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Make it alphabet soup for starters

WORDBANK WALL CHART FOR EARLY YEARS. Hope Education. Chart plus sets of alphabet and word cards pound;59.95. Extra sets of cards pound;9.95 each. Age range: 3-6.

It is not often that a primary teacher's heart leaps, but Sue Palmer's did when she saw this simple, sturdy chart

The simplest things are always the best. When I unwrapped this huge red and yellow vinyl wall chart, with its neatly-sewn transparent pockets for displaying and storing letter cards, my primary teacher's heart leapt. It's so utterly neat, bright, useful and, above all, sturdy. The stitching is heavy-duty and the whole thing has a wipe-clean surface. You know at a glance that this could survive in an infant classroom.

The chart is 1m by 1.5m and has four rows of six transparent pockets. Into each of these you insert a letter card complete with picture cue. In order to get 26 letters into 24 spaces, W shares a card with X and Y with Z. There are colourful pictures, satisfying size and sensible choices of words. Also included is a set of 26 word cards printed with 100 of the most common words. The idea is that teachers add more words to the cards as time goes on, and children consult them when they need a spelling word.

I think this would be a mistake as children are awful at replacing cards after they've used them and your classroom would be full of lost souls wandering around saying "Who's got the 'm' words?". Better to supply word lists on each table, or in personal word books or on word mats they can lean on as they write.

My preferred use for the chart would be as a storage unit for cards for phonics teaching - starting with letters then adding in blends and digraphs as you cover them in class. A set of illustrated blends cards is available from Hope but as yet none of the vowel digraphs - you'd have to make your own on A5 card.

With phonics teaching on its way back in, good size "word building cards" will be invaluable for demonstrating onset and rhyme, and how to build consonant-vowel-consonant words and words with a variety of vowel sounds. They are also a useful resource for games and activities in which children build words themselves. Even returning cards to the correct pocket teaches letter-matching skills and alphabetical order. Storage for these sorts of bits and pieces is a perennial problem - the pockets solve it and the whole unit doubles as an attractive alphabet wall chart.

There is nothing new or innovative about the Wordbank Wall Chart and its accessories but everything has been well-designed and classroom teachers have obviously been consulted. There are metal eyelets in the chart for securing it to the wall and self-adhesive hooks are provided (they seem sticky enough, although the one I attached to my office door used to come off).

The letter and word cards are printed in a clear infant font (q unfortunately doesn't have a flick, but you could add one yourself) and alternatives sets are available in Sassoon cursive font. Since the pockets are transparent and the alphabet letters removable the chart is versatile: once fed up with phonics you could use it for storing numbers, or assessment materials or anything else you fancy.

However, pound;60 seems a lot to invest in a simple storage item and a talented seamstress could probably run one up at a fraction of the cost. But for those who aren't a dab hand with a needle this would be a hard-wearing, attractive and really useful investment for the early years classroom.

* Hope Education, Orb Mill, Huddersfield Rd, Oldham, Lancs OL4 2ST. Tel: 0161-633 6611. Stand B4

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