The literary column;Volunteers

16th April 1999 at 01:00
Product packaging makes an interesting resource for grammar. Take, for example, the chocolate bar.

The names of chocolate bars provide quite a few nouns. After collecting a large number of empty wrappers my class looked at their names. There were those whose meaning we could understand, such as Caramel and Flake. Some were not so clear: what is a Twix? Having been told that the names of chocolate bars are decided by committees, the class then devised their own names. Be prepared for Scrum Yum, Spiceychoc and MMMM Bar at a confectioner's near you.

However, wrappers always add a little sentence to whet the appetite, such as "The munchiest, chewiest bar". These little one liners provide a rich resource of adjectives and we devised heavily adjectival one liners: "the scrummiest, yummiest bar", "the most brilliant bar".

Children can also look at the other types of writing on the wrapper. These can include warnings about nut traces, instructions as to how to enter competitions, lists of ingredients. What is interesting here is the different levels of formality on the wrapper.

Another challenge is to try to collect a wrapper alphabet - a wrapper for each letter of the alphabet: Aztec, Bar Six, Caramel... but there are challenging letters. Interestingly enough, "X" sweets were easy to find in the mints section, but "e" was more difficult.

For us it was chocolate, but other product ranges offer their own little linguistic avenues. Why all the French on perfume labels? How many adjectives for hair types can shampoo bottles conjure up?

Packaging offers a useful source of grammar because children are surrounded by it - but there is also an element of children looking at how language is used to "wrap up" a product and present it. At a time when advertising bombards children it is surely healthy for them to learn to look in a critical way at the words that sell products.

Huw Thomas teaches in Sheffield and is author of 'Resource Bank: Grammar' (Scholastic pound;7.99)

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