Under a spell

17th January 2003 at 00:00
Kevin Harcombe's pupils test drive an electronic dictionary and thesaurus.

What could be more useful in class than the Oxford Primary Dictionary and Thesaurus with their 30,000 definitions and 50,000 synonyms? How about the Literacy Word Bank (LWB), a pocket-sized electronic version, complete with customised word list facility and seven word and arithmetic games, for under pound;40?

I tried this out with children aged seven to 12 and it got a universal thumbs up. Quite literally in fact. Whereas I, afflicted by the obsolescence of most 40-somethings, use my fingers to operate the keys, the children hold it like a computer game and use their thumbs to type.

Eleven-year-old Liam's first reaction was "Cool!" - because it's electronic. When he saw what it could do and the speed it could do it, he was even more impressed and motivated. "It's got good graphics for a little thing!" was his enthusiastic endorsement.

The black and white LCD display, measuring 15mm by 100mm, is unsophisticated but effective, with adjustable brightness and large, clear fonts. Four AAA batteries supply the power.

Caitlin, in Year 7, found it a boon with her history homework. "It's actually quicker than leafing through a book and there's a special section on the Romans," she said. The LWB has words for more than 100 topics with 60 words per topic split into three learning levels - perfect for individual differentiated work. You can also create custom word lists to support an area of study.

It has advantages over the class PC, too. Type in "krokadial" into the leading PC word processor and it will recognise an incorrect spelling, but will have no alternatives to offer. Type it into the LWB and you get a snappy graphic followed by the correct spelling, definition and brief etymology.

The blue and white keypad is attractively designed and the overall effect is clutter free. Lucy, 10, valued this: "It's really easy to find everything on the keypad and it's not fiddly to operate like adult spell checkers."

A few keys do have twin functions (for the calculator), but it's not too busy and the whole thing operates in a clear, intuitive way. All the children I presented the LWB to got to grips with it very quickly indeed, helped by the demonstration function on board.

Patrick, also 10, became hooked on the Hangman game (an old chestnut, but still a fun way of learning to spell). Seven-year old Bridie enjoyed trying to beat the machine at Word Train (you add a letter, the machine adds one and so on, until you form a word).

Five or six LWBs for group work would certainly not break the bank and they would be a huge hit with the children.

Literacy Word Bank LWB-216 Franklin Electronic Publishers. Price: pound;39.99. Tel: 0800 328 5618. www.franklin-uk.co.uk. Kevin Harcombe is head of Redlands Primary School, Fareham, Hampshire

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