Not so greats;Reviews;HistoryScience;Primary;Books

9th April 1999 at 01:00
FAMOUS PEOPLE SERIES: GEORGE STEPHENSON. GRACE DARLING. ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL. MARY SEACOLE. NEIL ARMSTRONG. BOUDICA. LEONARDO DA VINCI. GANDHI. CLEOPATRA. GUY FAWKES. By Christine Moorcroft and Magnus Magnusson. Channel Four Learning pound;5.95 each. Video (5 x 10-minute programmes) pound;14.99, Teacher's Guide pound;3.95Activity Book pound;6.95

Taken together, these materials form a substantial package that will be of particular help to those teaching about famous people as part of key stage 1 history. The video element, to be broadcast as part of Channel 4's series Stop, Look, and Listen, this autumn, is aimed at five to seven-year-olds. The five programmes work with varying degrees of success, that on Neil Armstrong standing out from the rest because of the inclusion of archive film (but not Armstrong's voice in the "step for a man" speech, inexplicably), although it is more about space travel than the man. Once the stories have been told and acted out, each programme contains a tail-piece designed to establish firm links to evidence. "How do we know it's true?" In spite of a sometimes jokey Watch with Mother approach, an inadequate control of language married to a tricky inter-cutting of events across time sometimes propels the narrative over the head of the intended audience. The dramatisations are crude, but within a familiar and comforting tradition of sticky-back-plastic drama for schools television.

The supporting material is excellent in parts and children are encouraged to make things and to undertake worthwhile activities such as predicting outcomes and sequencing events.

But there is dross here too. Sheet 1 is a "join the dots" activity that produces a cross between Thomas the Tank Engine and a packet of Liquorice Allsorts.

Take care when using the 10 biographies, because although they make a welcome addition to the classroom bookshelf, the language puts them beyond most five to seven-year-olds. If you do use them to support the programmes, you will need to do so carefully and not simply expect them to be easy readers. Used further up the school they will certainly stand on their own, but they could surely have been more inspiring. A dull text - sentences built rather than created - combined with illustrations of inconsistent quality, failed to make the Earth move for me.

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