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Television: pick of the week

GCSE Bitesize: History

BBC2 Monday, May 26, 2-4am; Sunday, June 1, 3-5am The two history programmes in the Bitesize series cover Modern British History (this week) and Modern European and World History (on the following Sunday) - no Tudors, thankfully. The programmes are available on tape and the website contains additional practice materials and a booklet from BBC Educational Publishing (pound;4.99, PO Box 234, Wetherby, West Yorkshire LS23 7EU) setting out the key facts with practice essay questions and hints on studying and revising for exams. The first programme deals with seven topics: the Liberal Reforms of the 1900s, votes for women, the Home Front during the First and Second World Wars, the General Strike, the Depression and the welfare state. Study skills are an essential component of Bitesize. The second programme, as well as providing information and archive film topics on, for example, Nazi Germany and the USSR, has clear advice on evaluating historical sources, interpreting evidence, and how to plan and write essays. Tony Robinson lends his reassuring voice to the presentation and historians offer expertise and advice to students based on their own experience. As the title suggests, the material is broken up into small chunks that are time-coded for easy reference, and each section includes explanations of possibly unfamiliar vocabulary ("infer", "indoctrinate", "propaganda"). Examiners also come out of hiding to reveal secrets of their trade, such as how they decide different grades.

Work Talk: FranceGermany

BBC2 Thursday, May 29, 5-6am

Modern foreign languages are an asset in a variety of jobs and these two half-hour programmes may suggest to keen students how they will later be able to use French and German, particularly in the fields of travel and tourism. The films profile a British woman working as a guide in France, the retail manager for a cross-Channel company dealing with customers in Dieppe, a British couple who run a bed-and-breakfast hotel in Hamburg and British Airways staff who need German for their work.

Ultimate Guide: Volcanoes

Discovery Channel Sunday, May 25, 8-9pm

This American documentary is notable for the stunning quality of the pictures and for the banality of the commentary. Volcanic cliches erupt at predictable intervals: "When the Earth explodes, it's not only the ground that shudders", we learn, in a scene showing people running for their lives. The narrative centres on the work of two Ecuadorian volcanologists as they monitor renewed activity in the Tungurahua volcano. They know that an explosion would produce a deadly pyroclastic flow - a cloud of fire and rock that can travel faster than 100 miles per hour and carbonise anything and anybody in its path. But after some false alarms the inhabitants of the town of Banos are unwilling to be evacuated again from their homes and a tense situation develops: "The pressure isn't just building up inside the volcanoI" As we wait for the volcanologists to blow, we see footage from other eruptions and learn a good deal about this spectacular phenomenon.

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