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Down to basics

GRAMMAR ESSENTIALS. By Geoff Barton. SPELLING ESSENTIALS. By Shireen Shuster. Longman Pounds 4.99 each. HOMEWORK FILE. Pounds 29.95 + VAT.

With the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority's The Grammar Papers: perspectives on the teaching of grammar in the National Curriculum sitting like a time bomb on the desks of heads of English, and a pilot key stage 3 paper explicitly testing pupils' knowledge and application of correct grammar, punctuation and spelling now underway, English teachers cannot avoid the grammar question any longer.

Since many of them wereeducated in the 1960s to 1980s, when the teaching of formal grammar was out of favour, a certain amount of boning up on the rules will be necessary. This is where Longman has stepped in with its Essentials series.

Both texts make every attempt to remove the dryness often associated with grammar teaching. A friendly voice guides students through the text: "You already know . . . ", "You may not be sure . . ." The relevance of each rule and the objectives of the unit are explained, concluding with a summary of key points.

Examples and practice exercises try to bring abstract theory into the realms of students' everyday lives. And humour is clearly a priority. " I hate eating catfood," "Who is complaining about school standards?" Each text is complemented by a photocopiable Homework File that offers imaginative, challenging yet fun activities for students to consolidate their understanding. Activities include writing newspaper reports, drafting, letter writing, research skills and reading texts from a variety of genres.

The Spelling Essentials file offers advice on developing a whole-school spelling policy, acknowledging that this is not just the responsibility of the English department.

While the texts teach systematically and could be adopted as a grammarspelling course, perhaps for Year 7 or 8, equally, units could be used discretely. Either way, the series is a non-threatening, refreshingly down-to-earth introduction to the learning and teaching of grammar and spelling for apprehensive students and teachers.

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