9th March 2001 at 00:00
ALPHAKIDS. By Susan Hill and Jenny Feely. Horwitz Martin. Set of six children's books pound;6.95-pound;9.50 each. Teacher's resource books pound;14.50 each.

This series of 100-plus carefully levelled texts to support guided reading in the early years of literacy takes up the literacy strategy and runs with it - operating within the framework, but with great creativity.

The children's books are lively, varied and mostly well illustrated. The texts for emergent readers are based on initials of children's names, each letter having its own jingle for the children to learn. Texts for early and transitional readers cover a broad range of fiction and non-fiction and are imaginatively written.

The teacher's resource books are thorough without being prescriptive or patronising, and the suggestions for using the texts could equally well be used by classroom assistants. The limited number of photocopiable sheets are well designed and purposeful. A "book browsing" section for each text offers ideas for children's follow-up reading.

Where the series really succeeds is in the variety of actvities suggested as part of "literacy learning centres". This will be a familiar concept to many teachers, but one that may have been forgotten in the implementation of the national literacy strategy and the (erroneous) perception that it was only about whole-class teaching.

Literacy learning centres are areas set up in the classroom for children to practise and extend the learning introduced in guided reading sessions. The teacher has to invest time in teaching the children the necessary skills, but the pay-off will justify the investment.

They emphasise independent and co-operative work such as partner reading, word games, and drama. Children make books, paint names in water on the pavement, feel sandpaper letter shapes, make letter shapes out of playdough, sing songs and feel their throats to help differentiate the vibrations made by various sounds (for instance, "pig" and "big"). This series will have children actively engaged in multi-sensory learning rather than merely kept busy colouring in a worksheet.

Kevin Harcombe is head of Redlands primary school, Fareham, Hampshire

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