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What Will Mr. Charnock Come Up with Today?
on April 18, 2006
"I wish I were still teaching, so I could try out some of these ideas."
That was my reaction when I first opened my copy of A Non-Workbook, Non-Textbook Approach to Teaching Language Arts. Reading through example after example of how learning can be fun, I could feel the energy of the author on every page. I envied his students who must have come to school every day wondering what the incredible Mr. Charnock had cooked up for them this time.
Although we've never met, my acquaintance with this incredible teacher and writer goes back a long time. When I was editor of the Arizona English Bulletin (1979-86), each of its three issues per year had a theme announced in advance, and rare was the occasion when I didn't receive a submission from James Charnock. I was impressed then, and am still impressed now, with his seemingly inexhaustible imagination. He could always come up with an exciting learning activity to fit the theme of the season. Some of them may have been ideas he'd already used; others perhaps were created for the occasion. In every case, though, his students benefited, along with the students of all the teachers who read the Bulletin and used the activities with their classes.
Why shouldn't students play a game like LINE UP to learn capitalization and punctuation instead of doing dreary workbook exercises? Why shouldn't they write letters based on bizarre fictional situations instead of a standard bread-and-butter letter? Why shouldn't they imagine that they are a character in a book and write to another character instead of copying their "book report" from the jacket blurb? Why shouldn't they write advertisements along with essays? Actually this type of writing may be of more use to them in later life than the 5-paragraph theme. There are endless ways to teach language arts that are FUN, not B-O-O-O-RING.
The non-workbook, non-textbook approach is one that any teacher can use. For those who are too busy to create their own activities, James Charnock has provided ideas that can be copied and used directly from his book. For others, his book may be just the stimulus they need to create lessons that will make their classes more fun, more exciting, and more meaningful. If the goal is for our students to love language, and writing, and literature, here is a way--here are lots of ways--to help them do it.