In plain language

26th September 2003 at 01:00
Routledge English series. Language and Social Contexts. By Amanda Coultas.

How Texts Work. By Adrian Beard.

Transforming Texts. By Shaun O'Toole.

The Language of Literature. By Adrian Beard.

Writing for Assessment. By Angela Goddard. Routledge pound;35 hb. pound;7.99 pb.

A clear set of student guidebooks for advanced English is something to be prized. This series comprises five books appropriate for AS and A2, which, apart from The Language of Literature, are generally aimed at language or langlit study, but are also useful for a linguistic approach to literature.

Each book is clearly aimed at students, addressing the assessment objectives and the types of tasks they will encounter in exams, whatever the board. There is a lot of technical vocabulary in linguistic study, this is often explained in context, but additional boxes on the page clarify key terms and concepts. New references are printed in bold to indicate an entry in the helpful glossary at the back of each volume, another sign of the clarity of organisation throughout the series.

Examples are worked through systematically, with explanations and suggestions for answers. The authors provide further examples for students'

own study with suggestions for answers appearing in an appendix. The examples selected form a wide range, though occasionally reproductions of larger articles and advertisements scaled to fit the pages are too small to be easily read. It would be helpful if all materials were presented in the same way throughout the series; the methods of highlighting various aspects of transcripts vary from volume to volume, for example.

The Language of Literature and, as its title implies, Writing for Assessment, are the two volumes most clearly directed at the strictures of exams. Beard's book on literature follows a clear plan of what students need to consider when writing about it, illustrated through discussion of a number of well-chosen examples.

Goddard's book guides students through analysis of questions and how to plan their responses. On one level, this takes a lot of pages to make fairly obvious points, but considering that the main feature of candidates'

weaker exam essays is a failure to answer the question, they are pages well spent.

While firmly addressed to the assessment objectives, the remaining volumes in the series are designed more to explore the key concepts and ideas of study. The title of each book is self-explanatory, and each covers its field by engaging students in demonstrations of the subtle layers in everyday examples of text, from company logos, through food packaging to chatroom exchanges. Ideas are explored through materials firmly rooted in the students' own experiences, helping demystify the processes of analysis and surprise the reader by shedding light on things previously accepted without a thought.

These books are highly readable, with considerable discussion of detail, guidance for students' own researches with warnings against easy assumptions. They feel like proper research books, stimulating, informative and helpfully organised.

Noel Cassidy teaches English at St Albans School for Boys, Hertfordshire

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