the plots of my plays originally came about because I had some funky music, or prop, which I knew would look good on stage and then I just created a play around it. I think my current production, Horrid Henry and the Boo of the Dead came about because I visualised the children entering to Carmina Burana.

I really welcome any comments and suggestions

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All hail the Queen! Doing a play without a script

The lights are off, the stage is dark. The audience are waiting. Suddenly they hear the fanfare of Carmina Burana. Off stage they hear chanting “All hail, the Queen, all hail the Queen, all the Queen of China! All hail the Queen, all hail the Queen…. Lights up, the children enter from either side of the stage in a procession, chanting. The crescendo, chanting at full power, music, then silence. The Queen of China steps forward. “Hello everyone, I am the Queen of China”. And so begins my latest play, “Horrid Henry and the Book of the Dead!” (although the play was done without a script, I have subsequently written the play script based on what we ended up with it’s  is now on my website)

In the same show my 6/7 year olds performed Harry Potter and the Book of the Dead: Here is the performance:

Like all the plays I do now, I did it without a script. Let me explain…..

Once upon a time, a long time ago, as an EFL teacher, I ran a Theatre Club. We needed plays so I wrote some (These are the plays on my website). I wrote scripts, photocopied them, handed them out. Revised them, handed out revisions. It worked well enough. Why wouldn’t it? After all, you need a script right? Then one dark and stormy night I found myself in the magical Kingdom of St Patrick’s English School. I was now a primary school teacher and with my class of 27 Spanish children I decided to do a play. Something simple I thought. St George and the Dragon! It was a fun play. I didn’t print off the script, I just decided to have a practice one day. I’d performed it twice already at two different schools so I knew the story, and what happened in each scene. In scene 1 the Princess come on with her friends, they chat, then George comes on with his friends, they chat and then George and princess meet. They talk to each other and the princess and friends leave. Then George tells his friends he would like to marry her. Suddenly the evil wizard (Who is the King’s helper) enters and says George can’t marry her because he is not a knight. Disillusioned, George and co exit, leaving the evil wizard to explain to the audience that he is going to marry the princess! So I gave out the parts. I knew I needed a princess and her friends, George and friends, a wizard and maybe some helpers, the King and Queen, some brave knights and other characters (shop keeper etc).

Hmmmee… but I had no script…… “Ok, princess” I said “I want you to come on with your friends, come to the front of the stage. As you come on you can say something like “What a beautiful day.” Friend 1 can say “The sun is shinning”. Friend 2 can say “The birds are singing”. Then introduce yourselves to the audience “Hello everyone, my name is Princess Emily”. We had been doing a bit of the past simple, so after introducing themselves I suggested they ask each other “What did you do at the weekend?” They took turns to ask each other, inventing an answer and there we had a good into to scene 1.

And so I next turned to George and his friends. Now that they had seen how the princess and her friends had got on, I elicited from them what they could say to each other as they they came on (yes, you can cheat, and subtly suggest things to review, like the future “What are you going to do at the weekend?” or “Where do you live?”). In fact, they came up with lots of ideas of simple questions to ask each other. And so went scene 1. Not only did it save on photocopying twenty seven scripts but it allowed us to continually fine tune the script, simplifying bits if a child was clearly having difficulty remembering a phrase, or adding extra bits as a sudden funny idea struck me (and they do tend to, half way through a scene). To recap. all you need is an idea of what happens in the scene.

I realised that in all my plays, the dialogue was always very simple. To paraphrase Stephen Krashen, I decided on an Input minus 1 approach. You see, the plays are designed to be performed. It’s all very well having a nice little one page sketch in the text book which throws in lots of new grammar and vocabulary but I knew that the children were going to have to memorise this. They were going to have to walk on stage in front of an audience and perform it. The fact is, children will not speak loudly and confidently, with sweeping gestures unless they know their parts to perfection. The problem with theatre is, well, how can I put it subtly. If it’s good it’s good, but if it isn’t , there’s no hiding the fact, least of all from the children. So I decided to use only language the children were already familiar with and, more importantly, confident with.

Actually you can introduce the odd new piece of vocabulary (magic wand, treasure map) or even grammar (“Have you seen the dragon? No, I haven’t”. You don’t teach the present perfect per se, just teach it as a lexical chunk, that is, as a piece of vocabulary. I personally check they understand it, and translate it if necessary). In fact, some phrases just become difficult not to use. “Have you seen …?” or “Let’s look for ….”. are a good examples. It’s just terribly difficult to say something simpler. In fact, these phrases tend to crop up a lot throughout the play so the children actually learn them very fast.

When I say “Plays without scripts” I mean the students don’t need a script. It might be a good idea for the teacher to have a copy of a script, for example, my version of “George and the Dragon” so that they have an idea of what the overall structure of the play. How may scenes there are and what happens in each scene. They can do it as is, or add new ideas as they go along.

So there you are. On my website there are some ideas for plays without scripts but any of the plays can be done this way. In fact, “Horrid Henry and the Book of the Dead!” is based on “Lara Cruft and the Crown of Immortality”. Horrid Henry? What can I say, they like Horrid Henry. I just called the main character Horrid Henry and carried on as normal.

Do you do any drama with your students? I would love to here about your experiences.

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My panto – “St Patrick and the Buried Treasure”

The cast (me in the red dress!)Pirates!Shhh!St Patrick and myselfaudience participation.Time for a nap

“St Patrick, St Patrick, there are pirates!” And so shouted out 150 children as the bad pirates sneaked on stage. The show went down well! It was something 5 colleagues and myself put on for St Patrick’s day. (My school is called St Patrick’s) for the children. We didn’t have a lot of time to rehearse as everyone was really busy but that turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The lack of time to practise, added to the fact that four of my colleagues were Spanish, meant that I needed to come up with a very simple play. We only ended up having three rehearsals but by keeping it simple we were able to adlib when necessary. My experience of my one man show made me realise that all you really need to make a fun panto for your students is a few key elements. First, outrageous characters. Get the teachers dressed up as pirates, or aliens, or in drag. This gets a laugh before you have even uttered a word.

Second, when the characters come on stage, get them talking to the audience, asking questions. “Hello, boys and girls, we are pirates. We are strong. are you strong? We are clever. Are you clever?” etc. This pads out the scene no end.

Third, get the goodies to ask the children for help, to shout out if they see the baddies (the pirates, or aliens, or whoever). The children love this. You can then have the baddies sneaking on stage when you go off. The children shout out, the baddies run off, you enter saying “What is it? There are pirates? Where? I can’t see any pirates” and exit. Baddies come back on stage etc. You can get a lot of mileage out of this!

Fourth. Get the characters going into the audience, asking the children for help. “The treasure is on an island. Boys and girls, how can we get to the island?” Add comedy by asking questions and coming up with silly answers. “By horse? By car” whilst the children are, of course, shouting out “by boat!” Or “The treasure is under a big apple tree. Boys and girls, can you see a big apple tree?” The kids point to the stage. You can then point the other way, saying “What, it,s over here?”etc. The children loved it, and again, it pads out the scene.

Fifth. Er, well, I suppose a story would come in handy. Think of something really simple. A three scene play, for example. Scene 1. Baddies come on, introduce themselves. Scene 2. Goodies come on, introduce themselves, maybe talk about something the baddies might want (a treasure map, a diamond, a magic lamp etc). Baddies come on again looking for the item, meet goodies and have a fight and the baddies escape. Scene 3. The goodies track down the baddies. Bob’s you’re uncle.(For non British folk, typically, someone says it to conclude a set of simple instructions). Have a look at the scripts for teachers to perform on my website. You’ll see how really simple they are. Honestly, you could write one! Give it a go.

Do you do any drama with your students? I would love to here about your experiences.

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