Feel the rhythm

16th June 1995 at 01:00
Sue Brown on a key stage 3 course that uses sound and song to motivate slow learners. GENIAL I. By Tony Elston, Patricia McLagan, and Ann Swarbrick. Student's Book Pounds 6. - 0 19 912189 3. Workbook Pounds 1.5O. - 0 19 9121915.

Teacher's Book Pounds 17. - 0 19 912190 7. Cassettes Pounds 42. - 8404794.

Flashcards Pounds 60 + Vat - 0 19 912201 6.

Repromasters Pounds 27.50. - 0 19 912209 1.

Language Master Cards. Pounds 60 +Vat. - 0 19 912210 5. Oxford University Press

Sue Brown on a key stage 3 course that uses sound and song to motivate slow learners.

Genial is the first of its kind, a three-part course based on reduced content at key stage 3 of the national curriculum. It is aimed at motivating slower learners in the early stages of French, and giving them the encouragement they need to succeed. It also dovetails into OUP's Mistral in key stage 4.

Another "first" is the way that the sound recordings are a central feature of the course. French sounds are introduced in memorable contexts through a variety of voices, through rhythms and natural speech, through songs and jingles and raps, and all of this combines to give Genial its unique quality.

Not only the cassettes, but the whole of the course is based on an emphasis on clarity, support and an imaginative recycling of language and structures. Genial is the name of a fictitious television station featuring young French-speaking presenters; the TV images are in the student's book and the sound is on the cassettes. The whole concept is clear, colourful, very attractive to modern young learners and beautifully presented.

The cassettes are clear, with lively modern tunes, good young French voices in the presentations and dialogues, and interesting activities which usually have a workbook transfer activity to help consolidate the content. The only drawback is the inclusion of "authentic" background noises because, in my experience, these only confuse slower learners and detract their attention from what they should be listening for.

The student's book is colourful, with a really modern feel which young learners are sure to find attractive. It doesn't fall into the trap of over-filling each page to the point of confusion as some recent courses have done. Most pages only include a couple of clearly presented items and so they are readable and easily navigated by even the slowest learner.

Each module opens with a double-page spread of Realia, which immediately attracts the attention of the reader because it's not only colourful and different but its real. Goals for the module are also clearly given on the first page so that the learners know what they are aiming for. These are always creative goals including cartoons, posters, stories, poems, letters, surveys, dialogues and songs.

Three particularly interesting features are the regular Karaoke song with key language from the module, the Graffiti board where pupils can discover and review key language and then produce their own graffiti to help that language "stick", and the delightful Astra Naute cartoon which not only has the sound track on cassette, but also appears in strips on the repromasters with speech bubbles and text separated to encourage creativity.

A Cahier d'Activite accompanies the student's book. This workbook provides an important framework for students to organise and present their work and it also becomes a lasting record of achievement. Many slower learners become frustrated by their lack of success in attractively presenting their work and this rapidly demotivates them and they can lose all interest. The workbook cuts out this frustration. It is printed in black and white only, because of the cost, but it is clear and very attractively presented. A particularly nice feature is the blank French-style exercise book page for noting answers to listening activities, or new words or even rough work. This provides yet another authentic feature in the course, which helps to reinforce the point that French is "real".

The teacher's book has detailed teaching notes, transcripts, solutions to exercises, ideas for follow-up activities and excellent guidance for the use of IT and, particularly, keyboard overlays. In short it offers full support for teaching and assessing. The set of flash cards can stand alone, but a feature unique to Genial is the flexibility they offer if used in combination, and full examples of this are given in the teacher's book.

The final component is the set of repromasters. These include listening extension, reading and writing extension, assessment, mini flash cards, games and keyboard overlays. A nice feature is the wealth of work based on poetry, another interesting idea is the presentation of dialogues for which pupils can choose their own ending.

Finally, the Controles lose none of the attractiveness and clarity of the rest of the course, so that here too learners can be proud of what they produce.

This impressive course could be used in primary or middle schools, for pupils needing to make a fresh start in mainstream, and in mixed-ability groups, as well as with its main audience of slow learners. It is based on a real understanding of pupils with special educational needs and, therefore, includes all the features that those of us who teach these pupils are looking for: the presentation is clear, lively and structured; tasks are short and achievable; there is regular consolidation and reinforcement; the variety of activities holds the learner's interest and motivates; it supports the creative use of language; and it encourages confidence and self-esteem.

Sue Brown is head of modern languages at Stoke Damerel Community College, Plymouth.

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