Language landmarks

26th May 2000 at 01:00
THE LANGUAGE KIT WRITING AND GRAMMAR FOR KEY STAGE 3. By John Seely. The Language Kit 1, 2, and 3. Heinemann Student's Book pound;7.99 each. Teacher's Pack 3 (photocopiable sheets) pound;14.99.

There seem to be two major hallmarks of John Seely's work. The first is its all-inclusiveness: every English scheme he produces is extraordinarily comprehensive. The second is his talent for finding new approaches - never for their own sakes or mere novelty but rooted in sound language and pedagogic practice.

The key stage 3 Language Kit exemplifies all three. Its competence will, for the moment, go without saying. Its completeness is shown by its constitution. The rationale is a perceived emphasis on grammar at key stage 3. The aim is to help teachers "to teach grammatical concepts" not as ends in themselves but as the tools for reading and writing. This scheme, therefore, is firmly one of grammar in action: there is nothing aridly rule-based except where it is inevitable and unquestioned. After all, "grammar is a system" and here the system is experienced both cumulatively and recursively.

The approach - at least for Books 1 and 2 - itself illustrates the philosophy. From the very start, pupils are encouraged to think about thei own language because they are put in a teaching situation almost as much as their teachers are. In Book 1 we have Lisa, an android from a far planet, anxious to learn all she can about our language. In Book 2 we have Yuri, a film producer from eastern Europe with little English but with the task of making a film about us. In each case they have to be put right - so the students themselves are explaining their language from first principles. If you can make Lisa understand, you will understand for yourself by reflecting on your own language. If you can do that, you will internalise the way it works.

Inevitably, Book 3 is geared to the KS3 tests, with photocopiable sheets to go with it. But this test emphasis springs from a position of strength: in this whole course I cannot find a single element of language which is not effectively and resourcefully covered. The student's books are beautifully produced. The teacher's books are helpful and comprehensive. A feature of Heinemann's publishing is the careful trialling beforehand - a full programme, not just the leaving of a few draft materials in schools. It shows here. This scheme has a lot to offer.

Dennis Hamley is a freelance writer and English consultant


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