5th May 2000 at 01:00
THE BEAUTIFUL GAME. By Barbara Bleiman. WRITING FROM LIFE. By Lucy Webster. TALK ON THE BOX. By Sabrina Broadbent and Michael Simons. English and Media Centre, pound;39.95 each from NATE.

These new publications from the English and Media Centre maintain its reputation for excellence.

The most innovative is The Beautiful Game. Roughly 400,000 words on football appear in the press every weekend. It doesn't matter, however, if you bin them, or associate Owen with the battlefield not Anfield, for this resource is based on football, not about it. Increasingly, women are involved with football and The Beautiful Game addresses their needs, whether as phobes or fans, as well as those of underachieving boys. Written and edited by women, it also features Julie Welch in assorted roles, Suzanne Moore (on Gazza) and Emily Barr (on life with "Bloke"): each a winner.

The activities examine how football has generated rich language, non-fiction and media texts. Four units use the 1998 England v Chile international (avoiding club antagonisms) to explore the language of commentary, newspaper reporting and media studies work on the presentation of football.

The likes of Roddy Doyle, Nick Hornby and Tony Adams star in the personal writing unit, while the "hot issues" section considers racism, gender, violence and the game's yuppification. Even if football turns you off, don't be put off this package. As Doyle says in Writing from Life: "Anyone can have a bashat this."

Writing from Life is impressively multi-purpose. It introduces students to three writers and their texts about childhood: Meera Syal (Anita and Me), Roddy Doyle (Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha), and Andrea Ashworth (Once in a House on Fire). Each is analysed in discrete sections containing sizeable chunks from the books, along with activities, creative and critical, to develop the language modes. Some spring from video clips in which the writers talk engagingly about their texts and read extracts from them. There are treats galore in this, not least Doyle's bubbly laughter.

Elsewhere, the uthors combine to discuss the writing process: practical, jargon-free, and infectious (notably Ashworth). The pack concludes with activities on a film by Emily Young, with techniques to capture a child's perspective on growing up. Lucy Webster's hope that, alongside improving students' writing, the resource might encourage them to read the full novels, deserves fulfilment.

Like Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha or Fever Pitch, so with a learning resource: you sometimes sense that "it's as good as it gets". Such is Talk on the Box, which looks at three main areas of television: talk shows, interviews, and speeches. Each unit investigates diverse forms of the genre (the Oscars and Parliament for speeches). The video has more than 30 clips, ranging from the bizarre to the sophisticated: the phenomenon of Vanessa or Kilroy, the grillings of Paxman and Humphrys, the persuasive rhetoric of MPs Oona King or Tony Benn.

There is satire from Mrs Merton, Ben Elton and Rory Bremner, who also offers ongoing serious analysis. Even a cameo from Lord Archer ("famous orator and wordsmith"). The clips are cleverly "layered", often using controversial issues, such as drugs or race, while teasing out insights into specific talk types. This original package, for language work, media, and citizenship, shows Sabrina Broadbent and Michael Simons at their best.

The format of each pack is similar: about 100 photocopiable pages, in ringbinders with in-built containers for the accompanying videos (each 90 minutes plus). There are useful introductory summaries of contents, not least for linking ringbinder pages with video timings. The teacher's notes offer guidance, including "routes through the material", with flexibility the keynote. Editorial language, sensitive to this age-group, is resonant with classroom experience. Likewise the suggestions for wider study and additional resources on the centre's website. Finally, 14-16 curriculum and examination requirements are met, unobtrusively and enjoyably.

Brian Slough is a former head of English and headteacher

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