Big Fish, Little Fish

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					        BIG FISH,
              Ideas for a
Transition to Secondary School Project

           for Year 6 pupils

         Writers in Schools Project
            in association with


Introduction                                                              3

* ‘It’s a clean start with your life’: tips from Year 7 pupils            5

Suggested activities                                                      6

Useful drama techniques                                                  7

* General points on drama                                                9

* Straight from the heart – Year 6s speak out                            10

* Straight from the heart – Year 7s speak out                            11

* Cool it!                                                               12

* Standing up for yourself                                               13

Books and resources                                                  14

Pages marked with an asterisk can be photocopied and used with pupils.


Primary age children vary in their attitude to going to secondary school.
Some look forward to it, perhaps joining a brother or sister there, while
others can start worrying quite early on about being bullied or losing their
friends from primary school. As transition gets nearer, they can become
concerned at the prospect of change and loss. As one Year 6 child wrote:
‘It feels as if I’m leaving my childhood behind.’ It’s hard for children to
go from being a Big Fish in Year 6 to a Little Fish in Year 7, but it’s
important to promote the idea of secondary school as being ‘a clean start
with your life’, as another child put it.

There is, of course, a DfES curriculum unit on transition, but many
schools feel that more could be done not only in terms of listening to
children’s hopes, fears and expectations about secondary school but also
practical strategies to help them with making new friends, conflict
resolution, resisting peer pressure and becoming more self-reliant. This
approach can be blended in with the DfES work at the end of Year 6.

The Writers in Schools Project (funded by Cripplegate Foundation and
supported by CEA@Islington and the London Borough of Islington) set up
a pilot transition project called ‘Big fish, little fish’ at Hugh Myddelton
Primary School in the Summer Term 2003 with children’s writer, Neil
Arksey. It was a pastoral support project expressed through drama and
writing. After running it three times since then, twice at Hugh Myddelton
and once at Moorfields (with actor/playwright, Paul Herzberg), we
thought it might be helpful to pass on what we’d learnt to other schools in
Islington interested in developing work on transition, using a drama-into-
writing model, but couldn’t afford to have a writer-in-residence.

The aims of the project are:
   To help children with transition to secondary school, both through
      expressing their feelings and strategies to help them cope;
   To encourage children to read more and enter into characters’
      emotional worlds with empathy and understanding;
   To challenge conformity and peer pressure and help children to
      feel they can be themselves;
   To link in with the PSHE and Citizenship curriculum to explore
      issues such as peer group pressure, respect and cooperation;
   To offer more opportunities for extended pieces of writing that
      can be shared with others in a rehearsed reading.

A residency with a writer consists of 7 days in school, giving 1.5 hours to
each of two Year 6 classes in the second half of the Summer Term.
Without a writer, schools could use a different model, ideally starting in
the Autumn Term to coincide with open evenings at secondary school.
There could be regular but spaced-out sessions, culminating in more
concentrated work at the end of the Summer Term (around 10 hours’
work per class across the whole year). A range of material is offered in
this DIY programme to help teachers plan their own scheme of work,
focusing more on the drama side, which may be less familiar.

Two main writing forms are used: fictional pieces, either first or third
person narrative, and non-fiction ‘statements’. Creating a fictional
character who is just starting secondary school helps children to express
their hopes, fears and expectations more freely. They can then go on to
write non-fiction ‘statements’ or diaries on a voluntary basis when they
feel more confident. To help the struggling writers, differentiated
writing frames could be used, together with paired and group work using
a ‘scribe’. Sharing deep feelings about going to secondary school means, of
course, that children have to be able to trust the others to listen and
take them seriously.

‘Big fish, little fish’ is based on a ‘before and after’ model, with new Year
7s coming back on an organised visit to their primary school two months
after going to secondary school. They act as a panel to answer questions
from nervous Year 6 children who want straight answers from those who
have just made the transition, getting good advice such as ‘On your first
day, play it cool and don’t act flash’ and ‘Avoid bad people’ (see p. 5).

Setting up this panel needs the Heads of Year 7 in the secondary schools
to agree to release children for half a day. We have found only about a
fifth of the total number will actually come back, but those who do feel
proud when they realise how useful their experiences are to Year 6
children. The Little Fish are also asked to write their ‘after’ pieces,
saying what it was actually like in secondary school (p. 11 for examples).

We hope that the ‘Big fish, little fish’ project will offer you useful
opportunities for developing emotional literacy and self-confidence, both
of which are vital for children to make the most of their time in
secondary school.

Pat Farrington    Project Manager, Writers in Schools Project

‘It’s a clean start with your life’
Tips for new Year 7s from pupils in Islington secondary schools

   On your first day, play it cool and don’t act flash.

   Good attitude is important.

   Avoid bad people.

   Talk to loads of people – they’re just as shy as you (ask
    the person next to you what lesson they’ve got).

   Keep your head down and don’t get into fights.

   Pick real and true friends.

   If you’re bullied, go and tell someone.

   Don’t annoy other kids or the teachers.

   Don’t expect everyone to like you – be aware of annoying
    behaviour of your own.

   Be yourself - don’t pretend to be anyone you’re not.

   Find interests in common - go to after-school clubs.

   Don’t give the wrong impression like sitting alone or being

   Try your best in all your lessons.

  Note: These are just suggestions to help you get the best out of your
  new secondary school – you must decide what to do.

Suggested activities
* Have a class or group discussion about the children’s expectations of
secondary school, talking about what is true and what is myth (e.g. head
down the toilet). Look at both positive and negative aspects and then
explore strategies for dealing with the pitfalls and dangers.

* Ask children to act out what might happen in the first few weeks of
their new school, e.g. explore the differences between being a ‘somebody’
who shows off, an ‘anybody’ who shows interest in other people and a
‘nobody’ with a victim look who gets bullied. Ask whether there could be
better ways of dealing with a particular situation and perhaps re-run the
scenes in an assertive rather than aggressive way to see how to get a
different outcome. Suggest they practise ‘cool’ responses to bullies and
telling the teacher or an anti-bullying mentor.

* Ask children to invent a character going to secondary school for the
first time, like them but not them. They can use a character profile with
questions such as ‘Who do you most trust?’ and ‘Describe yourself in
three words’ and ‘What do you want to happen in secondary school?’.
Follow up with a first person dramatic monologue and/or hotseating, with
questions from other children about their reactions to their secondary
school and how they are managing their new lives, e.g. making friends.

* Using their invented character, ask children to write a fictional story
set at the beginning of Year 7, to examine a situation they think might be
difficult to deal with. Using a tried and tested story-building model, the
quest is for the character to make the most of secondary school, there
are obstacles and helpers on the way, then a climax and a resolution.
Children could follow this up with a personal, non-fictional ‘statement’ or
account of their fears, hopes and expectations of secondary school, to be
compared the following term with what it was actually like.

* Give children lots of practice in reading their writing aloud, e.g.
speaking clearly, identifying the key words in a sentence and giving them
more emphasis, pausing at full stops and dramatic points, in this way
making the story or piece of writing as interesting to the listener as
possible. Developing performance skills like this will help children develop
self-confidence in secondary school where it is harder for them to be
Neil Arksey Writer-in-Residence

Useful drama techniques
With issues of transition to secondary school, drama gives children vital
opportunities to express their feelings through an invented character,
explore likely situations, rehearse responses and learn how to resolve
conflict. They also enjoy it and it develops their self-confidence.

Improvisation This is very useful in getting children to formulate and
verbalise their ideas before writing anything down. Issues such as
bullying, making new friends and conflict resolution can be explored in an
imaginative way, e.g. looking at how to avoid conflict but at the same time
show that you are not someone who can be pushed around (e.g. saying
‘Thank you’ to the bully and walking away).

Children can work in pairs, bouncing ideas off each other and offering
constructive criticism, or in bigger groups of four to five children, with
one child acting as a scribe. Feedback from the rest of the class can help
to improve the improvisation and turn it into a sketch. ‘Flash
improvisations’ where children choose an idea and act it out spontaneously
are also useful. You could give them ‘start lines’, if they need it.

Role play is very useful in getting children to explore their feelings at
one remove through an invented character, using any of the techniques
suggested. It’s good to get the children to talk about their character
first and fill out a character profile (see suggested questions on p. 8)
beforehand or have their ideas scribed for them.

The ever-popular ‘hotseating’ is most successful when the children know
enough about their characters to be able to answer fundamental
questions such as, ‘What do you most want out of secondary school?’,
‘Who do you trust most?’ and ‘What are you most afraid of happening?’.
Even more subtly, they could consider how their character sees
themselves, compared to how other people see them… To save time, ask
the child in the hotseat to start by giving their fictional name, sex and
age and where they live and then have about 5 minutes for the questions.

Dramatic monologues are in the first person, telling the audience in
about 3-5 minutes the most interesting events in a character’s fictional
life, in this case, describing their first week in secondary school and how
they dealt with any conflict.

Sketches These should home in on an important decision to be made by
the main character/s, otherwise they can ramble on. It takes skill to set
up a situation quickly, establish your characters and the conflict and then
resolve the conflict, but children can do this with enough practice. It
might be useful to base the children’s work on a question in the character
profile, ‘What does your character need?’. Then the drama can spring
from the conflict between the needs of two characters, e.g. a new Year 7
child needs to have a fresh start in their secondary school, while a child
from their primary school they didn’t know well wants to hang on to them
for security. How would they deal with this situation sensitively?
Sketches can last between 3-10 minutes and work best with 2-5 children.

Forum theatre This interactive drama technique needs more care, but
can work very well with good preparation. A small group of children work
on a sketch around a topic agreed with the teacher and stop at the point
just before the conflict is to be resolved by doing a ‘freeze frame’. The
teacher then asks the audience for ideas on how the conflict can best be
resolved. If there is no consensus, take a vote on what to do. If the
children are confident enough and sufficiently in role, they could try to
resolve the action there and then. If they need more time to discuss it,
they could take a break and run the whole sketch through later on.

By using forum theatre, you can help children to work through issues
that are bothering them by encouraging them to take ‘real life’ scenarios
and re-enacting them with others, with better outcomes after advice and
input from the audience. However, there is always a danger of making
wished-for outcomes too simplistic, so the more dramatic obstacles there
are, the better it will work.

Suggested ‘deeper’ questions for a character profile

      Who do you most trust?
      Who do you most fear?
      What was the best day of your life so far?
      What was the worst day of your life so far?
      What do you long for most?
      What is your earliest memory?
      What is the most precious thing you own?
      What is your greatest burden?
      If you could change one big thing about your life, what would it be?
      What word or phrase do you use most when you speak?

General points on drama

      Never start a sketch, improvisation or play without a strong idea.
      Remember that heroes and villains are flawed characters, with
       good and bad in both.
      Remember to grab the attention of the audience at the beginning.
      Characters should want to achieve something (a quest) to make a
       story work well. They should meet both helpers and obstacles
       before there is a central conflict and its resolution.
      Sometimes conflict can come out of characters having different
       needs that clash.
      If you can, your main character should have a ‘moment of truth’
       about something they have done or an aspect of their character
       that has affected other people.
      Make sure the audience care about your character and what
       happens to them.
      Concentrate on the truth of the scene, leaving out the boring bits.
      Read your script aloud as much as possible and make changes based
       on what it sounds like.
      Never sell your characters short.
      Have a strong ending, but never ‘cheat’ it.

Peformance skills
      Remember not to ‘mask’ (stand in front of) other characters.
      Avoid having your back to the audience, but try not to stand in a
       straight line.
      Believe in your character.
      Learn your lines.
      Finish what you’re saying before turning away.
      Speak very clearly (imagine Grandma Mavis who’s hard of hearing
       sitting at the back of the room…).
      ‘Chunk’ your words into phrases (like the newsreaders do), so it
       makes it more interesting for the audience to listen to you.
      Look for the key words in a sentence and emphasise them a bit,
       rather than saying all the words in the same way.
      Build in dramatic pauses where they are needed.
      Work with other characters as a team and don’t ‘upstage’ them (e.g.
       distracting the audience’s attention when someone else is speaking).

   based mainly on Alan Ayckbourn’s ‘The Crafty Art of Playwriting’ (2003)

Straight from the heart: Year 6s speak out
Unedited extracts from children’s writing on ‘Big Fish, Little Fish’ project at Hugh
Myddelton Primary School, Summer Term 2003

1 ‘At lunch time, I totally embarrassed myself, in front of a gang of
popular girls by biting my sandwich as all the things came out of the other
side. That is how I made my first friend.

She was sitting in front of me, and we both started giggling (even though
I felt like crying!). Then we introduced ourselves. Her name was Lizzie
and she said that Kerie-dee is a cool name, and I blushed badly… This is
the surprising part, I told how embarrassed I was, about the sandwich.
Then she told me that her sister was a leader of the gang. HOW COOL!

At last, the day finished like lightening, and secondary wasn’t as bad as I
thought it would be. I didn’t get my head flushed down the toilet, or
bullied, I actually made a great friend, Lizzie.’

2 ‘…Mum and dad were home. I wanted to tell them about my day but
they were so busy, mum was on the computer, and dad was writing so I
knew one person I could go to and that was grandma.
   I finished my work and went to grandmas; I loved her house it was like
a hiding place to me. I knocked at her door
  ‘Oh hello darling come in, how was your first day at school’ she said.
  ‘It was okay but I didn’t make any friends’ I said.
  ‘Oh well you will soon, when I was in secondary school I couldn’t make
any friends the first day but then I did’ she said. I talked to her for a
long time, then it was getting late so I decided to go home. When I came
home Mum was talking on the phone about work, and Dad was sorting out

3 ‘It was break time and I was in the girls toilets suddenly a group of
girls came rushing in. They opened a packet of cigarettes got out their
lighter and started to smoke. I couldn’t believe it they were in my year
and they were smoking and then to make matters worse they asked me if
I wanted one ‘No thanks I’m ok I don’t smoke any way!’ the bell rang and I
ran out of the toilets and rushed straight to my next class.’

How would you deal with any of these situations?

Straight from the heart: Year 7s speak out


When I arrived I and everyone else were frightened of either getting
bullied or the hard work which we will be given. Fortunately the teachers
took good care of all the pupils.

I have been able to keep out of trouble by picking real and true friends.
And keeping out of huge gangs which hang around waiting to do something.

All the pupils normally settle in well, and my best advice I can give you
have friends which you can trust and also be on the good side of the
teachers otherwise if you get bullied they might not believe you.

I was surprised when I went on my secondary school it was ok being
alone but, I wasn’t. We get these yellow slips if you’ve been badly
behaved. To stay out of trouble I had to stay out of people’s way,
don’t annoy people, and DO NOT ANNOY THE TEACHERS.
The best thing that has happened to me was I met other people like me
the worst thing that has happened to me was I forgot my home work.

              3   MY EXPERIENCE IN SCHOOL

My experience in Secondary school has changed many times. When I
first went to school I was nervous but now I have been in the school for
over a month I feel safe as if I was still in primary school. When I first
came I thought that I was going to get bullied and get lost, but I didn’t.
  Inside the first week I knew where to go and I never got bullied at all. If
you think you might get picked on by teachers or older children in the
school you won’t because theyre really nice. The best thing that happened
is that you make new friends. The worst is that there are no girls.

What do you think of the experiences of these Year 7s?

                    * * *             Cool it!               * * *
                Ground rules for sorting out arguments

       keep calm and try to be positive;
       say what you feel without hurting the other person, so no blaming,
        interrupting, swearing or name calling;
       listen to the other person’s reasons and feelings;
       avoid saying ‘You should…’ or ‘Why didn’t you?’;
       go for what you can do, not what you can’t or don’t want to do.

 To try and sort out an argument, each person could take it in turn to:

            -   say what you both think the problem really is and agree on

            -   find out why it matters so much to the other person;

            -   say why you’re feeling angry or upset;

            -   check that you understand the other person’s point of view;

            -   say what action you’d like to take (for example, you could
                offer to listen to a CD both of you want for half an hour each or
                swap CDs);

            -   agree on a solution that both of you think is fair (this could
                be a better idea, such as listening to the CD together).

Try saying things like:

       ‘I need you to stop that’ (rather than ‘If you don’t stop that, I will
       ‘I’m listening to you, so please listen to me’ (rather than
        something like ‘You’re stupid’…’);
       ‘What do you think about this?’ (rather than ‘You’d better do that
        or else!’)
       ‘If you do something for me, I’ll do something for you’ (rather than
        ‘I want…’)

Based on material in ‘Let’s Mediate!’ by Hilary Stacy and Pat Robinson (1999)

       ****      Standing up for yourself                   ****

   You have a right to be treated fairly.

   You have the right to be yourself, which may be the same or
    different from what other people would like.

   You have the right to say ‘no’ if someone asks you to do something
    you feel is wrong.


   Show respect to other people by listening to them. It’s up to you to
    try and understand them.

   Be clear about what you need and don’t give up if at first people
    don’t listen to you. Keep trying to find someone who will listen.

   Notice what your feelings are and find the right person (and the
    right time) to talk to about them.

   If someone upsets you, try saying: ‘Why do you say that?’

   When you speak to people, don’t look down, look them in the eye and
    speak slowly and clearly.

   If you don’t understand something, ask someone to explain.


   Being assertive means being direct, honest and clear, having power
    within you, rather than being powerless or having power over other

            Based on work done on assertiveness by Mary Stacey

Books and resources

For primary age children
Leeson, Robert Red, White and Blue, Collins 1996
The most useful part of this book is the diary written by Wain, in his Year 7 English ‘Pen
Friend Project’ in which he tells the real truth to someone who doesn’t exist. By
contrast, he tells the ‘official truth’ to his English teacher and a truth that only exists
in another world in extracts from a fantasy novel he is writing. The messages are to
have confidence in yourself and find others who don’t necessarily fit into the
mainstream, and that things look different and usually better as time goes on.

Pielichaty, Helena Simone’s Letters and Simone’s Diary, OUP, 1999 and 2000.
Simone’s Letters is an engaging look at the heroine’s life in her last year in primary
school and also full of insights about her experiences as a child of divorced parents.
Simone’s Diary is about her first year in secondary school which she looks forward to
because she wants to be treated like a grown up, but she’s afraid that her friend, Chloe,
will be ‘in a mardy’ on the first day and she will have to sit on her own…

For teachers
Measor, Lynda and Fleetham, Mike Moving to Secondary School: Advice and
activities to support transition, Network Educational Press (forthcoming) 01785-
225515. Working from research and case studies (including the Writers in Schools
Project at Hugh Myddelton Primary School), this book suggests both short activities and
longer-term programmes to help children make the transition to secondary school.

Graham Gardner, Inventing Elliott, Dial Books for Young Readers, 2003
A novel for teenagers that is well worth reading for its portrayal of the survival of the
fittest in secondary school. Fourteen-year-old Elliott is taken up by the Guardians, a
secret society which runs the school by terrorising and bullying other students.
Inspired by Orwell’s 1984, this book is quite chilling in parts.

Teachernet, Transition phase, part 2:

Antidote: The Campaign for Emotional Literacy

D.A.T.E Curriculum Pack on drugs, alcohol and tobacco and PSHCE Curriculum Pack

The Big Change videopack for children, parents and teachers, Young Voice, 2005
(£16.00 inc. p&p,; 020-8979-4991). This includes a research article
on transition, a video and ‘Tips for Transition’ for parents and teachers.

We would like to thank Neil Arksey and Paul Herzberg, who have worked on ‘Big fish,
little fish’ residencies, on whose experiences much of this material is based, and Diane
Samuels and Andy Walsh for use of ideas from their character profiles. Thanks, too, to
Steph Makepeace from Robert Blair Primary School for helpful comments and to Sue
Adler from the Islington Education Library for work done on the books and resources.


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