Bright idea that colours my views

Gerald Haigh

Gerald Haigh looks at books aimed at easing the teacher's work.

To see so many big, bright and colourful books in one place is to be impressed by just how much help there is around now for the classroom teacher. Most of the series listed below take advantage of the photocopier, which has changed classroom practice beyond recognition in the space of a few years. And when you remember that the task of the average primary teacher is to teach too many things to too many children in too little time, you cannot begrudge them all the support they can get.

And yet I confess to a feeling of unease at the thought of what is implied by "do it this way" books with worksheets. The image that comes readily to mind is of pupils busy on work which they like but do not fully understand. Heads, teacher trainers and inspectors know only too well how easily the worksheet can be a substitute for reflection and careful planning.

The answer, obviously, is that such resources have to be used selectively and tailored to individual needs and to the overall philosophy of the school - which, of course, implies good curriculum management. If a school does not have such leadership, then this selection of resources well demonstrates that there is more than enough material around to feed, in any classroom, the much-criticised "worksheet culture".

So, what does each of these series offer?

Brighter Vision books (some key stage 1, some key stage 2) provide worksheets to support the core curriculum. Children will enjoy the sheets, but teachers should use them sparingly because some of them provide relatively unchallenging "busy work" - cutting out, colouring in, copying, doing little puzzles. For example, the activity "Noisy or Quiet?" provided for key stage 2 science, involves cutting out and pasting into the relevant boxes small pictures of things that are noisy (aeroplane, a clown with a drum) and things that are quiet (a teddy bear, the sun). This is a good example of a time-consuming task that has relatively little to do with real learning.

Scholastic's Teacher Timesavers give instructions for a lot of good technology and maths activities using easy-to-find materials - make a paper spinner and record its performance; build a Tudor house from artstraws; create a fresh fruit salad. Many of the activities will need teacher or helper support, but are no worse for that.

Scholastic's Bright Ideas series is very well known. Now we have Study Skills, which starts from the well-founded assumption that children have to be taught how to find things out from books, maps and the media. It explains the issues - dipping well into what secondary schools would recognise as "media studies" - and gives some photocopiable exercises. There is much for the teacher to read, and this is far from a last-minute filler.

Still with Scholastic, each Themes for Early Years book takes a child-friendly subject such as toys or pets and sets out a topic web of the kind commonly used in primary curriculum planning. This traces the theme through a wide range of national curriculum subjects. The activities are generally creative and sound, though as always you have to beware of material which is unchallen-ging and over-simpli- fied. Thus in Toys the topic offers "Robots" under the heading of technology. The robots described, though, are cartoon stereotypes, and bear no relation to actual robots in science and industry. The opportunity to address the subject of control, in information technology, has been missed. Instead we have the question: "How do robots move?" and the answer: "Jerkily and rather slowly", which in terms of real robotics is entirely misleading.

Again from Scholastic,Curriculum Bank offers lots of background material which supports photocopiable worksheets. The main problem with this series is that it tries to cram everything in. Each of the history books, therefore, becomes a bewildering compendium of historical facts - Queen Salote of Tonga, the Crystal Palace, Amy Johnson, Evacuation, ENSA, the first moonwalk...

The How to Sparkle at... books provide reinforcement activities for early literacy which are carefully chosen. Used with discretion they will provide good support for the teacher, and would be suitable for pupils to use alongside the classroom helper. I'm not sure about "Nursery Rhymes", which uses well-known rhymes as starting points for reading skill activities. Is this any different from the sin of using Shakespeare in comprehension exercises? I only ask.

The Folens Ideas Bank is amassive resource covering large areas of the primary curriculum. I admired the simple layout - support material on one side, photocopiable sheet facing - and I particularly liked Telling Stories, which leads key stage 1 pupils into lots of ideas about sequencing, character and plot.

Also from Folens, Key Ideas, unlike the other resources described here, has just the ideas, with no worksheets. For my money the series, which covers several primary curriculum areas, is all the better for that, because there is room to give the teacher lots of advice, with good colour illustrations. In my experience many primary teachers, espec-ially at key stage 1, prefer this approach - "Give us the ideas and we'll do the rest,'' is what they say.

Finally, the Folens Brain Waves series provides good support for a range of subjects at key stage 2. As always, over-simplification is an ever-present peril (the strip of illustrations of the Ten Commandments in Christianity verges on the satirical) but intelligent teacher intervention should make them work.

Incidentally, this book, has, on the page called "Jesus in the Temple" a line drawing which is a straight crib (with added speech bubbles) of Holman Hunt's painting "The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple" - but there is no acknowledgement of or reference to the original. This one page sums up the fundamental problem of the worksheet approach. By my reckoning, at least a quarter of a million children sit in classrooms within a short coach ride of the Birmingham Art Gallery and could easily go to see Holman Hunt's large and sumptuous painting, which is worth any number of photocopiable worksheets.


Teacher Resource Books

Phonics Activities 1

Phonics Activities 2

Comprehension Activities

Maths Activities

Science Activities 1

Science Activities 2

Brighter Vision

Pounds 11.99 each


Technology By David Boyle and Margaret Wilson Martin

Physical Processes By David Byrne

Exploring Shape and Space By Leonie McKinnon

Measurement Skills By Leonie McKinnon


Pounds 9.99 each


Study Skills By Merry Hutchings and Helen Schmitz

Scholastic Pounds 8.99


Pets By Lynne Burgess

Growing By Jenny Morris

Toys By Barbara J. Leach

Journeys By Chris Heald Scholastic Pounds 7.99


History (KS1) By Penelope Harnett

History 1 and History 2 (KS2) By Martin Forrest and Penelope Harnett Scholastic Pounds 11.99


By Jo Laurence

Nursery Rhymes

Alphabet Skills


Prediction Skills

Brilliant Publications

Pounds 10.95 each


Reading for Information By Craig Ennew

Christianity By Christine Moorcroft

Romans By Peter Hepplewhite and Neil Tonge

Tudor Times By Christine Moorcroft

Folens Pounds 12.99 each


Writing to Communicate By Chris Webster

Encouraging Reading By Richard Brown

Designing and Making By Marilyn Thorp

Telling Stories By Rita Ray

The Indus Valley By Jill Bennett

Tudor Times By Neil Tonge and Peter Hepplewhite

Songs and Rhymes By Ian Sharp

Listening and Performing By Christine Ward

Phonic Awareness 1 and 2 By Mary Green

Folens Pounds 9.99 and Pounds 11.99 each


Designing and Making by Georgina Stein

Folens Pounds 9.99

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