Featured Resource: enCompassCulture

Our Featured Resource for May is enCompassCulture, a site set up 6 years ago by the British Council to connect readers from all over the world and to get them talking about books. We interviewed enCompass's Reader in Residence, Susan Tranter, to find out more about what students (and teachers) can get from the site.

Real Histories Directory: What are the aims of enCompassCulture?

Susan Tranter: The site is a kind of virtual reading group, a place where people can come together to chat about books, find out about authors, get ideas for what to read next, and have some fun.

RHD: How can teachers/schools make use of the site?

ST: There's plenty for teachers and schools on the site. For a start we've got loads of great booklists themed on topics to appeal to different age groups, or classes working on projects like climate change. Youngsters can be encouraged to add their own reviews of books they've been reading, or to contribute to our discussion board. And then there's our fantastic reading group twinning service, where we pair up groups from the UK with readers from around the world. Both groups will agree to read the same book, and then get together online to chat about it, sometimes with the author as well. We've had reading groups in UK schools chatting to their peers in Nigeria, India, and Uzbekistan, to name but a few. It always makes for an interesting exchange!

RHD: What benefits do you think young people gain from being able to interact with others around the world?

ST: It's great to see young people using the online chats to interact with others from totally different backgrounds. Their situations and lifestyles are probably completely different, but it's always the similarities of their interests, insights and enthusiasms that come through really strongly. People get the chance to ask questions, voice their opinions, and have some healthy debate. Talking about books - especially books about different cultures - is a great way of getting young people to look beyond their usual surroundings, and see things from a different perspective.

RHD: How can young people interact with their favourite authors?

ST: From time to time we've hosted chats where young readers get to quiz writers. There's usually a frenetic hour or so where the youngsters will fire off all sorts of questions - asking everything from where the writer gets their motivation, and why they developed a character a certain way, to more blunt questions about their lives. One of my favourites was 'how did you become a famous author even though you are a school failure?' Only young people are that honest!

RHD: As Reader in Residence, have you gained any particular insights into young people around the world and have their been any surprises?

ST: Every chat is different and unpredictable, and that's what makes it exciting. You never know what questions will pop up next. I've really realised how good young people are at making connections with each other, and the internet helps with that. Even the shy kid who sits at the back and never speaks in class can find a voice and be recognised. The technology is a great leveller in this sense; everyone's equal. It seems to me a genuinely positive use of the internet, forging connections with people you would otherwise never have got to meet or chat to. And the fact that books are the catalyst for that is brilliant.

RHD: What do you think the site has achieved?

ST: EnCompass is a great resource in terms of the wealth of material we've created and collected online. There are interviews with writers, reviews of books, quizzes, discussion groups, booklists... loads of scope for inspiration and ideas for book-related projects. Hopefully it helps give youngsters an enthusiasm for reading, and an ease in talking about books, that will last.

There is a wealth of material on the site to encourage children and young people to read - and to read more widely - and many resources for teachers, including reading kits written for, and by, teachers.
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