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Play the field

Mapping a course through the range of geography A-level textbooks can be a daunting task, says Liz Taylor.

The range of A-level geography textbooks currently available is substantial. As regards format, there are one-volume core texts (Nelson Thornes, OUP), two-volume core texts aimed at particular specifications (Heinemann and Longman for Edexcel B; Heinemann for AQA), single-volume AS texts (Collins, Nelson Thornes); and whole series of smaller books aimed at particular modules or parts of modules (Geographical Association, Hodder and Stoughton and Nelson Thornes).

When I asked my student and teacher review panels which format they prefer, I was surprised to find that almost everyone favoured a single volume text, mainly for ease of issuing and the reassurance of comprehensive coverage.

However, this was with the proviso that they would prefer not to carry it to and from school.

Most of the texts aim to be comprehensive in their geographical content, but additional resources might be needed for some of the more specialised A2 modules. In practice, most teachers tend to dip into a selection of books - probably the best strategy, as they all have different strengths and weaknesses.

Not surprisingly, the core of the geography is fairly similar between most single or dual-volume texts, and the "great minds think alike" principle also applies to case studies, especially the Dorset coast. However, it is refreshing to see some less common case studies, and some newer ideas from academic geography starting to emerge; some of the individual topic books are particularly well informed. To support fieldwork or techniques modules, some books have a skills section, while in others skills are integrated throughout; some series have a separate book.

The pressure of our current high-stakes testing system is clearly discernible in these books. Many have sections on exam technique and exam-style questions (particularly welcomed by the student reviewers). Most of the books are also clearly trying to stimulate a genuine interest in the subject, and the range of colour photos, maps and diagrams is excellent. In general, presentation of the single-topic books is less lavish, reflecting their lower price.

HOW THE SURVEY WAS DONE

The panel of reviewers included Chris Childs and three students from Long Road Sixth Form College and Fleur Spore and four students from St Mary's School Sixth Form Centre, Cambridge. We asked the following questions:

Subject content

* Is it clearly presented and appropriately detailed?

* Are there in-depth case studies as well as smaller-scale examples?

* Does it reflect changing global contexts and recent advances in academic geography (while recognising that textbooks have to work within the available specifications)?

Student activities

* Do these encourage thinking as well as transfer of information?

* Are students supported in developing their skills as learners?

* Do activities support the development of the skills used in examinations?

Design

* Does it support and encourage engagement with the content?

* Is it easy for students to find their way around the book when working independently as well as in class?

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