Why the Net is good for the book

Emma Haughton, looks at how the Internet can help with English
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The Independent Online

Those who predicted that computers would spell the death of literacy were evidently not as far-sighted as they thought. The Internet, it seems, offers immense resources for anyone interested in the written word, whether to improve their own writing or research someone else's.

Those who predicted that computers would spell the death of literacy were evidently not as far-sighted as they thought. The Internet, it seems, offers immense resources for anyone interested in the written word, whether to improve their own writing or research someone else's.

At primary level, numerous sites aim to boost basic literacy skills with games, activities and online stories. But one of their most useful functions is motivational. Most offer children a gallery or showcase in which to display their own creative efforts to a potential audience of millions.

It's worth bearing in mind that Internet sites don't have to be specific to English as a subject to improve literacy. Many parents find that the attitudes of reluctant readers are transformed simply by going online. Surfing the Net to discover more about a cherished enthusiasm is often the first real incentive children have to read; put them in touch with fellow enthusiasts via e-mail and they may discover a real incentive to write too.

At secondary and post-16 level the diversity is mind-boggling. Think of an author or a work, pop it into a search engine, and it's a fair bet that you'll find someone has devoted a website to them. As you might expect, big literary cheeses such as Shakespeare and Chaucer attract proportionally more megabytes of web space.

Primary school children

Achuka Children's Books UK(www.achuka.co.uk)

A veritable feast for anyone interested in children's literature. Up-to-the-moment reviews cover a variety of genres including fiction, non-fiction, picture books, poetry, and first readers and there are interviews, author profiles, literary news and more. Ideal for parents (and bored teens) looking to revive flagging interest in reading.

Words and Pictures(www.bbc.co.uk/education/wordsandpictures)

This wonderful site is packed with games and activities for five- to seven- year-olds to boost reading confidence. You can play games online or print them out for later, print your own scrapbook with phonic activities or send in a sentence or poem to the gallery. You can even watch the magic pencil demonstrate letter formation.

Listen and Write(www.bbc.co.uk/education/listenandwrite)

Another superb BBC site which aims to make creative writing fun for nine- to 11-year-olds. It takes them through various activities based on rhymes, similes and choosing effective words. You can hear selected poems read or send your own poems to the showcase.

Read and Write Together(www.bbc.co.uk/education/readandwrite)

A simple but effective site aimed at parents who want to support their child with reading and writing at home. Provides lots of activities and answers to all those questions about exactly what children are doing at school and how parents can help behind the scenes.

WordCentral(www.wordcentral.com)

This wacky US site really goes a long way to meet its stated ambition of making words fun. You can compose a nonsense verse, build your own dictionary, conduct English experiments in the science lab (including turning text into Morse code and then e-mailing it to a friend) or simply gen up on today's buzzword and how to use it. Do you know what egregious really means?

Stories from the Web(hosted.ukoln.ac.uk/stories/index.htm)

A well-designed site for eight- to 11-year-olds where they can pick a story by author, title or genre, read interviews with the authors and extracts from their books, or send in their own contribution. Featured writers include JK Rowling and Susan Cooper.

Secondary school children

Surfing with the Bard www.ulen.com/shakespeare)

Arguably the best of the crop of Shakespeare sites, this was set up by an English and drama teacher to help students understand and enjoy his work. There's a brief and friendly guide to the plays for the uninitiated, links to the full texts and other dedicated sites, and even a discussion room where you can thrash out your queries and theories.

Answers: English(www.gcse.com/recep.htm)

"Syllabus, tips, advice, the Full Monty" - that's how this excellent site sums itself up, and I can only agree. Devised by teachers and academics, it's lean and straight to the point, with everything you need to know to get a good grade, including required jargon, tips, poetry appreciation, syllabuses, orals, course-work, quick spelling and grammar fixes. Even the online tutorials are written in a wry and snappy style designed to grab and hold the attention of teenagers.

Online Literary Criticism Collection(www.ipl.org/ref/litcrit)

An excellent site which lets you search by author, title or literary period to unearth literary criticism and other sites dedicated to their lives and individual works.

The Word Detective(www.word-detective.com)

An amusing, thoroughly informative site. Find out the origin and etymology of words and phrases such as "balderdash", "galoot", "flummox" and "pushing the envelope". If you're after something in particular, and it's not in the archive, you can e-mail your question and wait for an unerringly witty and pithy reply.

You can contact Emma Haughton at: e.haughton@dial.pipex.com

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