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Get to grips with grammar

Spelling First. By Ray Barker and Christine Moorcroft.

Books 1, 2 and 3 pound;6 each. Teacher's Resource Book 1, 2 and 3. pound;30 each Nelson Thornes.

This series tackles the complexities of English spelling head-on. Using a vocabulary which includes words such as cressets and peristaltic from intriguingly unfamiliar texts, these books make no concessions to those who might prefer a dumbed-down guide to spelling rules and strategies.

Each unit follows a similar pattern. A brief passage from an interesting text to illustrate the spelling rule or strategy in context. The activities which follow target the word level objectives of the Framework for Teaching English in a manner which is likely to prove challenging to all but the most able pupils. The activities contain plenty of instructions, such as copy and complete the chart and find examples of prefixes but little space is given to explaining to students precisely why they should do these things. The teacher's resource books are helpful in this respect, particularly for non-specialists, and the sections which explain ways of tackling words specific to particular subjects are inventive and intelligent.

Grammar First. By Ray Barker and Christine Moorcroft. Books 1, 2 and 3 pound;6 each. Teacher's resource books 1,2 and 3 pound;40 each. Nelson Thornes.

Similar in design and approach to Spelling First, the extracts here put topics such as apostrophes, semi-colons and clauses into varied and interesting contexts, which help students develop their understanding of grammatical principles.

Assignments which ask students to create their own texts, using grammatical features studied earlier in the unit, encourage pupils to think critically about the decisions which they make when, for example, structuring a paragraph or extending and developing their sentences.

Guidance is clear and expectations are high. These resources should help students develop both in their writing and in their thinking about language.

Between the Lines. By Wendy Wren and Geoff Reilly. Pupil Books, Years 7, 8 and 9 pound;7.50 each. Teacher Books 1, 2 and 3, with copy masters: pound;25 each. Badger Publishing.

This well-intentioned course tries, with some success, to exploit the potential of contemporary texts in targeting objectives from the KS 3 English Framework. For example, an article on skateboarding from Adrenalin magazine entitled "All you ever wanted to know about wheels ... and more" is used as the basis for an exploration of how writers use standard and non-standard forms of English; and a piece from the internet headed "Biological and Chemical Warfare: Poisonous Potions" is used as the starting point for analysis of how arguments are constructed.

Sadly, the assignments which follow are deeply unimaginative. There is, for example, little educational value in crudely worded comprehension style questions such as "How large were the airliners used as 'cruise missiles'

in the attacks on American buildings on September 11, 2001"? There are more important questions to be asked in English classrooms about September 11 than the size of the airliners. The question format owes a great deal to the old-style KS3 SATs papers. Students are instructed to consider, to list, to discuss and make notes, but only rarely are they taught anything that might help them to do these things more effectively. Teachers using these book will need to devise their own questions and assignments.

Peter Shears is head of English at Cardinal Newman Catholic School, Hove, East Sussex

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