The literacy hour on wheels...

Sue Hubberstey reviews materials for the new-look school day

By now you will probably have ordered all the Big Books sets and other texts required for the literacy hour; the next task is to consider what support materials you need.

The resources list in the Literacy Hour Training Pack is rather vague - it mentions only "OHPs (overhead projectors), whiteboards, flip charts, magnetic letters etc".

If the "etcetera" bit causes you problems, then educational suppliers are only too happy to make suggestions in an attempt to sell you all kinds of "props", some of dubious value - like the cardboard Literacy Hour Clock, which was greeted with derisory laughter by teachers at a recent training session.

Projectors, boards and magnetic letters

Unless they can create timetables of Byzantine complexity, most primary schools will find it necessary to buy extra OHPs, essential for whole-class reading with juniors.

If having an OHP in every class is unrealistic, you need one that is light and portable. The lighter it is, however, the more expensive itwill be, although there are often discounts for multiple orders.

GLS Dudley supplies the Ambassador, a flat-bed projector with a fold-down arm, which weighs only 4.8 kilos. It comes with a carry-case and costs Pounds 272.99.

The Kopyrite Projector from Hope (Pounds 279.95) has an angled top that makes it easy to project from a book. It will also enlarge copy up to four times on a table and 12 times on a wall.

The cheapest OHP we found was the single lamp Lightmaster from GLS Dudley, which costs Pounds 102. Philip Tacey has a basic classroom model, 3M 9050 for Pounds 119.35.

You should have whiteboards and flip charts small enough to stand on a table when the children are working in small groups. NES Arnold provides a light-weight, table-top flip chart easel for Pounds 69.95. The Magna-Cel Multi-Purpose Display Board from Philip Tacey is a special whiteboard made of sheet-steel coated with a hard, glossy enamel, price Pounds 17.80. It can be used with magnetic letters or wax pencils. To hold the board there is a table-top Classroom Display Stand, which costs Pounds 12.50.

Hope is understandably keen to promote its wedge-shaped whiteboard as it is featured in the literacy hour training videos. The advantage of the Wedge is that two children, one each side, can use it simultaneously. It is double-sided and comes in two sizes - A3 upright and A2 landscape - and has a wipe clean magnetic surface. The A3 Wedge costs Pounds 47.95, the A2 version Pounds 66.75.

Magnetic letters are available from most major suppliers. NES Arnold's bulk pack comprises 240 lower-case and 48 upper-case letters made from thick plastic and comes in a storage jar (Pounds 31). Also from NES Arnold are Link 'n' Spell Letters (Pounds 6.95 for a pack of lower- or upper-case) that link together and have magnetic backs. Exclusive to Philip Tacey are Magna-Cel Capital and Lower Case Magnetic Letters, which cost Pounds 6.99 for a set of 62 - one full alphabet of lower- and upper-case black-on-white letters, plus a few extras and a full point.

Big Book furniture

One problem identified when Big Books began to arrive in schools was how to store them. They are too tall for the average-sized bookshelf and, if piled on top of each other, are inaccessible to children. The solution has to be a Big Book rack. Heron Educational supplies a single-sided, seven-tier rack made of plastic-coated wire that can be wall-mounted or free-standing. It measures 70 x 110cm and costs Pounds 34.99. More attractive is Heron's range of beech melamine Big Book Furniture, designed specifically for the literacy hour. The slotted units are available in three sizes and provide vertical storage for 60 big books. They are available with or without lockable castors and cost from Pounds 96. The ultimate piece in the range is the Big Book Truck (Pounds 175). It has storage for up to 50 Big Books; a Big Book display stand that doubles as an easy-wipe whiteboard; word and sentence holders, and space for a number of useful storage trays. The Big Book Truck is 122cm high, making it suitable for only the youngest children.

Optional extras Having made sure that you have all the basics, you can shop around for other items to enhance your teaching - those things in the "etcetera" category. NES Arnold has produced a brochure featuring a wide range of literacy hour products. For guided-writing sessions with infants there is a Magnetic Picture Tray, which shows a street and countryside scene and features nearly 40 magnetic pieces (Pounds 61.95). Another aid to storytelling, as well as for language and visual identification with one child or with a small group, is Talkabout Pictures, which consists of a flip-over file, 12 coloured pictures showing the same family in different situations, 12 line drawings and a 16-page teacher's manual for Pounds 49.95 a pack. The brochure has an interesting range of language material.

Something quite new is a set of Emotions Dolls, which have faces that depict different expressions - surprised, thoughtful, happy, sad, angry. They are designed for storytelling and other language activities. There are two boys and two girls, all anatomically correct, available as a set of four at a reduced price of Pounds 69.95.

Thrass UK provides a whole-school programme, concentrating on the teaching of phonemes (sounds)and graphemes (letters and letter combinations). The range includes class- and desk-size picture and word charts, audio material and work books. A good introduction is the Resource File (Pounds 100), which contains a teacher's manual, audio tape; and photocopiable skills sections for handwriting, reading and spelling, and assessment.

Teachers have their sayI We invited literacy co-ordinators and other teaching staff from several primary schools to assess a range of products. There was an enthusiastic response to the Wedge from Hope because of its shape and size and the Talkabout Pictures file from NES Arnold, which was considered good value for money and could be used throughout the school. The one reservation was its lack of positive multiracial images.

Only two products received a strong endorsement. These were the Heron Big Book Truck (one of the schools bought one) and the Thrass UK material, particularly the Resource File. "Excellent. I recommend this to every primary teacher, " was one teacher's reaction to it.

Contact Information

GLS Dudley 0181 805 8333

Heron Educational 01246 453354

Hope Education 0161 633 6611

NES Arnold 0115 971 7700

Philip Tacey 01264 332171

THRASS UK Ltd 01829 741413

Prices quoted are before VAT or any carriage charges are added

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