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Eat your words;Primary

The cereal packet can make learning to read an appetising task says Matt Rodda

Children who live in our inner cities may be miles away from green fields, but they are surrounded by acres of print that can help them learn to read - if only their parents and teachers know where to look. Many have limited access to books at home, but a scheme in Coventry has been helping them use print on everyday objects, so children can start absorbing the reading message from the moment they look at the letters on their breakfast cereal packets.

Coventry City Council's advisory service and teachers in the city's Hillfields area have been using cereal packets, sweet wrappers and street signs to encourage reading as part of the city's literacy project.

The Environmental Print Scheme is particularly aimed at those children who find reading a difficult chore they have to do at school.

The project is also designed to ease parents' task in helping their children, even if they cannot or do not want to buy lots of books.

The Coventry scheme, backed by the Basic Skills Agency, can teach that C stands for Corn Flakes and then develop reading using such everyday materials. Simple comprehension exercises can also be based on the instructions on packaging. And the scheme can fit into cross-curricular teaching, building literacy into other subjects.

Staff at Hillfield's St Benedict's Roman Catholic primary school use cooking instructions on food packaging to support several parts of the national curriculum. Information about cooking times and methods for exotic dishes can link into science or geography.

Of the school's 184 children, 96 have special needs. And 48 per cent have free school meals. Headteacher Maureen Perry says: "Many of our children have no books at home, and you really have to motivate them. Using print on everyday objects is a way of making children aware that reading is a real tool that gets you places. Without such methods getting the children interested would be a whole heap harder."

Having everyday printed materials in the school is one of several approaches used to increase learning's relevance for children.

Others include using alphabets based on the names of motorcycles or dinosaurs.

Di Hatchett, Coventry's literacy programme leader, says the work at St Benedict's is part of a pattern of activities at schools in the area.

Council advisers have worked on using everyday printed material for several years, and are now using it to raise standards in English as part of the city's literacy project. The scheme was set up by the council to run from April 1997, and aims to advise schools to help Coventry hit government targets for 11-year-olds' reading and writing.

Ms Hatchett stresses the importance of making sure children do not cheat by recognising words through colour or packet design.

Teachers use photocopies to move from coloured cereal packets to similar style black and white print.

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