Reluctant readers

Jane Christopher

HIGH IMPACT SERIES. Edited by Steve Barlow and Steve Skidmore. 2001 New Titles Pack (28 titles). Heinemann pound;98.50. Teacher's pack pound;27.99. Also available in individual packs of retellings (four titles) pound;14.50; plays (12 titles) pound;41 99; fiction (four titles) pound;13.99; non-fiction (eight titles) pound;27.99; Shakespeare (six titles) pound;18.75.

Available from TES Direct

NEW SPIRALS SERIES. Twelve new titles in the fiction, non-fiction and plays lists. Nelson Thornes pound;4 each. SOUNDBITES SERIES. Edited by John Foster. Collins

Three graded packs of six titles pound;29.99 each; Teacher resources pound;19.99. Also available in individual title packs of six copies pound;29.99 each, and a bumper pack with teaching resources pound;84.99The literacy strategy has increased the challenge to produce accessible and relevant texts for reluctant readers. Making texts attractive to less able students seems to mean large type, simple fonts and brightly coloured pictures with a teacher's book full of worksheets: join the dots replaced by "fill in the missing word". Not particularly challenging stuff.

The High Impact series clearly seeks to remedy this. "Pre 1914" is covered with the focus on enjoyment of narrative. "Football Crazy" and "Drugs" bring excitement and relevance to English without patronising students. Background information is included, such as the fact that Aston Villa and Bolton Wanderers football clubs were both formed by their local churches, and there are quiz questions and useful bullet points.

The list also includes ghost stories and plays, which provide useful character descriptions, to aid understanding and distribution of parts. The teacher resource file is well organised with photocopiable sheets, writing frames and activities: reporting, correcting spelling errors, work on connectives, and interviewing. Notes for teachers include useful synopses, pre-reading questions, discussion topics, and extension ideas with attention to genre and requirements of the literacy strategy.

The covers of the New Spirals series remind me of books for reluctant readers used in the past. When children think they are reading books intended for a younger age, the reluctant reader can turn into one who won't read. However, stories such as "Hackers" and "The Body Snatcher" in the non-fiction list represent a challenge. I like the use of repetition for dramatic effect in "Lucky Dip", which lends itself to analysis and extension work.

As with the High Impact series there are plays, but no character description at the beginning or tone of voice indicators.

If you are after beautiful illustrations, I recommend the Soundbites series. "Macbeth" is fluently recreated and the pictures make it a pleasure. Endnotes include information on Shakespeare, historical background, focus on staging (which could encourage pupils to perform a scene) and words to remember. I would like to have seen something on Shakespeare's language, annotated with explanations, so that pupils could see how the editors were able to condense the original.

Soundbites also includes a book on football but adds a collection of poems about bullying. The accompanying teacher's book has a clear emphasis on sentence and word level exercises and is organised into a page of teacher's notes for each text followed by two pupil sheets. The dense format makes presentation rather awkward, but the content is good.

Jane Christopher is head of English at Droitwich Spa high school, Worcestershirel See Special Needs Curriculum Special, with The TES this week

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Jane Christopher

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