Travels in time

18th September 1998 at 01:00
A Teacher's Toolkit for Teaching Older Literature
By Sue Hackman and Jo Shackleton
Hodder amp; Stoughton. #163;9.99.

Elizabeth is at the piano, Mrs Bennett sits on the sofa, Darcy bursts through the window with a gun - "a welcome change", according to a current Heineken ad.

It is a profoundly stupid advertisement, but the disjunction it points up is very real - how to interest audiences eager for Armageddon in the written dramas of another age. It is not hard to understand the popularity of Macbeth as a set text - at least it's got sex and violence.

The problem, of course, is essentially one of confidence - "the past is another country, they do things differently there" - and the traveller to foreign lands feels ill at ease among customs and a language not their own.Easier not to go abroad at all. Or to go only to those parts made familiar by having taken on our ways - fish and chips in Marbella, contemporary videos of the classics. In both cases, though, such adaptations bring the traveller into only the most tenuous contact with that foreign land.

This eminently sensible book aims to address the problem, providing the teachertour guide with a range of practical strategies from planning whole schemes of work to lesson-by-lesson approaches to a range of texts from Blake to Beowulf. The tone is workmanlike, the strategies imaginative,the whole book an invaluable addition to any departmental library.

Sarah Matthews is former head of English at Chipping Norton school, Oxfordshire, and is co-author of 'From Telling to Selling: Language at Work for Key Stage 4' (Stanley Thornes)

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