February 14, 2018
by Nora Nagy

Sherlock Holmes and the Stolen Jewels in the classroom

We are all aware of the benefits of extensive reading, but some of us may feel unsure about how to approach longer texts in class. How should we scaffold the reading for our students and how much time should we dedicate to talking about the book in class? How will the students benefit from their reading experience? How can we link the book to our syllabus?

In these series of posts we would like to encourage you to take extensive reading seriously and take a novel into class. We will look at how you can prepare your students for the text and expand it beyond the frame of the story. It is important to prepare the students so they are aware of what they are doing, Some of them may feel intimidiated by the idea of reading a book in English, others may not see the benefits. These fears and preconceptions can be easily addressed and thereby make the reading process much more beneficial and all-importantly FUN for the students. It is always a good idea for students to keep a WORD BOOK where they can jot down new words and expressions. We also recommend getting your students to read slightly below level (‘I’ minus 1) so they are at ease with the language and consolidating language while learning new words in context.

This month we continue with the two exciting detective stories in Sherlock Holmes and the Stolen Jewels written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. You can read a short description of the Helbling Reader edition here.

The book was adapted by Geraldine Sweeney and illustrated by Agilulfo Russo for teens and of course any adult reader at an elementary level of English (CEFR A1-A2).

Our aims are to:

  • raise interest in the story,
  • become familiar with the reader,
  • find pathways into the story through projects,
  • expand the social, cultural and historical setting of the story,
  • make personal links,
  • have fun.

Two stories, one reader

In the Helbling Reader Shelock Holmes and the Stolen Jewels you can read two stories. They both appeared in the Strand Magazine in 1892. Below you can see the main characters in them.

The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle

Characters in the story ‘The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle’. Illustration by Agilulfo Russo. © Helbling Languages

The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet

Characters in the story ‘The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet’. Illustration by Agilulfo Russo. © Helbling Languages


1 Start by introducing the character of Sherlock Holmes. Ask your students what they know about Sherlock Holmes. Maybe they have seen a film or TV adaptation of a Sherlock Holmes story or read a story in L1. What can they remember? Where are the stories set? Who is Sherlock’s assistant? Where does he live? What does he look like? What words do they associate with him?

2 Talk about detectives. What makes a good detective? What skills and knowledge does one need to become one? Do your stundets know any famous detectives from film or fiction?

3 Make predictions from the illustrations. Ask your students to browse the book and write short sentences about what might be going on in the pictures. They can write them in their notebooks and then go back to their predictions as they are reading the book.

4 Before you start discussing the projects, share this Wordle image with your class. It shows  the thirty most frequently used words in the readers (the bigger the word the more it is used). What do these words tell us about the story? Get the class to ask questions and make statements based on the words.

Word cloud created in Wordle.


When you have become familiar with the book, offer a series of projects for your students to explore on their own or in pairs/groups. We recommend that your students choose their topic whenever they feel comfortable doing so (before, during or after reading). Some students might not be comfortable reflecting on the story from a personal point of view and they might not have the linguistic toolkit to analyze it critically. Projects can provide friendly pathways into the stories and they can also provide the basis for cross-curricular projects.

Project 1: Jewels

Where do the titles of the stories come from? What is a jewel? What is a stone, a crystal, a mineral?
You can easily turn this project into a CLIL research task. Ask your students to check the meaning of ‘beryl’ and ‘carbuncle’.


Words to check: 

jewel – gem – stone – crystal – mineral

  • What is the composition of some of the more common jewels (diamond, emerald, ruby)?
  • What other types of precious and semi-precious stones are popular?
  • What colour are they?


  • What are the British Crown Jewels? List all of them.
  • Are there any famous crown jewels in the history of your country?

Project 2: London in the 19th century

Find a map and some pictures of London in the 19th century. Which famous buildings were already there?

In these blog posts you will find more information and tips:

Project 3: Newspapers and magazines

In the 19th century newspapers and magazines were really popular. In ‘The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle’ we learn about the news and read advertistements in The Times. The stories themselves were published in the popular Strand Magazine.

  • Are The Times and Strand Magazine still in print?
  • Which are the most popular newspapers and magazines in the UK today?

Project 4: Markets

We read about the Covent Garden Market in ‘The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle’. Where is this market? Does it still exist? Find it on a map.

  • What other famous markets are there in London?
  • Imagine that you visit another big city.
  • What can you find in the market?
  • Is there a market in your town or city?
  • What can you buy there?
  • When is it open?
  • Is there a famous market in your country?
  • Is it popular with tourists?

Project 5: Disguise

In ‘The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet’ Sherlock dresses as a tramp. Do you know any other stories in which a characters wear clothes as disguise? Why do they do this?

Project 6: Sherlock Holmes in films and TV series

Have you seen any adaptations of Sherlock Holmes stories in the cinema or on television? Are they similar to the original stories? Do you know about any adaptations which place the story in a contemporary setting?
Have you ever seen a Sherlock Holmes board game or video game?

Project 7: The author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Who was Arthur Conan Doyle? Where was he born? What was his job? How and why did he become a ‘Sir’?

Download a project planner from here to print out and take notes.

February 7, 2018
by Nora Nagy

The Big Book Reading Experience

When I remember memorable shared book experiences, either as a child or as a teacher, I see readers completely lost in the books they are reading, pointing at the details on the pages, turning the pages back and forth, asking questions, making comments. As teachers we might find shared reading challenging without a book which is large enough for presentation in class. This is where Big Books can help you and your young learners, and we have lots of titles both in the Helbling Young Readers and The Thinking Train series. In this post we will look at the benefits of Big Book Reading and offer some practical tips to get the most out of it.

Let’s see the most important features of the Big Book reading experience. Continue Reading →

February 1, 2018
by Nora Nagy

Turn over a new leaf in February

We are stepping into a new month, which is full of love, fun, and hopefully lots of reading and learning. The name of this month comes from the Latin februum, which means purification. It is also the month of Saint Valentine’s, colourful Carnival celebrations and Mardi Gras. It is the month when winter (in the Northern hemipshere) and summer (in the South) ends, and a new season begins. Recently it has become the month of various important international days, among which our favourite is International Book Giving Day.

Check out the main events in February and remember to come back to read and download our resources and lesson plans based on them.

Febuary 1

February 7

Febuary 11

February 13

February 9-14

February 13

February 14

February 17

February 20

February 21

February 26

Is there another important February date in your country or region? Share it with us!

January 31, 2018
by Nora Nagy

Extensive Reading Research: Language Development

Not only is reading the best hobby in the universe it is also one of the top ways to help develop literacy and language skills both in first and second language learners. As language teachers we need to encourage our students to read more and to make the most of their reading. Among the various approaches to reading, extensive and intensive reading are two perspectives we can rely on to introduce reading tasks in school. Although both approaches have practical implications, extensive reading (ER) has immense benefits ranging from the pleasure factor in reading, vocabulary enrichment, grammar knowledge building, increased cultural understanding and all the advantages of  learning from context.

We have taken a look at some of the latest studies in ER in a language learning setting and share some of the findings and their implications here. In this first post we concentrate on ER and second language vocabulary/grammar development. In the next article we will discuss research on classroom implications of ER.

Continue Reading →

January 25, 2018
by Nora Nagy

Inspiring teachers: active reading in Austria

In this series we talk to inspiring teachers who use storytelling to set up reading programmes and creative programmes, and use the arts and literature to develop their students’ language and literacy skills.

We would like to share real examples from real teachers to show how small ideas can make powerful learning activities. When they share their techniques and experiences, we realise that no matter how diverse our world is, our students are interested in similar issues and enjoy doing similar creative tasks.

Margit Oblak

This month we talk to Margit Oblak, a language teacher from Kumberg, a small village in Styria in Austria. She has been teaching English to teens for about forty years now, and this term she was asked to teach young learners in a local primary school, which she thinks of as a fantastic challenge. Margit has taken part in a number of European exchange projects, and her school hosted students from the USA within the PEOPLE to PEOPLE project. She has worked with language assistants from the USA and has coordinated their stays and supervised them. She coordinates the SPIN-Region Weiz, which is a network of fourteen schools (from primary to upper-secondary), whose main objective is harmonious transition between different types of schools. Margit often travels with her students to various English-speaking countries. She works with teachers from the USA, England, Scotland, Ireland, and recently she has worked with teachers from Trinidad and Tobago. She also works as a teacher trainer and works for the Austrian Center for Language Competence. Margit loves teaching English and aims to make her students realise  that languages can open doors. Continue Reading →