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Let wise words be your guide

Teachers who show DVDs in lessons sometimes feel as though they are guilty of the ultimate educational sin: laziness.

George Cukor, Franco Zeffirelli and Baz Luhrmann may have produced more thought-provoking film versions of Romeo and Juliet than you can create on your limited budget, but the silent accusations linger - that Sir or Miss should do better. Or, in other words, that you have betrayed your GCSE students as thoroughly as a parent who leaves a toddler in front of back-to-back CBeebies.

There are, of course, many things that pupils can learn from a film; not least the variety of ways in which a text can be interpreted and brought to life. They can encourage creativity and make classic writers relevant to an audience who would rather switch on an iPod than read a book.

Yet films and other similarly useful classroom tools that have not involved hours of the teacher's blood, sweat and tears seem destined for criticism. Study guides, for example, have for years been the salvation of teachers - from the nervous and newly qualified to the perennially overworked. But today they have fallen from grace, dismissed by critics as the lazy teacher's solution, and one that is destined to produce a rigid and uncreative lesson.

Nonetheless, the number being published has increased so markedly that they are being referred to as one of the biggest growth areas in the education industry. So are they an asset, or a liability? Should they be lauded, or marked "use with caution"?

The truth lies somewhere in between. As with so many classroom aids, study guides, used appropriately, can be a boon. Mine them for ideas on how to spur on pupils to consider new ways of thinking; digest them and reflect on more lively ways to bring a tired subject to life. Take inspiration from their most accessible and relevant material, adapt it, make it your own and pass it on.

As long as you do not view them as a babysitter - or, worse, a form of respite care - the results may surprise both you and their persistent, and arguably less creative, detractors.

Jo Knowsley is acting editor of TESpro @tes.

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