Dahl to dinosaur;Secondary;Reviews;Books

22nd January 1999 at 00:00
THE REAL WORLD - NON-FICTION AND MEDIA 11-14. By Geoff Barton. Heinemann pound;7.50. FROM TELLING TO SELLING - Language at Work for Key Stage 4. By Sarah Matthews and Huw Parker. Stanley Thornes. pound;6.50.

Each of these language course books follows a familiar pattern. Essentially, they're anthologies, supplemented by class activities, and suggestions for homework or further study. As with most course books, there's a tension between the appeal to the pupil and the appeal to the teacher. Sometimes the choice of activities seems to patronise both; sometimes the explan-ations are oddly poised between what a teacher might need and what a pupil might need.

But that's the genre for you. Most teachers would use these course books for source mat-erial, and devise their own activities or adapt suggestions. The acid test is whether the material is well-chosen and well-designed.

Geoff Barton's The Real World focuses on non-fiction and media for all three years of key stage 3. It tries to place the nine sections in probable order of sophistication, moving from Roald Dahl's booklet on Railway Safety (a nice choice) to a spoof "Life in the Day of Guy the Gorilla" from The Sunday Times in 1977. In between are some disappointing old standbys - dinosaurs, vam-pires, Anne Frank, and the section on comedy writing looks too jumbled. The book is, overall, lively to look at, and always approachable. Ignore the lists of activities, and this is a cheerful book to take to a classroom.

I wish this was true of Sarah Matthews and Huw Parker's From Telling To Selling, a key stage 4 language anthology. The design is uninviting, and some sections need a magnifying glass. As an anthology, it aims to provide a range of unfamiliar material for language work.

The sections and types of writing are copious - wills, estate agency blurbs, NME reviews, descriptions of the deaths of Nelson and Mary Queen of Scots, passages from Pepys, Plutarch, Hello!, and interesting journalism from several decades. The material is catholic and demanding. It isn't true that this book will suit mixed-ability groups; it is pitched firmly at the higher tier. There's also an irritating habit of emboldening difficult words and phrases, which makes it feel like a vocabulary exercise. Still, this book does contain valuable material - just ignore the instructions and activities.

Bill Greenwell is head of performing arts, languages and English at Exeter College, Devon

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