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Teaching writing with Christopher Cheng


Lesson Ideas

Idea 1: Humpty Dumpty as historical fiction

The history and origin of the rhyme

Rather than literally referring to an egg as the nursery rhyme tells us, Humpty Dumpty was believed to be a large cannon.

The cannon was used during the English Civil War (1642 - 1649) in the Siege of Colchester (13 Jun 1648 - 27 Aug 1648). The town of Colchester, protected by a city wall built by men loyal to the King known as the Royalists (or Cavaliers), was besieged by enemies to the King known as the Parliamentarians (or Roundheads) for about 11 weeks.

Standing immediately adjacent the city wall, was St Mary's Church. A huge cannon, colloquially called Humpty Dumpty, was strategically positioned on the wall beside St Mary's Church. On either 14 July or 15 July 1648, a shot from a Parliamentary cannon succeeded in damaging the wall beneath Humpty Dumpty which, in turn, caused the cannon to tumble to the ground.

The Royalists attempted to raise Humpty Dumpty on to another part of the wall. But the cannon was too heavy without the right equipment and with the pressures of the battle. So the nursery rhyme captures this image in: 'All the King's horses and all the King's men couldn't put Humpty together again!' On 28 August 1648, the Royalists laid down their arms, opened the gates of Colchester and surrendered to the Parliamentarians.

Idea 2: Building on the imagery in Humpty Dumpty

Teachers could develop a lesson by introducing the terms image, imagery and imagination to discuss how authors, poets and film writers take a literal idea and transform it into something else (that is, it becomes figurative).

Imagery usually involves one or more of the five senses (sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell). An author uses a word or phrase to stimulate your imagination and use your memory and awareness of those senses. The memories could be positive or negative which contributes to the mood or atmosphere being created in the writing.

An abstract way of creating such images is by using figures of speech such as similes, metaphors or personification. In the nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty, the author used personification to transform the large, heavy and unstable cannon into an unstable egg that cannot sit upright without support. Through personification, the author causes us to imagine that this egg can sit, fall, become injured and die.

Devise some group activities exploring more about imagery.

Idea 3: Understanding narrative (using Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy)

Divide the class into their writing groups.

Ask students to recall their reading of Little Red Riding Hood and apply their knowledge of it when responding to the following group questions:


  1. List the characters and write a one paragraph description of each.
  2. List the problems that happen to Red.


  1. Make a comment about Red ignoring the advice given to her about the woods.
  2. What is the main idea of the narrative?


  1. Imagine that you are a journalist. You are going to write an article about the events around Red’s journey. Write the five questions that you are going to ask her in an interview.


  1. Which character has the most influence over Red?
  2. List the characters in order of power.
  3. Is there a moral to this story?


  1. If the Wolf took Red to court with a claim for the damage that Red has caused, what facts could show that she was at fault?
  2. Is Red a strong heroine?


  1. Write the article for a newspaper or news website about Red’s experiences.
  2. Rewrite the scene as if the grandmother thinks that there’s a burglar or intruder in her house instead of Red.