It has not escaped my notice that this week is National Stationery Week. Those who know me know that I am very interested in stationery, and, indeed, that I have a lot of stationery. The above picture shows just one of the trays of pens, pencils, rubbers, rulers and associated bits and pieces that belong to my daughters. So it must run in the genes!
My younger daughter recently celebrated her birthday, and during the Easter holidays we had to go to the shops in Newcastle to spend her birthday money. She dragged me into Smiggle (surely the most heavily-perfumed, headache-inducing shop known to mankind) where she purchased a pencil case and some pens and pencils to go in it. When I returned to school today after the holidays, the first thing a lot of my Year 4s did was to show me their new Smiggle pencil cases.
Children are very interested in pencil cases and all the many lovely things that you can put in them. Yet "pencil case" has become a byword in Languages teaching for everything that is dull, banal, uninteresting and unmotivating. It is spoken of disparagingly as an example of all that is perceived to be wrong with Languages lessons.
In the olden days I used to teach "pencil case" to Year 7. Remember that page of Avantage 1, anybody? These days I teach it to Year 3. We do it to introduce nouns, gender, indefinite articles and dictionary skills. The vocabulary is useful for primary children, and inherently very interesting to them. The structures are a fundamental part of language learning in Key Stage 2, the blocks on which the next three years will be built.
The topic is less interesting, though, to secondary students. They have usually got past the stage of wanting brightly-coloured, glittery and perfumed stationery, and stick to what is more practical. At their (slightly) more advanced years they have other interests and other priorities.
In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with teaching "Things in my pencil case", as long as it is appropriate to the likes and dislikes of the children in the classroom, and as long as the language being practised is appropriate to the linguistic level of the children in the classroom.
I will use this to shield myself from the flack that will now, undoubtedly, come my way: