A war of words

8th March 1996 at 00:00
LOOK AND READ: SPYWATCH, Age range 7 to 9, BBC2 Mondays 10.45am, Repeated Fridays 11.00am

Novel by Derek Farmer Pounds 2.99; storybook (pack of five) Pounds 6.50; photocopymasters, Pounds 8.90; workbook (pack of five) Pounds 4.99; audio cassette Pounds 5.99; software for Acorn Archimedes single user Pounds 29.95, site licence Pounds 88.12.

BBC Education 0181 746 1111

With its exciting plot, cliffhanger endings and "story within a story" format, this new English series, Look and Read: Spywatch, promises to engage children's interest and stimulate imaginative discussion and response within the classroom, while teaching language skills in a lively and enjoyable manner.

Set during the Second World War, and introducing issues such as spying, evacuation, rationing and black marketeering, the series also supports much of the history work covered in the national curriculum unit Britain Since 1930.

Based on the adventures of four children (three of whom are evacuees) and their suspicions about the activities of some of the residents, the stories will help today's children understand some of the trials and triumphs of being an evacuee in the country; from the horrors of farm animals and country bombings to the excitement of looking out for spies and real eggs for breakfast.

Each 20-minute episode contains a dramatised story told in two parts around a teaching section in the middle. Most of the teaching sequences are presented by Professor CD-Rom in the library of the village where the wartime action is set. This mixture of old and new is enhanced by the adult presence of the hero of the series, Norman Starkey, who has returned to the village of his wartime adventures to write his story and to look for his great friend Polly, with whom he has lost touch since the war.

The language teaching points arise out of both past and present storylines, and include activities which are based on spelling, grammar, punctuation and letter writing. As Norman tries to find Polly's number in the phone book, for example, a lesson on alphabetical order develops.

Support materials accompany the series: a novel written at quite a demanding level, or for less fluent readers a simplified storybook (46 pages). An audio cassette accompanies the storybook, providing additional support.

Differentiated photocopy masters present language activities based on points raised in the programmes (as an alternative to these, there is a workbook which is adapted to the needs of the less fluent readers). And a software pack has been produced by Longman Logotron for Archimedes. The teachers' notes contain some excellent suggestions for discussion, role-play, writing, research and art work which can follow each episode.

This series stands as a compelling drama in its own right, with clearly developed characters and an exciting plot. However, the wider issues it raises and the insight it gives children to life in wartime Britain, along with the language lessons make it an invaluable cross-curricular res-ource for classroom use.

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