This is a reading comprehension exercise for children. It is written by Susan Fineman, a reading specialist in the New Haven, Conn., school district.

MADRID--Educators on a tiny Spanish island off West Africa are resurrecting an ancient system of whistling used by rural folk to communicate across canyons.

The Canary Islands government said recently that the code of peeps and whirs will be a mandatory course in elementary schools on Gomera, the mountainous island where it originated centuries ago, and as an elective in high schools.

No one knows for sure how the system originated. It might have arrived on Gomera with Berbers from the Atlas Mountains of Morocco and Algeria, said Rogelio Botanz, of the Canary Islands education department.

The Gomera version is strictly phonetic, with whistles of different tone or length representing a no-frills alphabet of two vowels and four consonants.

That means lots of words sound similar and are easily confused.

"It's like when you speak over the phone, and the letter S can sound like the letter F," he said.

Still, the system was enormously useful for rural people to communicate on an island of terrain gouged with deep ravines that made short-distance travel difficult.

The system started to die out in the 1940s and 1950s, when Gomera lost much of its population to emigration.

These days Gomera has 12,000 residents, of whom several thousand still know the whistle system, Botanz said.

So far the teaching corps has two members: a shepherd and a farmer. There's one more position to fill. Elementary school students in Gomera will have one 20-minute whistling class a week.

"We've seen children who with just 30 minutes a week become wonderful whistlers," Botanz said.


1. Long ago, the people of Gomera:

a) lived short distances from each other.

b) communicated by whistling.

c) built homes at the bottom of canyons.

2. Communication was difficult on the tiny Spanish island because:

a) many rural people did not know how to spell.

b) it was hard to learn a no-frills alphabet.

c) the land was divided by ravines.

3. After many people of Gomera left their homeland:

a) whistling became less popular.

b) 120 land owners died.

c) the code was forgotten.

4. Of the 12,000 residents remaining:

a) only two are schoolteachers.

b) a few thousand know the communication system.

c) the best whistlers are farmers and shepherds.

5. Today, schoolchildren on the Spanish island are:

a) learning the old system of whistling.

b) electing a new principal.

c) planning to visit the Atlas Mountains.

6. The ancient whistling system has sounds that:

a) are used to send messages over the phone.

b) stand for two vowels and four consonants.

c) represent each letter of the alphabet.

7. The code of peeps and whirs:

a) is used to make words.

b) was invented by Canary Islands officials.

c) both a and b.

8. A new law requires that all Gomeran elementary pupils:

a) finish high school.

b) attend classes in whistling.

c) write homework assignments in code.

9. Schoolchildren must:

a) spend 20 minutes a day learning phonics.

b) take one whistling class per week.

c) join the teaching corps.

10. You can guess that:

a) youngsters are taught 26 tones.

b) pupils are not allowed to practice in school.

c) many children might enjoy the new classes.

Answer key: 1. b, 2. c, 3. a, 4. b, 5. a, 6. b, 7. a, 8. b, 9. b, 10. c