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A picture's worth a thousand words

WRITING AND PICTURES. Age range 6 to 7. BBC2 Tuesdays 11.15am. Repeated Thursdays 9.45am. Teacher's notes, Pounds 2.50. Writer's pack, Pounds 9. 99. BBC Education 0181 746 1111.

This new 10-part series, which helps with writing in the early years of primary school, shows how different styles of writing suit different purposes.

Children are seen working on writing projects with which young viewers will be able to identify. There are posters and leaflets about a jumble sale, a notice about a lost dog and a list for a trip to the seaside. These examples, and the presentation style of the programmes, show learning to write as a collaborative process, in which talk scaffolds children through all the stages of writing.

When they have finished writing, the children spend time evaluating each other's achievements. In this way writing becomes a social practice, with the children supporting one another.

Each 15-minute programme has a well-defined, single teaching point, exploring topics such as poetry, story writing, newspaper reporting, grammar and punctuation all closely linked to the national curriculum for English. Every episode also includes a short phonics lesson.

By emphasising the narrative forms of writing, Writing and Pictures has conformed to the letter of national curriculum rather than embraced the spirit. The requirement to teach a range of writing is meant to encourage teachers to look beyond the narrative text, lists, posters and notices, so that they can develop and extend children's non-fiction writing skills as well.

Instead, perhaps what is needed are resources that help teach children to begin to write reports describing the way things are, or to write explanations that describe natural processes and how things work as these are the forms of writing that are valued in history, science and geography. Such materials would be welcomed by teachers.

The programmes are part of a comprehensive package which includes teacher's notes and a writer's pack. These are well thought out and provide plenty of valuable ideas for lesson plans and reinforcement activities. The colourful resource cards in the writer's pack are useful visual teaching aids, drawing children's attention to the specific characteristics of different forms of writing.

A set of photographs featuring Scribbles, one of the animated presenters, is included to help children develop story-writing skills. A variety of phonic games are suggested and photocopiable worksheets are provided in both the support packs.

But no matter how well-made this excellent series is, it remains more of the same, rather than a programme with wider horizons for which teachers might be hoping.

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