At the beginning of this week my Year 9 class were not looking happy. Their topic this half term is contemporary plays and I have been so looking forward to teaching them all about my favourite play Blood Brothers. Unfortunately, I had one of those horrible moments that many of us have as teachers of a subject we love. For some reason, they just didn’t enjoy it!
As I read out loud the hilarious scene where Micky wishes to be just like his big brother, I was expecting that they would naturally want to investigate the magic behind this little gem of a monologue. However, I raised my head to see a number of seriously bored faces. I took a post it survey at the end of the lesson to ask pupils what they thought of Blood Brothers; to my horror, my suspicions were confirmed and, as funny as the play is, they weren’t enjoying it. Something had to be done!
I could go one of two ways with this information. I could explain to them that they were wrong and if we continued to read the play and get to the good bits, they would learn to love it as much as I do. Why wouldn’t they? There was swearing and everything! Or, I could rethink my approach and attempt to match it to their experiences to recapture their enthusiasm.
I wanted pupils to analyse Micky’s “wish” monologue but for some reason, they were just not engaging with the text. My outcome was for them to understand how important structure is when organising a play and what effect that structure had on an audience. The way I had been going about it, expecting pupils to enjoy the play alone, was not working. Here is what I did instead:
I gave pupils cut up, Christmas cracker style jokes. They had to match the jokes with their punch lines and discuss what each joke had in common. We discussed how jokes had to be delivered in a certain way to make them funny; we looked at how the pun was usually so obvious that you feel you should have seen it coming. This set the scene nicely for a lesson of exploring the art of creating laughter.
We then went on to examine two clips. One from Harry Enfield, which worked well to compare to the character of Micky as he is a grown man dressed as a child for comic effect, and one from Catherine Tait from which we pulled ideas about comic timing, delivery, storyline, repetition and expectations of stereotypes.
Search For Meaning
Pupils were presented with their challenge. To use the ideas gathered to make the rest of the class laugh. They had to create a funny monologue in the style of Micky’s wish. They were to think carefully about the character choice, structure, delivery, language choices and timing just as they had seen in the examples. This was immediately met with groans as the fear of having to perform for their classmates consumed them and almost sent them back into their protective stare out of the window phase. However, when I explained that I would be the one performing the monologue as they would be busy watching for the effect of any structural devices used; they immediately fell to work scribbling down ideas for their character.
Once the monologues were complete, I went to work making a fool of myself in the name of fun and learning. I ensured that pupils knew the environment was a ‘no put down zone’ so as to protect my feelings and help me with my confidence. This was very important as I am going to be asking them to do some performing themselves next lesson. By modelling that performing in my class is safe, I hope to encourage them to feel safe enough to take part too. Two of the six monologues did not make pupils laugh. These monologues consisted of me acting like a baby but had no real storyline to them and so pupils didn’t ‘get’ what they needed to laugh at. Information like this proved rather useful in the review.
Pupils were asked to review their findings from the lesson against what they knew about Micky’s wish and came up with: There needs to be sense behind the silliness; it works better if you create a character or create a bit of background. Because we know who Micky is and where he comes from, before he does his monologue, it makes sense and so we laugh. They explained that the monologue created by the first group was funny because of the rhyme that they used and this related to Micky’s monologue as he used rhyme; however, his rhyme was used to add to his childishness.
My pupils had the potential to be turned off English this week. If I had continued blindly enjoying reading in my best scouse accent as the pupils stared eagerly at the clock or blankly out of the window, I would have raced through the play at a far faster pace but I could never have received this post it review response: