26th May 2000 at 01:00
LANGUAGE IN THE MAKING. By Liz Bell, Angela Hartley, Dick Kempson, Jane O'Donoghue and Nicola Telling. Folens, Pupil Book 1,2,3 pound;7.99 each. Teacher Resource File, pound;29.95. GCSE ENGLISH WRITING FRAMES: Style and Purpose. By John Nield. Folens pound;24.95. GCSE ENGLISH EXAM TECHNIQUES: A 15-week revision programme. By Keith Brindle and John Nield. Folens, pound;4.99.

Summer has arrived and so has exam tension in the classroom. Two of these titles, GCSE English Writing Frames and GCSE English Exam Techniques are aimed at reducing the anxiety by clarifying the requirements and giving students a concrete understanding of what examiners are looking for.

John Nield and Keith Brindle are, respectively, principal examiner and assistant principal examiner for NEAB, and both books are tailored to the NEAB requirements. Having said that, GCSE English Writing Frames could be used in conjunction with any GCSE course, and will, in an accessible, if pedestrian, series of exercises, help students to acquire the techniques necessary to achieve a reasonable grade in the exam. However, it will do little to help students develop the original thinking and individual voice required for the highest grades.

GCSE Eglish Exam Techniques is very specifically designed for use in the 60 per cent of schools taking NEAB English GCSE. It provides a thorough, clear, step-by-step revision guide to what each paper is designed to test, with pointers on how to meet each of the criteria, and some guidance on how to improve grades. An invaluable checklist of skills and revision areas at the end will provide a superb security blanket for students and teachers alike.

The Language in the Making series of student's books, with accompanying teacher's folders of additional photocopiable materials, starts from an excellent premise: that we learn best how language works in a variety of forms through using it ourselves. The problem is, although the stimulus material is well chosen, the tasks are often clumsily framed and expressed in terms that are frequently left unexplained. For instance, in Book 1, pupils are asked to "use personification as a device", or "make use of the imperative". Nor will the design of the pupil books, which is busy and confusing, do anything to help the students' understanding.

Sarah Matthews is a freelance writer and former head of English at Chipping Norton school, Oxfordshire

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