Puppets pull right strings

Graham Frater looks at ideas for promoting literacy in the primary class

AN INTRODUCTION TO ORACY. Edited by Jackie Holderness and Barbara Lalljee.Cassell Education. Pounds 16.99. Tel: 0171 420 5555.

USE OF LANGUAGE ACROSS THE PRIMARY CURRICULUM. Edited by Eve Bearne. Routledge. Pounds 15.99. Tel: 0171 583 9855.

LET THE SHADOWS SPEAK: developing children's language through shadow puppetry. By Franzeska G Ewart. Trentham. Pounds 12.95 .Tel: 01782 745567.

We all know teachers are hard-pressed, but these books show that they need not lack the support of well-tested new ideas and techniques.

Two of the books have their origins in a lively dialogue between higher education and classroom practitioners. At Oxford Brookes University, Jackie Holderness and Barbara Lalljee worked with a large team to produce a collection of frameworks for supporting talk in the primary classroom.

They held their contributors to a rigid, but productive format. Each chapter outlines its background and aims before describing initial and advanced approaches to classroom practice.

Pupils with special needs are fully included. Topics embrace drama, storytelling, links between talk and writing and use of news and other media, as well as ways of supporting reasoning and exploring ideas.

All their techniques may be associated with the literacy hour; they include "snowballing", "brainstorming", "jig-sawing", "envoying" and using new structures for group discussion and problem-solving. And, to help busy teachers get going, each chapter includes photocopiable materials.

Eve Bearne's collection, the weightiest item here, arises from Homerton College's links with schools. Bearne ranges beyond oracy to update the Bullock Report's concept of language across the curriculum. She links it to the national curriculum, the national literacy strategy and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority's common approach to language.

All her contributors demonstrate the practicality and effectiveness of work that is innovative and rooted in sound principles. Together, they range into writing, reading for information, maths, historical investigations, the language of science and technology. They also suggest ways of using narrative, with reasoning and debate and include physical education's potential contribution to language development.

Bearne gives coherence to her collection with her own papers - in particular, her concluding piece highlights ways of meeting the challenges of policy development, monitoring and assessment. Among the readily borrowable ideas are story boxes that prompt narrative, an archaeology project (including a field trip), the use of museum visits to generate debates, Bearne's own development checklists and her starting points for school-based in-service training.

The joyful surprise is Let the Shadows Speak, Franzeska Ewart's little book on shadow puppets. In no more than 117 pages she manages to demonstrate their rich classroom potential, sketch in their multicultural origins and offer detailed guidance on creating plays, puppets, screens and lighting effects (use an overhead projector). Above all, she makes clear the motivating power of a palpable purpose when developing language.

Her book sits comfortably with Bearne's - she too ranges beyond English, finding in puppetry opportunities to deal with science and controversial social issues and to engage children of varying cultural traditions. The children and teachers who have worked with her in Scotland must have had a treat.

The one underplayed element is the potential of her medium to re-animate for children the native folk tales of Scotland and, indeed, the rest of the UK.

Graham Frater is an independent adviser and a former HMI

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