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Tripping the light fantastic;English ;Cover feature

3Schools are connecting to the National Grid for Learning and teachers are being trained, but what software, materials and support will be out there for them? George Cole investigates the role of good content for the cyberschool generation, followed by a subject-by-subject stock-check

Duncan Grey is teaching an English lesson on research skills at Hinchingbroke school in Huntingdon. The students listen carefully to his instructions in the school's purpose-built learning resource centre. Once the task is set they will be free to gather, synthesise and present information from a variety of sources including books, CD-Rom and the Internet. They have also learned the first law of information handling - it's not what you've got, but what you do with it that counts. In the past this would be just another good lesson taught in isolation, but now with access to the Internet other teachers can share the recipe and adapt the task until it works with their own students. This example and others now feature in the revamped English and ICT section of the virtual teachers centre which is at Things have got a lot better for English teachers as far as ICT is concerned. As well as new tools for managing the printed and spoken word there is a growing corpus of good practice. The challenge now is to help teachers become active readers and writers of the Internet.

New software tools are starting to come alongside and support the human processes of handwriting and speech. These tools are helping teachers to mediate and manipulate the growing pool of electronic content. Software like the excellent Handwriting for Windows allows any computer text to be rendered into standard joined-up writing on screen or on paper - with the correct letter shapes and joins. At a sweep, electronic text is more familiar and accessible even for young readers. Even comprehensive resources like Encarta become more manageable when they appear in the same joined up writing

Several speaking text packages also allow students to enjoy the real benefit of hearing text spoken while it is displayed on screen. Multimedia Textease has had this feature built in for the last three years. In software such as Talk Back 2000, UK voices are starting to replace the computer drawls of earlier software. Multimedia software like HyperStudio has also begun a revolution in storytelling across the age range. Now voice and text and image may be seamlessly integrated and rendered on to a web page.

With the imminent text explosion we will learn afresh that in content terms the biggest is not necessarily the best. Many school librarians will have witnessed the Encyclopaedia Britannica going unread while students beat a steady path to the World Book volumes. The reason for the success of the title in school has been the reading age of the content pitched at around the year 12 mark. The launch of a World Book CD-Rom with joint access to the World Book website is a welcome development for English teachers. The archive runs back as far as 1922 so students can research subjects such as racism and detect bias and attitude, by comparing past texts with those of the present. A "sticky notes" feature will allow teachers to make their own web pages of selected content.

It's easy to confuse content with learning, but teachers like Duncan Grey know the difference. We've got the content now we need to build our skills with the tools and learning strategies which will make the content manageable, meaningful and useful.

10 websites

Visual thesaurus where synonyms dance before you on the screen


Guidance resources and samples of successful work approaches

One teacher's exhaustive collection of own teaching resources and links to other sites


Get students reading and writing reviews with resources from this commercial bookselling site

Clarifies role of ICT in English. Practical ideas from real classrooms

Alternative Jane Austen site - humour and good solid content

Literacy database of ideas and links

Vocabulary site detailing a different word, etymology and pronunciation every day


Exhaustive worldwide links for English teachers from US site


Talking Technology

10 resources

HyperStudio Multimedia. Authoring software with a short learning curve, pound;99.95 from TAG.

Tel: 0800 591262

Reading the Reader. Digital video case studies and guidance for primary teachers on emergent reading, two CD-Roms, pound;30 from the Scottish Interactive Technology Centre.

Tel: 0131 651 6039

Handwriting for Windows. pound;29.99 from Kath Balcombe Research. Tel: 01743 356764

Writers Workshop. Interactive workshop to promote factual and descriptive writing, 5-user licence, pound;79 from Granada Learning. Tel: 0161 827 2927

World Book Encyclopedia. Appropriate reading age for all secondary and late primary children, now with speech built-in, pound;42.50 exc VAT. Tel: 01332 297729

Multimedia Textease. Multimedia authoring, pound;85.

Tel: 01335 343421

Survivors. Autobiographical threads through real lives of those who experienced the Holocaust, pound;24.99 from Knowledge Adventure.

Talk back 2000, pound;39 (exc VAT) from Talking Technologies. Computer text with a variety of English male and female voices Tel: 0207 602 4107

Site Central. Automates the process of making interactive websites especially for younger students, pound;119.95 from TAG.

Tel: 0800 591262

Literacy Complete. Database structure brings drag and drop simplicity to managing the strands of the literacy hour, pound;94 from Skills factory Tel: 01484 225793

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