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Issue No.8 - The Tree in Man

The human mind, once stretched by a new idea,
never regains its original dimensions.
    - Oliver Wendell Holmes



The Teacher
A reflection on being a teacher

A Man is a Tree
Exploring this metaphor

100 Words or less
Framing short stories

Exploring this most mundane of objects

Watching the Detectives
Detective quizzes for the classroom

Seeing the world through teenage eyes

Questioning texts

An A-Z framework

Stepping beyond the cynical

A role of considering the future

Selling objects and their meanings

A small history of the rolling cube

Questioning with a bite

A meaning in being carried and held

Famous encounters
What happened when they met

Exploring correspondence

Inner World
An inner perspective

What are rumours?

Who spoke to who?

Exploring formal exchange

Exploring isolation

Where fiction meets fact

A French perspective

What If?
A 'what if' perspective of the past

Personal Effects
The meaning in what's left behind

Welcome to Issue #8 of The Creative Teaching Space – the end of the first year of publication.

Lots of ideas have been explored and I hope that many new opportunities have been opened for students. As we move into the festive season, snow for our friends in the northern hemisphere and sun for those in southern climes, so we have some time to reflect on the teaching year. For some it will be shorter a week off for Christmas. For others like myself it will be the annual holiday and a break from the magazine until February 2004.

It has been an interesting year and I really appreciate the feedback from teachers in many countries. I invite even more contributions from teachers and look forward to further building The Creative Teaching Space.

Keep opening pathways and rejoice in that which asserts uniqueness, compassion and the richness of experience. Keep those negative forces at bay.

This edition is called The Tree in Man and opens with a dedication to the metaphoric connection between our humanity and trees: fertile soil, a trunk, many branches and an ecological link to the broader world. This is based on a quote I found when recently looking at the harrowing yet deeply compassionate photographs of Sebastião Selgado. Here trees are men and trees are withered by the force of drought.

We mustn’t forget the many voices of the third world. We talk of the drama in our modern world – suits and concrete – yet too often forget the many cycles of disaster that beset those in robes and sand.

The Teacher

Here is a lovely poem from a good friend John Martin in Warracknabeal, Victoria. It sums up a deep truth in teaching and one found in the irony of distance and reflection. Thanks John.

The teacher

I read poetry at the Landt *
but there, I am entertainer,
not teacher.
At home,
I read scholarly works
and make notes,
but I am no scholar.
These post-retirement activities
confirm me all the more deeply
in my vocation as teacher.
Only after teaching,
and now, free of the bureaucratic role,
I can be myself before children

I have found
that my only life
is in the flashing word,
the unpredictable, non-predictable
thought / that will arise
in serious or playful discussion.
This fluid ephemeral action
is where I find my pleasure,
my deep deep love.

I even work better as I sit among children.
Is it their friskiness, cheek, sense of fun
and innate morality,
water me and keep me green
and feed me at the roots?

The more I feel myself a teacher
the more I vanish
……merely a fragment
that receives and passes on…….

      * Hostel in Warracknabeal for the aged.

A Man is a Tree

What metaphoric connections do we as humans have with trees? Explore the connections. How can the experience of trees be echoed in our bodies? Explore the connotations of words – " limbs", "branches", etc. How can the life of a tree echo that of a person?

Here is a quote from Eduardo Galeano in a tribute to Sebastião Salgado, from An Uncertain Grace:

Salgado, 17 Times

Hunger looks like the man that hunger is killing. The man looks like the tree the man is killing. The trees have arms, the people, branches. Wizened bodies, gnarled: trees made of bones, the people of knots and roots that writhe under the sun. The trees and the people, ageless. All born thousands of years ago – who knows how many? – and still they are standing, inexplicably standing, beneath a heaven that forsakes them.

Here is an example of a photo from Sebastião Salgado – Gourma-Rharous, Mali, 1985.

What language can we use to describe what this person may be feeling?

What examples can we find in literature – or religious texts – linking man to nature? Find online religious texts and explore how they refer to trees.

How does Shakespeare refer to trees?

Cymbeline: Act 3, Scene 3


O boys, this story
The world may read in me: my body's mark'd
With Roman swords, and my report was once
First with the best of note: Cymbeline loved me,
And when a soldier was the theme, my name
Was not far off: then was I as a tree
Whose boughs did bend with fruit: but in one night,
A storm or robbery, call it what you will,
Shook down my mellow hangings, nay, my leaves,
And left me bare to weather.

Man is a tree

Torah is a tree of life for all who grasp it. (Proverbs 3:18)

A person is like the tree of a field... (Deut. 20:19)

Man at his birth is supple and weak; at his death, firm and strong. (So it is with) all things. Trees and plants, in their early growth, are soft and brittle; at their death, dry and withered.     Tao Te Ching by Lao-tzu (J. Legge, Translator Sacred Books of the East, Vol 39 ,1891)

Everything is gestation and then birthing. To let each impression and each embryo of a feeling come to completion, entirely in itself, in the dark, in the unsayable, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one's own understanding, and with deep humility and patience to wait for the hour when a new clarity is born: this alone is what it means to live as an artist: in understanding as in creating.

In this there is no measuring with time, a year doesn't matter, and ten years are nothing. Being an artist means: not numbering and counting, but ripening like a tree, which doesn't force its sap, and stands confidently in the storms of spring, not afraid that afterward summer may not come. It does come. But it comes only to those who are patient, who are there as if eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly silent and vast. I learn it every day of my life, learn it with pain I am grateful for: patience is everything!

Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke - Translated by Stephen Mitchell; Random House; ISBN: 0394741048; 1987

100 Words or less

Create a framework for a piece of writing: a story, or description, in one hundred words or less. Compare the results. Create a book of one hundred word stories. Identify sites on the web containing one hundred word or less stories. What is it that makes a short story work? Face this challenge. Take a big idea and break it down into one hundred words or less. This act of translation enables students to quickly grasp the core ideas, or essence of a topic.

Read this short – ambitious? – description detailing the origins of the earth by Eric Schulman in 200 words or less.

David Hyatt has produced a history of the United States in 100 words or less. Can you do this for your organisation, school, town or country?

This website contains many examples of 100 word stories.

See also Flash Fiction.


Most of us would see them every day. A join between our trod world and a subterranean world.

Manholes carry their own designs and many associations across cultures. This has been recognized by literature and film. What do manhole covers connote? Escape, a hidden world, the lair of unknown creatures?

Explore the history of sanitation.

Explore the story of whether a manhole was the first man made object in space sputnik real, and check the conversation on a message board: Eugene Leitl: "Re: Manhole cover beat Sputnik?"

Robert Harley writes:

Surely this ought to be well-documented by now... or is it an urban legend?

A bit of both. In August 1957, a steel plate was blasted to well over escape velocity by a nuclear experiment. Nobody claimed it made it to space, since there's that minor matter of the atmosphere. A few years ago the story appeared in New Scientist (formerly a quality magazine, become a vehicle for putting the usual ecologist spin on all happenings scientific). The plate had become a manhole cover, and needless to say it was launched by accident (those evil nuclear scientists are always messing about blowing things up by accident you see). According to this version: if it could have made it out of the atmosphere it would have escaped from Earth's gravity. Well duh. Like what does "escape velocity" mean? Now the meme seems to have mutated into: it escaped the Earth, the Solar System and who knows what else. This strain of the meme will probably catch on because Americans would love to believe that they actually beat those darn Russkies into space after all. The entire claim seems pretty dubious to me. Most of the explosion's energy would be released as radiation which would melt the plate (at least) immediately. The shock wave would hit it after a fraction of a second and send globs of molten steel flying. There would be no intact plate to be "watched leaving the area" on camera. The speed claim also seems dubious, even applied to globs of molten steel. I wonder is it legend too, proceeding from the popular belief that nuclear explosions can do just anything because they're infinitely powerful. I could be wrong on this though. In any case, in the atmosphere the globs would be broken down into ever smaller drops with ever larger surface area per unit momentum, getting heated up and slowed down immensely for a second or more (that's a hell of a long time!) That thing came down in a fine rain of liquid steel spread all over the Nevada desert, if you ask me. Rob.

Flickr has an interesting site dedicated to manhole covers.

Manhole Covers

Karl Shapiro

The beauty of manhole covers--what of that?
Like medals struck by a great savage khan,
Like Mayan calendar stones, unliftable, indecipherable,
Not like the old electrum, chased and scored,
Mottoed and sculptured to a turn,
But notched and whelked and pocked and smashed
With the great company names
(Gentle Bethlehem, smiling United States).
This rustproof artifact of my street,
Long after roads are melted away will lie
Sidewise in the grave of the iron-old world,
Bitten at the edges,
Strong with its cryptic American,
Its dated beauty.

And there is the scientific truth of exploding manhole covers caused by the build up of subterranean gases. What have those rats been up to?

A cast-iron manhole cover can weigh between 85 and 300 pounds (35 to 136 kg), and explosions have propelled these massive discs anywhere from 1 foot to 50 feet (0.3 to 15 m) into the air. The real problem with these explosions (aside from the risk of injury) is the loss of power in the aftermath.

And have you ever wondered why manhole covers are round? (Thanks Rob)

Watching the Detectives

As documented in the article Ending The Year's Blues here are more detective quizzes to ask students. This is a great way to keep students occcupied at the end of the year.

Set only 50 or 100 questions and respond to questions with either a ‘yes’, a ‘no’, or an ‘irrelevant.’ Give students the opportunity of working in groups to identify the knowledge gained and the types of questions that can be asked. A great lesson in inquiry.

George & Mildred are lying dead on the floor of an apartment. Around them is broken glass, water and an upturned table. What happened? Answer: They are goldfish. Their aquarium was knocked by a blown curtain from an open window on to the floor.

A man lives on the 20th Floor. When it is fine he goes out the door, pushes the ground floor button and goes to work. When he comes home he pushes the 14th floor button and walks up the last six. When it is wet, he goes to work as usual, but upon coming home, he pushes the 20th floor button. Why? Answer: George is short! He can only reach the 14th button. On rainy days he pushes the 20th floor button with his umbrella.

A man goes into a bar and asks for a drink of water. The Barman brings out a gun - and the man goes out smiling? Why? Answer: The man had the hiccoughs and the gun served same purpose, as the water would have.

A dead man is hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the room. There is nothing else in the room but a pool of water beneath him. How was he hanged? Answer: He stood on a block of ice.

A husband buys his wife a pair of red shoes. Her boyfriend kills her and the husband is found guilty of the murder. Why? Answer: The boyfriend was a knife-thrower for a circus. The lady was his "target"; the shoes were high heeled, which she didn't usually wear.

This film has had the biggest return of any film when you look at the ratio - initial cost and return on the investment. What is the film? It is the Zapruder film on super 8 that captured the death of JFK - widely available for sale.

A man gets out of bed in the middle of the night, goes down stairs and has a snack. After finishing the snack, he turns off the light, goes upstairs and back to bed. Next morning whilst having breakfast he hears on the radio there has been a major catastrophe overnight and many people died. The man knows he's responsible. What happened? Answer: He was a lighthouse keeper and he turned light off of lighthouse.

A man and his son are driving along the road and are involved in a car accident. The son is taken critically injured to a hospital. Upon seeing the son the doctor says "I cannot operate on him he is my son." How does this make sense? The doctor is his mother. A great example of how words and cultural meanings create their own meanings.

A zookeeper sees a mouse in the corner of his room and knows that his lifetime of work is in ruins. His computer has been stolen - computer mouse.

A man is on the ground dead. He has a piece of straw in his hand. What happened? He has had to draw straws with others to see who had to jump from a balloon.


How can the area that you are studying be seen from a teenage perspective? This will be a particularly challenging task for teenagers, as it will pose the question of how they see the world. This will of course create a lot of discussion – the last thing any teenager wants is to have themselves stereotyped. This is an interesting exercise as it asks any group to consider either how they see the world or how it was viewed as a teenager. Regardless of what you are studying there should be a lot of options.

Take for instance the analysis of a work of literature. Teenagers are experiencing a lot of the complexity of the world for the first time and to see a text from this perspective may allow your students to see it in its complexity. We all know about the romanticism of Romeo and Juliet and how this type of love, at an older age, may be more cool headed and pragmatic.

Explore how teens speak. Create a dictionary of teenage slang. How has this changed over the years?

Explore teenagers' opinions on their lives.

Explore changes within the body at this age – a biological reading. How may this affect the perception of the world?

How would a teenager see natural disaster or have experienced the ravages of world war two – here is an access point for the study of Anne Frank or holocaust survivors. I have always found teenagers' or childrens’ perceptions of war quite fascinating. I guess this provides an alternative perspective to what can often become tiresome and repetitive portrayals.

Dad's Army

Here I am reminded of Robert Westall’s The Machine Gunners and the stories of my father who grew up in wartime Britain. To him it was quite fascinating. He would collect shrapnel and marvel at the heroic stories presented in the press. Teenagers were even encouraged to learn about making bombs from household items in case the Germans invaded. No doubt there was great tragedy for teenagers at this time.

An alternative perspective on any event, whether it is a teenager's autobiography, the under-rated serious poetry of Spike Milligan, or the comedy of Dad’s Army, can cause one to connect or re-connect to an area.

One shouldn’t forget that this is one of the great challenges faced by authors and filmmakers. In a world of information, they, like teachers, are looking for those moments that can engage and connect people to the subject. Sometimes it works extraordinarily well, as in such films as King of the Hill (1993) by Steven Soderbergh, which gives a teenager's perspective on the United States depression. You could perhaps explore the film Kes (1969) by Ken Loach, about a working class boy in England who trains kestrels as a way of escaping his demeaning surrounds.

Students may even like to draw up a grid of comparisons between their likes and dislikes – as teenagers – compared to the teenage experiences of interviewed parents or grandparents.


An increasing voice adopted by people in this world is that of the skeptic. This is in reaction to what seems like an increasing abundance of questionable and exclusive belief systems.

To ask students to take a skeptical position is a great opportunity for learning. There is still great place for rational questioning within our world. Here I remember a fantastic book called Hoax, written by Clifford Irving, who was instrumental in creating a fake and supposedly authorized biography of Howard Hughes. He encountered an extraordinary lack of critical thought. The more bizarre he made the stories in the book the more it was accepted by journalists and the market in general. The book was in fact at the printers when the reclusive Howard Hughes made a phone call to a panel of experts to state that the text was a fake.

In a relatively recent text – Intellectual Impostures – Sokal and Bricmont take a knife to the writings of many famous French intellectual writers. Many of these writers are praised worldwide. Sokal and Bricmont look at the writing, analyze it, and show that while including mathematical and physics propositions, it has little anchoring in scientific fact.

In summary, one finds in Baudrillard’s works a profusion of scientific terms, used with total disregard for their meaning and, above all, in a context where they are manifestly irrelevant. Whether or not one interprets them as metaphors, it is hard to see what role they could play, except to give an appearance of profundity to trite observations about sociology or history. (Pp142)

crop circles

Another great read Round in Circles by Jim Schnabel takes a long hard look at the crop circle phenomenon in Great Britain. This is a hilarious read, debunking many propositions and showing just how far people go in trying to explain phenomena – many of the circles were revealed to be well crafted hoaxes with the perpetrators enjoying the subsequent circus.

Skeptics' websites – The Skeptic's Dictionary and James Randi Educational Foundation – can give your students a good grasp of how they can approach phenomena. Your students might like to do a skeptical review of a text i.e. a ghost story.

A debate can be conducted in which certain phenomena, i.e. flying saucers, are debated by both sides. Many students may not like taking a skeptical position. It is important to explore this perspective. Discuss it afterwards. I believe that essentially we want magic and myth in life and many beliefs give us this experience. Some people are happy to find their magic in fiction – others in obscure phenomena. You have a wide range of topics and issues you can cover in a skeptical position. This should add a lot of flavor and stimulus to the classroom.

One of my favorite hoaxes was called the Doctor Fox Effect. In this little-reported psychological experiment an actor was hired to speak to medical students across the United States in a series of lectures. The more he included obscure diagrams and graphs, as well as animated his style, the more he was believed to be an authority. All the while he was spouting junk. What does this tell us about style and authority?


How can you and your students use the alphabet within the classroom?

Here is an example of an alphabet script from Curtis and Wesley at Glen Waverley Primary School – they were in grade three at the time.

Are you going to school?
Bet ya.
Can you be my friend?
Don’t know.
Enjoy being my friend.
Gee, I guess you don’t want to be my friend right.
Huh, what did you say?
I said I guess you don’t want to be my friend right?
Jolly, of course I would like to be your friend.
Knew you would be a good friend.
Lets go to Macdonald’s.
Macdonald’s/ Okay.
Now ill race you there.
Practice first.
Quite a good idea.
Race you
Said what?
Take a short cut to Macdonald’s.
Under the bridge.
Vanish into thin air.
With who?
Xylophone! Just joking.
Yawn, I’m tired.
Zoom… they stop in front of Macdonald’s.

Students could construct an alphabet like a child’s book – the A-Z of animals using terms form your area of study. They could even construct an A-Z alphabet discussion between two major figures that relates to i.e. a famous discovery.


Ask your students to take on an optimistic persona where they address the area of study. This type of approach has been formalized under the De Bono Six Hats approach.

Similarly you can conduct it within a class by simply asking your students to view the topic through optimistic eyes. This means that they should always look for a positive light. It will require considerable student creativity to make even the most dire of circumstances into something positive.

A positive outlook is always valuable as it offsets the negative effects of depression. The Russian writer Solzhenitsyn was a great testimony to this. So are the many instances in which captives find positive pursuits to offset the negative effect of despair. It is interesting that development agencies produce manuals that give advice on being held hostage. These emphasize the value of thinking positively – there is a reality that every day in captivity increases ones odds of release. Potential hostages are also advised to perform lots of mental gymnastics and games i.e. remembering and reciting poems as a means of creating a positive mental structure.

Do not pursue what is illusory – property and position: all that is gained at the expense of your nerves decade after decade and can be confiscated in one fell night. Live with a steady superiority over life – don't be afraid of misfortune, and do not yearn after happiness; it is after all, all the same: the bitter doesn't last forever, and the sweet never fills the cup to overflowing. Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Optimism is a powerful tool. Even with the direst of information e.g. historical incidents, explore the positive outcomes. What positive outcomes can be found after recent terrorist events? What value does optimism have in our modern world?

Here I am reminded of a recent television series and book that showed how dissent can be highly creative, non-violent – and can lead to very positive outcomes even if not apparent in the short term.

No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit. Helen Keller

A man is happy so long as he chooses to be happy. Alexander Solzhenitsyn


Investigate the World Future Society predictions.

Imagine your students seeing the world from a futurist perspective. I can recall working with a group of secondary students in Ballarat in which I got a number of maps of the town and we constructed, on butcher’s paper placed on the ground, a map of Ballarat in 2020. We explored what the town would be like in the future. We explored issues such as a fast rail track to Melbourne, its implications, and environmental problems.

Ask your students to project themselves into the future. What will home entertainment be like in 50 years time? What will be the new advances in science or medicine? What new words may enter the lexicon? Here you have a similar case to A Clockwork Orange in which Anthony Burgess imagined the reality of a future Britain.

What will schools be like? Choose the subject area that you are studying and look through its frame.

You may even like to get your students to project themselves forward to a date – let's say 2050. A new order of peace exists in the word. Get your students to act as historians who then look back and report how this peace – or other events – may have come about.


An auction can be a really interesting method that you can use within a classroom. Objects can take on a value and your students can conduct a mock auction in which those objects are sold. Students could create and auction objects used in films – a decorated pair of red shoes from a charity shop that become Dorothy’s shoes from The Wizard of Oz or a broom that is a Quidditch broom from Harry Potter.

Students could be allocated a budget and as a result they have a limit to what they can buy in the auction, particularly if they are after a number of items. The real skill is in the selling. How can the objects be given greater value in the blurb and in the selling itself? This may require the students doing considerable research into The Wizard of Oz and Judy Garland’s career. Time can increase the value of the object as can a range of other factors that can be brought in. "These shoes – Dorothy’s – also graced the front cover of a top selling ELO album."

In auctions there is usually a base price for sale as well as a base price at which the potential buyer will not exceed. There is a lot of learning that can be achieved in the practice of a simulated auction. This includes sales pitches and an opportunity to understand and explore market value. At one time, for example, ashtrays were dumped into the rubbish. Increasingly they are becoming collectible as the paraphernalia surrounding the culture of smoking disappears. I have a really interesting example of a photo that must have some value at home. It is a 1960s magazine in which the French philosopher and writer Jean Cocteau is advertising of all things televisions. For one aware of his cultural and intellectual fame this is quite an odd advertisement.

I can recall one excellent class in which a grade five primary school teacher auctioned tickets on the choice of two trips – a trip microscopically through the body or through outer space. The students spent a number of weeks creating their travel packages by researching the topics in depth. Finally these were auctioned. Which of these two choices most interested the other students? Only a certain number if tickets were available.

There are no doubt many other ways in which auctions can be used within a classroom. Have a look at eBay to explore the values of items and how they are advertised for auction. This could be an interesting activity as students get to guess and follow the real price at which something sells.


How can your students use a dice in learning? If you can get hold of a big dice then simply throw it around a circle as a way of choosing groups. Whatever number faces a student decides the group number.

How about throwing a dice to explore probability. What number will come up the most? Do the numbers start evening out? Assign tasks with a number. You can even have aspects of a character or events and situations. Throw above three and it is male. One is at home, two is at school, etc. Create a grid that assists students in the creation of stories – stories thrown open to chance.

Students can even throw two dice. Here they can play sport. When I was younger I did this with Australian Rules football. The first dice indicated goals, the next points. After four quarters I had an aggregate score. Teams played each other – the highest score winning. The maximum score was of course 24.24. This is possible yet probability would deal us very low odds in rolling eight sixes in a row.

Teams played each other. I conducted rounds. I made up ladders and recorded record scores. There is no reason why students couldn’t conduct a whole season of games with ladders, percentages and an eventual final series – a good way of introducing students to a range of mathematical methods.


Satire can be a great strategy that your students can employ. Satire has been around for many years and is a means of exaggeration that can highlight personalities and viewpoints.

See Jonathon Swift's 'A Modest Appeal to Relieve the Famine in Ireland'. This includes such exaggerated statements as : "a young healthy child, well nursed, is at a year old a most delicate, nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked or boiled."

Satire – Monty Python is always worth a look – will give students an opportunity of viewing an area of study in a new light. A mock scientist can analyse a volcano, a man can talk about his genetically engineered cows, a real estate agent can sell a rainforest. Encourage students to explore an issue and exaggerate viewpoints through satire.

On paper satire can look fairly stale. Throw it over to your students. Get them to come up with their own skits. They should have a good grasp of how satire works from television e.g South Park. A simple starting point is to take a well-known advert or a well-known personality and to put them in a different context. All the time one should be sending up something – questioning the values of our society and how we tend to swallow things uncritically. There was a quite extraordinary moment in the Michael Moore show The Awful Truth in which a group of ex-smokers – each who had had their voice boxes removed and replaced by an electronic voice box – were taken to sing Christmas carols inside the lobby of a tobacco company. This was very poignant, moving and a bitter comment on tobacco company policy.

The Galaxy Song by the Monty Python team manages to satirize cabaret by presenting lyrics that are highly scientific rather than soppily romantic.

Just remember that you're standing on a planet that's evolving
And revolving at nine hundred miles an hour,
That's orbiting at nineteen miles a second, so it's reckoned,
A sun that is the source of all our power.
The sun and you and me and all the stars that we can see
Are moving at a million miles a day
In an outer spiral arm, at forty thousand miles an hour,
Of the galaxy we call the 'Milky Way'.

Our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars.
It's a hundred thousand light years side to side.
It bulges in the middle, sixteen thousand light years thick,
But out by us, it's just three thousand light years wide.
We're thirty thousand light years from galactic central point.
We go 'round every two hundred million years,
And our galaxy is only one of millions of billions
In this amazing and expanding universe.

The universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding
In all of the directions it can whizz
As fast as it can go, at the speed of light, you know,
Twelve million miles a minute, and that's the fastest speed there is.
So remember, when you're feeling very small and insecure,
How amazingly unlikely is your birth,
And pray that there's intelligent life somewhere up in space,
'Cause there's bugger all down here on Earth.


What is carried in a suitcase? What would Hitler have carried in his suitcase? Explore the possibilities of what items one would place in a suitcase – thoughtfully or in a hurry?

Suitcases are very evocative. They carry objects and clothing and also memories. Let your students explore all possibilities. What does a suitcase signify? What does an unclaimed suitcase signify? Old suitcases are stored in sheds or in the back of a cupboard. What do they contain? Explore the journey of a suitcase handed down from one generation to the next.

Place a suitcase at the front of the room. Let students, one at a time, open it to reveal items. How can they react? What does this tell us about surprise and mystery?

If a suitcase could feel, explore its journey from a home to a far distant location. A suitcase turns up mysteriously on your doorstep. What would you do? How many things can one fit into a suitcase? What does this tell us about space and packaging? Explore the conversation between two suitcases. Explore the history of cases – chests to hard modern cases. What could a magical suitcase do?

Famous Encounters

Have you ever met anyone famous? What was it like? What would have occurred if Einstein had met the famous cricketer Sir Donald Bradman? Explore what would happen if famous people met each other. What would they talk about? Take people from different periods of history and explore their possible conversation – a bit like the strategy Phone (below).

There are many examples in which famous people from different backgrounds have met each other – see Letters (next item) that covers the conversations between T.S.Eliot and Groucho Marx.

The writer Nabokov believed that he saw the writer Kafka on a tram.

It is arguable whether this ever happened: Later in life Nabokov liked to think that on his way back from Svetlana and Lichterfelde he often shared streetcar with Kafka: "One could not forget that face, its pallor, the tightness of the skin, those most extraordinary eyes, hypnotic eyes glowing in a cave. Years later when I saw a photo of Kafka I recognized him immediately…Imagine I could have spoken to Kafka."

Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years, Brian Boyd, Chatto and Windus, 1990.


Write letters between characters. How do they build over time? This can show a character's development and understanding. I can recall a book of letters between Auguste and Louis Lumiere discussing the immediate and very practical early days of cinema. Explore letters between different characters across different places and times. The text "Groucho Letters" has fascinating correspondence between him and T.S.Eliot. What can two very different characters discuss?

Who is writing the letter? To whom? Is it angry? What is its purpose? Explore the options that exist between writer and reader. Is it a letter to an editor? If it is apologetic what is it trying to say? Imagine a Nagasaki survivor writing to Oppenheimer at Project Manhattan. What could be said? Letters can also be very loaded. Create letters that reveal both sides of an issue.

What subtleties can be revealed in the correspondence between two characters in a novel? A series of letters are written from prison. Like Marsden’s text "Letters from the Inside" there may be an element of mystery to the letters that has to be broken over time. A letter may be introducing a person in regards to work. This can help the student to establish what are the true characteristics of a person being studied. How would a celebrity reply to a letter? How would a translated letter from another culture read?

Ask the students to develop a series of letters collaboratively. Each group creates a short paragraph and these are built into and develop into a series of letters.

Inner World

Explore the inner world of a character, a person in history, an author or the thoughts of a minor player – a man watching land being cleared, a Jew watching German tanks rolling into Amsterdam. The thoughts can be written. Ask the group to pretend they are the thoughts and feelings of a person. Walk around a circle and tap students on the shoulder, or walk along a line of students. As you tap or pass them they speak the inner thoughts or feelings. Get the thoughts into a list on butcher’s paper through group work. Put a student up front as if they are a person at a particular time or place. The rest of the students speak his or her thoughts. The students become neurons: brainstorm thoughts of the character as everyone speaks. Capture the random inner thoughts in the time between conception and speech – a great license for many disparate ideas. Interview the character. The rest of the students interview the character. A student speaks the ‘public speak’ of the character, another the inner thoughts hidden behind what is spoken.

Explore the public and private face of a celebrity or politician. People can be trapped by duty – practice and inner feelings do not always match. Explore the intimate world of artists or scientists at the edge of discovery. What if many other ideas are now going to become obsolete? You have just shattered the work of many. You may be ostracized.

Explore the thoughts or feelings of a minor character. Create a random mass of inner thoughts that may have been felt at a particular time or place. Then put them together to form a character or series of characters. Show how one's inner world changes: as a child, as an adolescent, as an adult, as someone nearing the end of life.


How can you utilize the strategy of rumours with your students? Imagine the rumours that could be built within a community based on a character from a novel or famous person in history. Script or enact this series of rumours. How do they change? Explore how a rumour can be spread and changed.

You may even like to conduct a game of Chinese Whispers with your students to show how information changes when transferred through many sources.

Write a gossip column based on rumours. Get students to imagine that they are gossip columnists. One interviews another on a radio show. Explore famous rumours in history e.g. the death of Paul McCartney in the days of the Beatles.

Imagine if your students could map a rumour from its source to its conclusion – the United States to Australia. I am sure that there are texts that follow this phenomenon. An Urban Legend is a popular myth that is established within the community following a spate of rumours. This website explores the truth behind many of these legends. Your students may know of their own – they also may like to discuss their experiences with rumour in daily life. These myths are increasingly having greater reach because of emails.

What does it all mean? Why do we pass on these new and often not-so-new legends? Why are they told in many different countries and in a wide variety of languages? Not surprisingly, the researchers of modern legends, including folklorists, psychologists and specialists of all kinds, have different answers. To the folklorist, these yarns are modern fables that illustrate a moral - they are simply the continuation of cultural traditions and myths that we share to ‘make light’ of the perceived problems of our time. Psychologists’ interpretations tend to emphasize the personal insecurities and problems of individuals, while sociologists stress the interactions and dynamics of the social groups that transmit legends and other related lore…...

A tourist in Australia

A group of tourists (sometimes Japanese, sometimes American) were being driven through the outback to see the sights. When their bus ran down a kangaroo the driver stopped to address the damage. Excited by this bit of Australiana, the tourists rushed out to have a look. After a bit of camera clicking, someone had the bright idea of standing the dead roo up against a tree and putting his sport jacket on the animal for an unusual holiday photo.

Just as the tourist was about to snap his photo the roo, which was only stunned by the collision with the bus, regained consciousness and leapt off into the bush, still wearing the tourist’s expensive jacket, which contained his wallet, money, credit cards and passport.

Great Australian Urban Myths, Graham Seal, Angus & Robertson, 1995.

What is that gossip we are hearing? What might people be saying about that character? So that person is thought to be homosexual. It is a small town. Map the journey of the gossip: who through, whom to, what is said. Reveal the prejudices that exist surrounding particular issues. Map the consequences of gossip or rumour. Show how it changes: play a simple game of Chinese whispers where students stand in a line and pass along a sentence. See how it changes. Do this with a phrase, a mimed action or a drawing.

Explore how a person’s life can be made miserable by rumour. Think of cases in which people mythologize themselves and become larger than life – what does this reveal about our culture? Take an issue and explore all sides and the rumours that some may create to de-stabilize the other side. Brings us to politics and the ways in which people undermine others – mud does stick! Why do people start rumours? Why are they continued? Can they be stopped?

Think of rumours surrounding groups of people i.e. Masons. How are groups typecast? Is this fair? How has this typecasting been done through history? Think of witchcraft and the effect of rumour. As with the ‘Crucible’ how do ancient events connect with modern events i.e. McCarthy era? This decimated many Hollywood careers. How can heroes be brought down? What are the positive effects of rumour? Certainly there must be many positives to communications and in-jokes. Explore the positives.


Set up a telephone exchange in which characters in a novel, people in a town or historical location, communicate with each other. Don’t worry if that place didn’t have such technology. Get them talking. Mediate the discussions through an exchange: hello operator can I speak with the executioner please. Speak. Have a reason for speaking. Move around the room. Executioner may then ask operator to speak to priest or prisoner. Build the themes and issues into the discussion.

King Kong

Use a real phone. Place it at front table. Student to go and talk to certain person. Does not have to be a response. Build a monologue like Bob Newhart. Everyone watches and listens to discover what is being explored.

Write a transcript of a telephone conversation between two characters in history. Bob Newhart has a fascinating one in which Sir Walter Raleigh explains smoking and tobacco. Chase up a Bob Newhart CD. It will be a great introduction to scripts that can be based on the telephone. Who can forget, once heard, the janitor on the phone to his supervisor the day King Kong climbs the Empire State Building?

Bob Newhart The Introduction of Tobacco to Civilization (1963)

Things are fine here Walt…did we get the what. That boatload of turkeys. Yeah, they arrived fine, Walt. As a matter of fact, they’re still here, Walt. They’re wandering all over London as a matter of fact. See, that’s an American holiday, Walt. What is it this time – you got another winner for us, do ya? Tobacco. What’s tobacco, Walt? It’s a kind of leaf. And you bought eighty tons of it. Let me get this straight, Walt – you bought eighty tons of leaves. This may come as quite a surprise to you, Walt, but come fall in England we’re kind of up to our – it isn’t that kind of leaf? What is it, a special food of some kind, is it, Walt? Are you saying ‘snuff.’ What’s snuff? You take a pinch of tobacco (laughing) and you shove it up your nose. And it makes you sneeze. I imagine it would, Walt. Yeh Golden – rod seems to do it pretty. It has some other uses well over here. You can chew it put it in a pipe, or you shred it and put it on a piece of paper and roll it up – don’t tell me, Walt, don’t tell me – you stick it in your ear, Walt? Oh between your lips? Then what do you do to it, Walt? You set fire to it, Walt? Then what do you do, Walt. You inhale the smoke? You know what, Walt, it seems offhand that you could stand in front of your fireplace and have the same thing going for you.

A message or series of messages have been left on an answering machine. What do they reveal about the character? What message would Archimedes have left his wife?

A mobile phone has been stolen. Who by? Why? What conversations are recorded? What do phone taps reveal about a particular character? What is said when Edison is using the phone for the first time? You might even like to chase up the song OGM by Loudon Wainwright III. He has structured a number of songs around the phone.


Meetings can be very informative or tiresome affairs. Who is involved in meetings? Why? What is the agenda? What is said?

The Wiggles

Let your students explore what happens in meetings. Sit in on a meeting, record observations or read minutes. Students can even role-play a meeting e.g. two sides in a union management battle.

I was once involved in a group in which we role-played a meeting between the children’s singing group the ‘Wiggles’ and corporate management at Warner Brothers over a recording deal. This really showed the corporate side to children’s’ entertainment. See Adult in Issue #7 of The Creative Teaching Space.

A meeting may have to reach a compromise. What is the issue? Who are the key players? How is conflict handled? Record the minutes of the meeting. Map the main ideas. What action is going to be taken?

There are innumerable meeting formats that your students can explore. What roles are taken in a meeting? How does communication work? How can one stop a meeting from getting bogged down?

Imagine a meeting between famous people: The Beatles discussing a recording contract, a meeting to discuss the ending of a war, a meeting to discuss the distribution of food aid to a region in famine. Your students may even be able to find transcripts of famous meetings on the Internet.


Let your students imagine that they are marooned on an island like Robinson Crusoe – or the more recognized case of the Tom Hanks' film Castaway – how would your students survive? Take specific instances and explore how knowledge from your area of study can be applied: maths, the laws of physics or even an artistic sense to offset psychological despair. Students could write a diary and explore the subtleties and realities of such a predicament. Watch Castaway or read sections from the online etext of Robinson Crusoe.

Where would the person be marooned? What would the climate be like? What types of plants and animals would be encountered? Use this as a way of studying geographical locations.

I consulted several things in my situation, which I found would he proper for me: 1st, health and fresh water, I just now mentioned; 2ndly, shelter from the heat of the sun; 3rdly, security from ravenous creatures, whether man or beast; 4thly, a view to the sea, that if God sent any ship in sight, I might not lose any advantage for my deliverance, of which I was not willing to banish all my expectation yet. Robinson Crusoe Chapter 4.

For those interested in the works of Daniel Defoe your students may like to explore parts of Journal of the Plague Year.

This text, written like a journal, is a work of fiction that tries to capture what it may have felt like in a society with impending plague. It is an interesting piece of historical writing presented in the present tense.

This leads me again to mention the time when the plague first began; that is to say, when it became certain that it would spread over the whole town, when, as I have said, the better sort of people first took the alarm and began to hurry themselves out of town. It was true, as I observed in its place, that the throng was so great, and the coaches, horses, wagons, and carts were so many, driving and dragging the people away, that it looked as if all the city was running away; and had any regulations been published that had been terrifying at that time, especially such as would pretend to dispose of the people otherwise than they would dispose of themselves, it would have put both the city and suburbs into the utmost confusion.

Your students may even like to explore the stories of the Japanese soldiers who were marooned by their own psyches after the end of the second world’s war. A number of soldiers afraid to surrender and skeptical of suggestions that the war had ended – leaflets dropped from planes – remained on isolated islands until even the late sixties and early seventies. These were most harrowing stories of misunderstanding, loyalty and survival.

By far the most famous account is that in the text No Surrender: My Thirty Year War. This fascinating account explores how Hiroo Onada managed to adapt on the island – physically and mentally – eluding capture as locals had suspicions of his presence for many years. It is an extraordinary account of how one man was able to survive. Onada become a folk hero in Japan and lived out his quiet final years in Brazil.

The helicopters kept flying noisily over the islands and dropping countless leaflets in the jungle. The search party pitched tents in various locations and communicated with each other by telephone. As I moved about from hiding place to hiding place, I wondered why they did not leave me some binoculars and a telephone. If I had a telephone, I could talk to the intelligence agents in secret and relay to them all the information I had gathered over the years. The only explanation I could accept for their not leaving me a telephone somewhere was that they wanted at all costs to keep me from coming out of the jungle.

No Surrender, My Thirty Year War, Hiroo Onoda, Harper & Rowe, 1974.

Get your students imagining if a character that you are studying mysteriously survived. He or she may have gone to live elsewhere. What would they have done? This is of course similar to those many myths on the supposed survival of Hitler. It even occurs in supposed sightings of Elvis.

Where's Elvis?

See What If? (below) for other suggestions.


This odd word is a reasonably recent coinage for the writing of historical events – documentary – in terms of prose. The writer tries to capture, through prose, an essence that may be hard to capture by conventional biographical style. Here fiction tries to fill in missing pieces as if presenting the story from a personal or immediate perspective. This style of writing has been adopted by many feature journalists and novelists. Famous examples are Norman Mailer’s Executioner’s Song, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang – all are personalized accounts of murderers. They fly in the face of conventional biography by using narrative conventions. This has deep and lasting effects on the reader at the same time as upsetting many historical purists. Perhaps your students could take your area of study and present it in this style – bringing events to life through the immediacy of fiction i.e. dialogue, dates and present tense.


I lost my own father at 12 yr. of age and know what it is to be raised on lies and silences my dear daughter you are presently too young to understand a word I write but this history is for you and will contain no single lie may I burn in Hell if I speak false.

God willing I shall live to see you read these words to witness your astonishment and see your dark eyes widen and your jaw drop when you finally comprehend the injustice we poor Irish suffered in this present age. How queer and foreign it must seem to you and all the coarse words and cruelty which I now relate are far away in ancient time.

The True History of the Kelly Gang Peter Carey.


Encourage students to explore how we talk about time. What if our measurement of time changes? Write stories, poems, etc, in which time is very different.

The revolutionary French established the Republican Calendar in 1793, including decimal time. The day was divided into 10 decimal hours, each divided into 100 decimal minutes of 100 decimal seconds each, and 10 days made a week, or "décade". Clocks were constructed with decimal faces, some of them displaying times in both systems. Time was reckoned from the meridian of Paris, which is about nine minutes, twenty-one seconds ahead of GMT. Although time divisions were decimal, they did not use the standard metric prefixes, e.g. deci-, centi-, milli-, micro-, etc., so they were not entirely consistent with other metric units. They also used 1 as their origins, instead of 0, so midnight was ten o'clock, instead of zero o'clock, and days of the week were numbered 1 to 10. However, decimal time was abandoned after only two years, although the ten-day décade survived until the 1805, when it was repealed by Emperor Napoleon.

What If?

Lee Harvey Oswald ... what if ...?

Let your students observe history from another angle. What would have happened if the Nazis had won the war? What would have happened if Boudin, near Botany Bay at the same time as Cook, had proposed and initiated the French settlement of Australia?

Any event or time can be seen from a new perspective. What would have happened if the atomic bomb had not been discovered, if a cure for penicillin had not been found, if television had not been invented?

See the film Fatherland for an example of a film that takes a what if? perspective. Apply this concept to your curriculum and see what your students come up with.

Here is an example from a website that tackles history from new angles.

In 1964, JFK is re-elected as President of the United States. On the one hand, he accomplishes the task of narrow passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the eventual passage of the 1966 Voting Rights Act, after much delay and compromise. But the White House soon finds itself under fire when in 1964, the PRC detonates its first A-Bomb. These criticisms become even greater when Kennedy, against the advice of his military advisors and his Secretary of State Robert MacNamara, orders the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam, during the lame duck year of 1967.

By 1968, the situation becomes even more grim for the Democrats. With the Soviets moving troops into Czechoslavakia, Viet Cong troops overrunning the capital of Saigon and the Chinese explosion of an H-Bomb, many Republicans and even some moderate Democrats are beginning to question whether the Kennedy administration's foreign policy should be considered a failure.

Personal Effects

It can be very moving going through the personal effects of a loved one who has died. This can involve sorting and cleaning up a room – going through a lifetime of possessions that evoke a different era as well as triggering memories in surviving family. Let your students imagine that they are going through this process with a famous person that they are studying, a character from a novel or a character that has been created. What will be found? What does it tell us about the person? What effect may it have on the sorter? Remember that students always have the option of personalizing players within a drama. By personalizing the sorter they create a much wider range of possibilities. What will the sorter do with the valuables? We all know the saga of Picasso's will and how it and his estate even to this day causes great controversy.

I was once very moved by a 1960s documentary that explored the studio of the photographer Dorothea Lange shortly after her death. It carried a real emotion of discovery, and privilege, as the filmmakers sorted through her studio and personal effects. It left one with a real sense of her character.

A most unusual estate that I came across was in the Victorian town of Maryborough. For many years an intellectually disabled man, Wallace Richards, had been riding his bike to weddings – sometimes forty kilometers – to photograph the bride and groom. He was a well known and tolerated local. People posed for him, knowing that he was harmless. He had an old box brownie camera and often pointed the camera on an angle. Many people thought that he had no film in his camera. After his death it became apparent to the locals that he had in fact photographed hundreds of weddings. To make matters even more interesting he had captured a totally different impression of these weddings. It was quite extraordinary to see thousands of photos, from his estate, laid out in the town hall. Locals looked enthusiastically at the recorded history.

One never knows what one can find in an estate – obsessions, hobbies, deeply personal writings. I am sure that many families and valuers have quite extraordinary stories.

Encourage students to explore the evocative power of personal effects. What do they tell us about the person?

The singer/songwriter Loudon Wainwright III has recorded a moving tribute to his father. It shows only too well the poignant power in possessions left behind.

Sometimes I forget

(Loudon Wainwright III Album: History)

Sometimes I forget that you have gone
You've gone and you're not coming back
And it's hard to believe you're still not here
What's left behind disputes that fact

Your closet's still full of your clothes and your shoes
And your bookcase still holds all your books
It's as if all you done is gone out of town
You'll be back soon that's just how it looks

But your suitcase is empty
It's right here in the hall
That's not even the strangest thing
Why would you leave your wallet behind?
Your glasses, your wrist watch and ring?
Your glasses, your wrist watch and ring?

Sometimes I forget that you have gone
And that we'll never see you again
I think for a moment I've gotta give him a call
But I can't now I realise that

No we can't meet for lunch at the usual place
The place where we always would go
And there was something I wanted to tell you so bad
Something I knew that you'd want to know

Oh I could go by myself to our hold haunt
But that seems such a strange thing to do
The waiters would wonder what was going on
Why weren't you there? Where were you?
Why weren't you there? Where were you?

Sometimes I forget that you have gone
I remember and I feel the ache
How could it have happened?
How could it be?
Its not true there must be some mistake

Mementoes, memories, tell me what good are they?
No they're not much to have and to hold
And it's true that you've gone and that you're not coming back
And this world seems so empty and cold

But sometimes something happens
And it doesn't seem strange
You're not far away in the air
Sometimes I forget that you have gone
Sometimes it feels like you're right here
Right now it feels like you're right here

Darron Davies

© Copyright In Clued - Ed 2009


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