Words of wisdom

25th November 1994 at 00:00
Talk, Write and Read, Channel 4, Mondays 9.46-10.01am. Rpt Wednesdays, 9.46-10.01 am.

Among their many obligations, junior school teachers have to provide challenging opportunities for children to develop an understanding of the world around them through speech. "One Last Lie", a five-part drama in this term's Channel 4 Talk, Write and Read series, addresses this need, and offers teachers a powerful resource to help their pupils to learn the social art of talking.

The story of how Becky and her younger brother, George, cope with the emotional turmoil of their parents' marital breakdown is likely to engage children who may have experienced family rows and feared, or even endured, their own parents separating.

Becky's father is insensitive, overbearing and often absent on business. When he is at home he denies his daughter affection, makes unreasonable demands on his son and criticises his unemployed wife who cannot cope.

By the end of the first episode Becky is responding to the hostile household environment by telling outrageous lies, George is simply sad and subdued, the father is turning to the pub for refuge and the mother is walking out for good. The next four episodes explore how each member of the family deals with the separation and how it is finally resolved.

In spite of the sad plot, the often witty script lets children in on the secret feelings of each character and invites them to see the situation from their point of view. It poses questions and begs answers. While much of the plot is exaggerated and improbable, it remains an interesting drama that should elicit equally interesting responses.

"One Last Lie" is an extremely well-thought-out stimulus for exploratory speaking and listening in the classroom. Most children will have something to contribute to the discussions that follow each episode. Their spoken thoughts can be analysed by other members of their group and their thoughts can evolve as they listen to other children. The content of the drama invites children to listen, argue, explain, evaluate and challenge so that talk becomes a tool for the shared construction of meaning.

Television is an ideal way of bringing poets into a classroom to reveal how they write poetry. In the first of two "Write" episodes of Talk, Write and Read the performance poets Yakety Yak do just this. They present poetry as great fun, something that the mouth enjoys speaking and the ear enjoys hearing. In the second, the Carnegie Award-winning book Storm, by Kevin Crossley-Holland, is used to explore how fear can be represented in writing. The other three programmes in the series deal with etymology, spelling strategies and aspects of knowledge about language. One of these programmes is presented by the ubiquitous Michael Rosen.

Talk, Write and Read, supported by excellent teachers' notes, lends itself to a variety of classroom activities and teachers can select programmes to fit into their planned scheme of work.

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