Consumer report on a first-class resource

23rd March 2007 at 00:00

The use of lively, relevant source material can be the key to motivating your students. But where to find it without wasting hours in the search? One answer to where, is Which?

Which? is the magazine of an independent organisation that carries out product tests and supplies information to the buying public, to help them select the best and avoid the worst products and services. That means subjects of interest to you, me, and most of our Skills for Life learners.

It also offers an opportunity for embedded learning.

A big plus is the presentation - the articles are well broken up, using text boxes and bullet points with strong graphics, which appeal to visual learners. All the writing is clear, illustrating a variety of styles such as sequential reports, descriptions, question and answers and summaries of key points. Case studies and quotations bring the information to life.

"What you really think about the Royal Mail - A second-class postal service?" asks the cover of a recent issue. Turning to the article, there's an eye-catching graphic showing some key results from a survey of what annoys people most about the postal service. Envelopes splashed against a big red pillar box show the responses: "Junk mail 31 per cent", says one, "Very long queues 11 per cent", says another.

The main article goes through the survey, explaining exactly what Which? members thought, including quotes from users and providers of the service and ending with a section on what readers can do to make their views known.

Empowerment is not part of the Skills for Life core curriculum but maybe it should be. There is a linked web site, where readers are encouraged to send in their own experiences and problems and take part in surveys. Alongside the main text is a panel with bullet points explaining how to make the most of the parcel service, a good example of clear explanatory writing. Did you know, for example, that if you send a parcel, the standard compensation for missing items sent special delivery is pound;500, compared with pound;32 if sent first class?

Alongside a map showing the extent of UK Post Office closures, is a photograph of Rose La Terri re, a holiday cottage proprietor. She explains how her rural village set up a cafe with a Post Office attached, to save it as a local service. A real-life context with a first-hand account will always make a subject more interesting.

Two more case studies introduce what to do about junk mail, and how to claim compensation for missing post. Both of these studies are short and lively and one of them is in a question-and-answer format.

Finally, there's a piece of chronological writing - a time line, showing the history of stamps. We all know the Penny Black was the world's first stamp, but do you know what the stamp for anything weighing over an ounce was called? (The Two Penny Blue.) The box on the left provides some examples of what you can find in just one four-page article in a recent copy of Which? There is potentially several weeks of work here for basic skills learners.

The same issue had another article on fitness for the whole family, which I will take along to a family learning group working on a theme of healthy living. A group doing a family finance programme could find, in the same issue, pieces on how to cut domestic utility bills and the best ways to borrow money.

In any of the magazines you can find the latest products and things of topical interest, from buying Christmas presents to saving water in a drought.

Product tests appeal to gadget geeks and car enthusiasts; domestic appliances interest those who run households. Media and computer equipment regularly come under the spotlight and there are always money matters.

The magazine is available on subscription but copies can be found in most libraries. The web site is at So here's my consumer report on Which? Is it worth the money? It is to me.

Gill Moore is a Skills for Life lecturer


* Addresses - read, write, sort, look up in directories.

* Letterspostcards - read, write, use letters to tell a story.

* Stamps - research history, present information, work out values.

* Postmaster - create a portrait, interview your local postmaster.

* Leaflets and posters - check out real examples, then create your own for all the services on offer in your branch.

* Case studies - write up your own case studies and teach speech punctuation.

* Create a quiz - get students reading the articles for detail.

* Charts and diagrams - extract information.

* Parcels - look at weight, shape and size and price them.

* Using the internet - log on to the website, find information, answer questionnaires.

* Write a set of instructions for working out postage rates.

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