Grammar, like the yoyo, is enjoying a revival. Just as it's impossible to cross the playground without getting entangled in a mesh of strings, so it's hard to avoid the rash of grammar books. But don't expect dusted-down versions of the old ones - today's model is an altogether whizzier affair.
Grammar Matters, aimed at key stage 3 students, presents a clearly structured, coherent picture of how language works. Its eight units offer progression from "words" through different kinds of sentences to "paragraphs and whole texts". The units follow a neatly self-contained format of succinct, straightforward explanation of the "rule", then a few short, sharp, practice exercises which involve cloze, drawing charts and pair discussion.
The black and red print on white and the humorous illus-trations make the text appealing and accessible. Examples for practice are topical without being gimmicky. The overall tone is down-to-earth and unpretentious, making the learning of grammar a game rather than a chore. The teacher's pack consists of homework sheets, extra support for lower attainers and answers to the student book activities. It complements the latter well.
The Collins School Reference Grammar, ordered alphabet-ically and with very small print, gives a rather disorientating experience of grammar and little sense of progression. Quite simple terms are followed by more complex ones:
"main clause" by "metalanguage" for example, or "Anglo-Saxon" lumped with "apostrophe". On the other hand, the student workbooks offer a clear sense of progression from Years 7 to 9, and are logically organised and accessible for classroom use. Exercises encourage reflection on the use of language rather than merely applying the rules.
Grammar to 14 includes "punctuation" and "spelling" as well as test questions. Similar to Grammar Matters in its layout and approach, it places a little more emphasis on progression within each unit, with each one being organised into "starting point", "going further" and "further still" activities.
However, the price to pay for the attempt to cram in so much is a slightly cluttered feel, with explanations that are just a little too long. Still, for the school that is looking for one text that does everything, this is perhaps the most comprehensive of the three.
Finally, The Grammar Guide is for those interested in linguistics. It is characterised by a narrative voice that addresses the reader as a fellow language enthusiast and does not shy away from technical terms.
Mandy Watts is deputy head of The Cavendish School, Hemel Hempstead