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Give pupils permission to browse

Time spent with a wide choice of materials can be invaluable for building reading skills at all primary levels, says Kay Hiatt

Teachers often ask about managing the time devoted to reading in primary schools. Children need to be involved in useful reading activities while the teacher devotes time to a particular group, so I have developed practical solutions, including the idea of "the right to browse".

It is very easy to organise, especially if the children do it, and can be used from foundation stage to Year 6.

The basic equipment is a sturdy, empty box, which is decorated by the children and filled with a range of reading matter chosen from what is already in the class or in the school library, or brought from home by pupils who would like to share some of their favourites. This helps to develop a sense of "ownership" over the box.

The same box can be on offer for several weeks, then the contents are changed by a new group of children, although it's a good idea to offer them the choice of keeping favourites in the box each time.

Every group in the class will have the right to browse through it on their designated day, either at their tables or in a place of their choice - a rug or cushions on the floor, sitting on cushions, outside if it's fine.

They have "permission" just to look at the pictures, flick through the books, read aloud, have a laugh, read with a friend, discard one book for another - in other words, to experience what it is "just to browse".

I have put together an exemplar box to share with teachers - at foundation and key stage 1 it includes a range of materials such as dictionaries, comics in plastic files, catalogues, pop-up books, baby books and easy reads.

At KS2, there can be the same sort of eclectic mix. Comics continue to be important - they reflect popular culture and the varied interests of children. In my experience, boys often follow their fathers' interests and borrow their magazines to share through the box, for example magazines on fishing, cycling and computing.

They can also use a themed approach, for instance with books and artefacts on sport, science fiction, Harry Potter - why not have two boxes?

Another idea is to introduce a set of generic colour-coded cards on aspects of character that can be used over and over again, with or without the teacher.

Here are a few examples: * The character you liked disliked was... because... * Select two main characters and write what you know about them.

* Write all the names of the characters on different points of a circle.

Draw lines between them and write why you have linked these together.

* What was the author trying to tell you through their choice of the main character(s).

A set of similar cards can be produced for non-fiction: Three facts that found interesting were...

* What I likeddisliked about this book was..

* The section I liked best was...

* What was the author's aim in producing this book? Say why or why not he was successful.

I also think there is a place for dictionary and thesaurus work during reading time.

Once children have mastered alphabetical order, all sorts of quizzes and challenges can be set.

There should also still be an option for children to read to themselves a book of their choice - to transport themselves into another time, place and situation.

Kay Hiatt is a freelance literacy consultant

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