Plenty of zap;Secondary;Reviews;English;Books

22nd January 1999 at 00:00
ENGLISH DIRECT. By John Foster and Keith West. Student's Book 1, 2, 3 pound;7.99 each. Teaching Resources 1, 2, 3pound;14.99 each. Collins.

English Direct is a course specially and successfully produced for the lower ability range in key stage 3, although it could well be raided for wider application.

The discrete books for teachers and pupils allow students a sense of ownership, of not feeling addressed through an intermediary. Each book's introduction is "to the student", explaining its organisation and national curriculum coverage. The editorial voice is straightforward, without condescension: John Foster and Keith West know the score. The integrated Teaching Resources offer guidance and copymasters for extension activities.

The student book's format is mostly predictable. Ten units (stimulus and related activities) are based on a variety of genres, persuading, storytelling and so on. But throughout the books the units innovatively coversimilar ground, bringing continuity, coherence and reinforcement. In the splendid poetry sections, for example, students might move from recipe or shape poems, through colour and simile poetry, to ballads and rap in Book 3. This works well.

So, too, the visuals. Photos (Prince Naseem, The X-Files, Gary Lineker crisp adverts), unstinted colour, cartoons and comic illustrations perk up pages, that to look at, and touch, resemble teenage magazines.

Never mind that the glow of contemporaneity must fade. Young people want zap in design and more so in stimulus material, or the course book becomes an on-going turn-off. The editors' exacting principle is to make resources, not least their own skilful adaptations, "attractive and appealing, rather than intimidating". Hence the CD reviews, comics, UFO articles, comedy scripts and Disneyland brochures - while Macbeth is a striking picture-strip by Paul McCaffrey.

Similar motivational concerns lie behind the focus on "relevant" topics, such as school rules or soaps. Even the old chestnuts (advertising, the controversial by-pass) should still appeal. Each unit has ample activities across the language modes and examines specific language skills in context, from sentences and capital letters to accent and dialect.

English Direct has pedagogic nous within its snazzy presentation. Worth your attention.

Brian Slough was a member of the Cox Committee

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