Now being served all day

11th October 1996 at 01:00
You can ignore the 3.45am start: Schools Radio is on cassette. Arnold Evans listens to three of the best. STORIES AND RHYMES Radio 3, Tuesdays 3.45-3. 55am. WORDS ALIVE! Radio 3, Fridays 3.40-3.55am LISTEN AND WRITE Radio 3, Wednesdays, 3.50-4.10 am.

All have accompanying teacher's notes and are available on cassette from BBC Educational Publishing, PO Box 234, Wetherby, W est Yorkshire, LS23 7EU (Pounds 2 per term)

You don't need a radio to listen to Schools Radio. Cassettes of the various series are available from the BBC for the silly price of Pounds 2 per term. And if the quality of these three new offerings designed for junior school English lessons is anything to go by, they offer marvellous value for money.

I have to declare an interest. I write similar stuff for pupils in Welsh schools, and so took a professional interest in assessing how much ground these English producers have managed to cover. It's a heck of a lot - they really have created an excellent classroom resource.

Being as though I'm in the business, I suppose, I'm bound to say that. But I'm also sure teachers would agree. Certainly, we might all have individual gripes - maybe, the choice of a particular poem, or the omission of another - but no one could possibly complain about having such a range of material at such a reasonable price.

Stories and Rhymes, which is pitched at 5 to 7-year-olds contains much more than is embraced in the title. There are also songs, jokes and those delightful unscriptable contributions from children - "in Ian's party I bumped into a post and knocked my teeth out". These, together with music and special effects, create a lively aural collage.

Teachers, of course, could be Little Tom Thumbs and select individual items from the melange. But, at least on first hearing, it's surely best to let the programmes wash over the young audience so they can experience the multifarious ways that poets, storytellers - and their own peers - have fun with words.

Words Alive! (aimed at 7 to 9-year-olds) and Listen and Write (for 9 to 10-year-olds) take a rather more structured approach to studying how to bully the best words into the best order. Both series rely on that tried-and-tested formula of basing stories on the inter-relationship of some super-teacher who has all the answers and a disciple who conveniently asks all the right questions. So in Words Alive!, The Keeper of the Corridor of Stories is on hand to chill Teresa's blood with five well-told tales from Ancient Greece. He also takes the opportunity to explain the elements that go to make up a story - character, setting, surprise and suchlike.

In the second unit of five programmes, The Keeper is replaced by Wallace Wordsmith. He has a trusty Word Blender, a remarkably unlikely gizmo that churns out poems, letters, invitations, advertisements, menus and any other piece of writing that pupils might be asked to undertake themselves.

Wallace's enthusiasm for words makes Jilly Goolden's descriptions of wine seem positively restrained. He loves "crash, bang, walloping words" and will leave young listeners in no doubt that whenever they pick up a pen they, too, have the power to create pyrotechnics of their own.

In the first six programmes of Listen and Write, a female talking book takes on the mantle of teacher to help young Nathan write better poems and stories. She is a great advocate of "wonder words" - the ones that cannot fail but create pictures in the reader's mind. By whisking Nathan off to various locations and involving him in sundry surreal adventures (the sort only possible on radio), she is able introduce him to simile, alliteration and the other devices that poets use in their craft.

She goes on to show Nathan how he can follow the example of great writers by basing a fictional story he has to write on an incident that has happened in his own life. She illustrates the importance of "crucial characters", "bold beginnings" and everything else a budding novelist needs to know - except how to get an agent. The remaining programmes in the series are devoted to dramatisations of The Fantastic Mr Fox, Fungus the Bogeyman and Dickens's Christmas Carol.

Both Words Alive! and Listen and Write can be used with a whole class or independently by small groups or individuals.

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