Padded out with pictures

28th June 1996 at 01:00
Firing the Cannon By David White, Carel Press Pounds 14.95. The Chalkface Project By Marilyn Tasker and Jan Williamson. Chalkface Project Pounds 5.95. PO Box 1, Milton Keynes, MK5 6JB Tel 01908 805151 Age range 11-plus.

There is a veritable industry of photocopiable materials being produced for English teachers. In some ways this is sensible, given the suspicion among many English departments for expensive textbooks - only half of which are ever used. And yet it involves high risk, given the number of software packages that allow teachers to produce high-quality materials of their own. Both the Carel Press and Chalkface show the strengths and weaknesses of this approach to publishing.

Firing the Cannon is intended to provide a photocopiable resource for English departments. Half way between an anthology and work pack, this book is well worth getting if only because it provides a collection of pre-20th century literature not often studied.

David White has taken an imaginative approach to the cannon in the new Orders, and includes short stories by Gaskell and Hardy as well as the poetry of Emily Bront , Christina Rossetti, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, John Clare and Robert Herrick.

The texts are well-presented and the autobiographical details useful, and many of the ideas are good. But the illustrations let the book down. Many are of poor quality, several are decidedly twee and teachers may well feel they could have done better themselves.

The Chalkface Project aims "to make the best teaching ideas available to every teacher in the most practical way" and, in particular, to provide quality materials for the lower end of the ability range.

All the editorial staff are practising teachers and while the booklets are written and illustrated by professional writers who conform to a house style, they first interview teachers who have already taught the materials.

The six titles (The Friends, Kes, Of Mice and Men, Cider with Rosie, Lord of the Flies and The Pigman) are part of a series of mini-packs and are in no way intended to provide a comprehensive study guide to the text. Instead they are designed to be a way in to the books for reluctant readers, either in a special needs group or as support materials for pupils in a mixed-ability class.

Each booklet contains one page of biographical notes on the author, five activity pages, as well as supporting teachers' notes, and finally four pages of generic worksheets, two providing space for notes and two for ideas. Part of the house style includes the stipulation that between 40 and 60 per cent of the page should be illustration. There is minimal text and all pages are designed to be photocopied.

The publishers claim that, despite the advent of computers, graphic and clip art packages in schools, teachers still don't have time to produce well-presented worksheets and certainly it is important that less able readers are given attractive, well-illustrated materials rather than the ubiquitous cloze exercises that are often provided for them on elements of the plot.

But perhaps because there is such a dearth in the market of good materials for this particular group of students, it is a pity these packs are thin on content and padded with pages that many teachers could produce themselves.

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