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Focus on a range

OXFORD LITERACY SKILLS 1. By Geoff Barton, Richard Broomhead, Fiona Edwards and Julie Macey. Oxford University Press pound;9. Answer Book pound;12

NET 1 AND 2. By David Orme and James Sale pound;8 each.

NETWORKING 1. Edited by David and Helen Orme pound;60. Stanley Thornes

SKILLS IN ENGLISH 1. By Lindsay McNab, Imelda Pilgrim and Marian Slee, pound;8.99. Homework and Differentiation File. By Lindsay McNab, Imelda Pilgrim and Marian Slee. pound;64.99 + pound;5.25. Heinemann

If you enjoy watching your head of department turn pale, suggest that they buy a new set of course books and support material for key stage 3. The magnitude of the expenditure involved is enough to give the hardiest soul sleepless nights weighing up the comparative educational values of theatre trips as against paper to write on, or visiting writers as against books to read.

Of the three new series reviewed here, Oxford Literacy Skills is perhaps the most conventional in its approach - a student's book of well-selected texts, clearly set out, with a range of activities to engage interest and extend understanding. Particularly useful is the "language focus" which opens each section, so that grammar learning is firmly embedded in the realities of language in use.

The accompanying teacher's answer book is a real boon, since it gives the thinking behind the activities and offers a range of possible answers to the questions, so that marking can be speeded up exponentially, allowing more time for formative assessment and the targetting of individual learning.

The new series from Stanly Thornes,net, is much more problematic. The idea behind it is attractive: to make links between different items of information and reading experiences in a way that more closely reflects the natural patterns of learning than the traditional sequential textbook. It also enables English teachers to build up a useful body of mini-projects.

Unfortunately, there are confusions in the way the student's book is ordered - in the crucial "network" index spread the authors draw a distinction between "fiction" on the one hand and "prose" on the other, which is fundamentally misleading. The design of the individual activity pages is not always clear and is incredibly wasteful of space.

On the other hand, networking 1, the teacher's book of photocopiable resources, provides a range of very useful activity sheets linked to each text, accompanied by clear details of the learning objectives and literacy components involved.

Skills in English stands midway between convention and innovation - the body of the student's book is packed with a superb range of lively and stimulating texts and carefully structured activities, including ICT, while the Language in Action section at the end provides clear explanation of the full range of grammatical features that students need to have at their command.

The teacher's photocopiable Homework and Differentiation File provides a vast bank of consolidation and extension activities, which, through use of the accompanying CD-Rom, can be modified to target the specific needs of groups or individuals.

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