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Monday, June 7, 2010

Snozzcumbers and Never Ending Gobstoppers

I was having a bit of a tidy up last week at work, clearing off the stacks of unused photocopies to put in my scrap paper pile and sorting out my books, when I found my beloved copy of The Roald Dahl Treasury. Just the title of this book makes me love it - a treasury sounds like something very important, that you care for and would hate to lose. I know that Mr Dahl passed away years before this collection was published, but it sounds like a title he would have found acceptable, mainly because the word "treasury" appeals to children.

As a child, I never read many books by Roald Dahl, I suppose this was because these books aren't really aimed at young children anyway, and I was more into Enid Blyton. However, as an adult I can really appreciate the talent and efforts of this writer which enabled him to penetrate into the world of a child and write stories that children would want to read. The way Dahl portrays adults from the point of view of a young boy is exceptional. I would recommend that anyone who has children gets hold of some of his creations, such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda or The Witches.

The most fascinating talent of Dahl for me, though, is his use of language. I have a copy of Revolting Rhymes, which is a collection of well-known fairy tales such as Little Red Riding Hood and Snow White told in a rather different way to what you usually expect. The stories are written in rhyme and are therefore ideal for reading aloud. I have used these rhymes many times with my students (generally Intermediate and above) as a reading activity, listening activity, for pronunciation practice (sentence stress), as a cloze exercise, and to inspire creative writing. The rhymes are fun for students of all ages, including adults, who will often try to come up with their own unusual fairy tales. I had a student who recently suggested that they write their own revolting rhyme - actually in rhyme!

Dahl uses a lot of words he has made up himself, and this can be a useful way of getting learners to think about the meanings and usage of words, giving them practice in guessing meaning through context. It can be great fun for them to make up their own words too! With a story like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, you can give students the names of sweets that appear and ask them to describe what they are like - what they look like, what they taste like, what is so special about them, which one they like the sound of, and so on. With The Witches, you can ask students to draw a picture of one of the witches that is described in the book, and then for them to imagine a witch of their own.

Have you used Roald Dahl stories in class, and if so, how did you use them?

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