Clues and guesswork strategies

Sue Brown

VU ET LU. A graded French reading scheme for the first two years of study. Single pack (18 readers) Pounds 37.50. Triple pack (3 x 18 readers) Pounds 90 Cassette pack Pounds 50. Nelson

Reading for interest and enjoyment is, at last, generally accepted as an important part of foreign language learning, and reading schemes which provide such an opportunity are a must in every language classroom.

Vu et Lu is a graded scheme, differentiated at three levels and reflecting the reading interests of 11 to 13-year-olds. It is differentiated in terms of language and vocabulary support, and uses a wide variety of genres. The pack also includes teachers' materials with a range of photocopiable activities to help students develop reading skills.

The packs, single or triple, are sold in a durable box, and a spoken version of the readers is available as three cassettes, one for each level of difficulty. Besides supporting students' understanding of the text, these offer an attractive alternative for pupils with visual impairments or other reading difficulties.

Each reader is 16 pages long, beautifully illustrated in full colour and contains vocabulary support and follow-up activities. They are colour-coded to three levels of difficulty to "support and encourage independent reading by students of all abilities". However, the easiest readers are not simple enough to cater for the lower end of the ability range. Nelson states that there is little text on the page, yet it still seems far too full. The vocabulary support is certainly on the page, but it is not always simple enough and the sentences and structures are too complex for many. That said, the pack is very attractive.

There are more non-fiction than fiction titles, covering science , sport, cars, history and a short book of record breakers. The fiction is a lively mixture of humour, fantasy and adventure; the only gap is a total lack of poetry. The content is certainly very appealing to the target age-group and even beyond; I think that many Year 9 pupils would enjoy and benefit from the set, particularly the non-fiction. The suggested activities are a refreshing change - rather than simply testing comprehension, they offer opportunities for creative work, thus fulfilling another area of language work now recognised as deserving a high priority. Pupils are encouraged to draw, imagine, find out, write up, invent, design, and experiment: all genuine tasks which are sure to be of real interest and will be, therefore, motivating for young readers.

The teacher's notes are not so much notes as a separate resource for use alongside the readers to help students acquire reading strategies and give them confidence.

This resource consists of 11 copy manuals to introduce reading strategies, and a sheet for students to record their reading and teachers to monitor it. The strategies include using clues from pictures, using titles and headings for clues to content, looking for words that resemble English, looking for words already known, guessing meaning and checking in a dictionary.

The idea is superb; the limitation once again seems to be the level of difficulty. I would happily use this resource in Years 8 and 9, but hardly in Year 7 where the pupils' language knowledge would be too narrow to cope successfully. Also the pages are so "busy" that I fear for the less able whose need for reading strategies is greater than the more able, and yet they are hardly catered for.

Other than this, however, the resource is excellent, particularly the pages that encourage dictionary skills, and it provides superb work to extend the more able. It increases pupils' awareness of the central language skills of reading and should be useful and very stimulating. Vu et Lu is a delightful pack - it only needs a parallel resource for the lower ability groups.

Sue Brown is head of languages at Stoke Damerel Community College in Plymouth

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