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Reading a riot with Dennis the Menace

Dennis the Menace, the Bash Street Kids and magazine problem pages all have a place in the primary curriculum, according to the National Literacy Trust.

Research conducted by the trust reveals that children need to be able to choose their own reading material, if they are to see reading as a desirable pastime. So comics, magazines, websites and emails should all be permitted in the primary classroom.

The survey found that 80 per cent of pupils most enjoyed reading a book that they had chosen themselves. Similarly, it revealed that pupils'

reading selections are rarely what their teachers might choose for them.

Material included magazines, websites, text messages and jokes, as well as books.

Christina Clark, who conducted the research, said: "Schools do not target these diverse interests. There is a prejudice against texting, email and websites. It's all about books with a capital 'L' for literacy. But any reading at all is beneficial. It increases world knowledge and awareness of other cultures and other people."

Primary pupils who are not interested in the topic of a class set text often extend this lack of interest to the process of reading itself.

"It can be quite intimidating to be given a book to read that you don't enjoy but you are told is great," Dr Clark said. "And especially if you've just started reading. It's difficult to say, I do like reading, but I don't like this book."

Ian McNeilly, of the National Association for the Teaching of English, said: "Children need a varied diet of literature. I'm totally in favour of young people being exposed to websites, comics and magazines. Primary pupils should be encouraged to read books, but other material can complement them. The Dandy and The Beano never did me any harm."

Simon Rowe, head of Waycroft primary, in Bristol, regularly works with parents to support pupils' interests. He convinced one family to read the newspaper sports pages with their sports-fan son every day. "Pupils may come into class obsessed with sport or science fiction," he said. "But we have to push that interest further. Enjoyment is the key to opening that door."

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