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Point, read and learn;Reviews;Literacy

Paul Noble looks at new materials for livening up the literacy hour.

* All Aboard overhead transparencies for KS2 (Ginn pound;49.99 + VAT each year group pack). The All Aboard reading scheme is such a comprehensive and attractive package that one wonders how it could possibly be improved.

Adding overhead transparencies to the range of support materials was an inspired idea, especially as they have a useful existence independent of the scheme.

These are not ordinary transparencies of the tedious black-and-white eyestrain-inducing sort; for once you can put colour illustrations and worthwhile text before your children.

Each file - one for each junior year group - contains 32 transparencies taken from the appropriate stages of the All Aboard scheme; for example the Year 3 file contains extracts from stages 9 and 10.

As the scheme includes texts from a range of genres, these are represented in each file. Poetry, fiction and non-fiction extracts can be used to model both reading and writing strategies for whole class or group work, and to tackle the objectives set down in the national literacy strategy. Using the right sort of pen, you can mark-up the OHTs just like any others, and you do not even have to spend ages working out how best to use them, because the thorough teacher's notes hold your hand throughout the lesson.

* Literacy Hour Software Levels 1-3 (Ginn, Acorn, PC and Mac versions pound;44.95 + VAT, Primary Site Licence pound;65.00 + VAT). Reading 360, or New Reading 360 as it should now be called, has acquired many fans over the years. This literacy hour CD-Rom, presumably the first in a series, is aimed at readers of levels 1-3 of the scheme, roughly reception and Y1.

Installing the CD on my PC took a little time (Acorn and Mac operators may use this time to do their short-term planning) but once away the disk ran smoothly enough. The narrators deserve a special mention both for their clarity and sanity - there were no hysterical exclamations or over the top congratulations. Fantastic! Whoopee!

Word matching and sentence construction activities are used to teach phonics and sight vocabulary based on the chosen book, although teachers can opt for different routes through the activities if they wish. This is spelt out in the teacher's notes. My only concern is whether children, at this age or level of reading ability, would have the mouse skills that use of this CD demands.

* Oxford reading tree games for stages 4 and 5 by Thelma Page (Oxford pound;50 + VAT) contains more than 100 reading games and activities, which seems like pretty good value to me, especially as they come in a solid box, are attractively designed and well-made. But be warned, there are lots of small cards that will quickly become lost if you are not organised, and you will need to provide your own dice.

Oxford have not wasted too much production effort on the teacher's handbook, which is functional but unenticing (like the instruction manual you get with a washing machine). The curriculum coverage chart is handy, with the games referenced to national curriculum English (or English Language 5-14 Scotland) rather than the literacy hour.

Five pages of additional games and activities at the end of the booklet are, however, set down under word, sentence and text level headings. The games - lotto, spelling tree, Noah's ark - are reasonably straightforward, although the instructions can be intimidating.

* The Breakthrough to Literacy teacher's guide (pound;12.50), My First Word Book (pound;1.65 + VAT), Word Folder (pound;4.99 + VAT) and Word Tiles (pound;24.99 + VAT) are all published by Longman.

Breakthrough to Literacy is nearly 30 years old and was originally developed by the much-mourned Schools' Council. It is primarily an early years scheme that focuses on the essential links between reading and writing, and although generations of teachers have sworn by it, many have also sworn at it.

The essential components of Breakthrough are the word tiles that pupils can use to construct their own sentences. For many years, they were Breakthrough's Achilles heel, for although much ingenuity and effort was expended on managing the little blighters, sooner or later there would be a major upset and the classroom would be filled with a snowstorm of silent words - and some not so silent.

This latest upgrade uses magnetic tiles (hooray!) and a Toblerone-like stick for the pupil's stand. (Mine arrived crushed, so take care.) The typeface for all the materials is now a "tailed" script, acknowledging the fact that many schools at KS1 have moved towards using a cursive style and away from "ball-and-stick".

The terminology of the national curriculum and the literacy hour permeates the teacher's guide, making Breakthrough more teacher friendly than ever and it remains a powerful tool in the infant teacher's armoury.

Paul Noble is head of St Andrew's primary school, Blunsdon, Wiltshire

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