August 16, 2019
by Nora Nagy

Beyond the Moon: Two readers to travel in space

In the last on our series celebrating the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, we present some Helbling readers which will launch you and your students into space.

We have already looked at Moony Goes on Holiday this time we show you the picturebook Paul learns to plan from The Thinking Train Series, and the reader Next Door in the Helbling Readers Red series.

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Paul learns to plan

The story was written by Herbert Puchta and Gavin Biggs, and illustrated by Vanessa Lovegrove.

Level: The Thinking Train series, Level D – Cambridge Young Learners English Movers – Trinity 2


Paul needs to study for his tests in school, but he also needs to finish his online space game before the aliens come. Paul finds tests very difficult: the more he tries to remember, the more he seems to forget! It’s terrible! How can Paul’s parents and friends help him to find time to study and time to relax?

Thinking skills

The story shows children how important it is to keep a balance between studying and taking breaks, which can also mean playing computer games. It also talks about learning strategies and the importance of asking for advice in the family as well as making wise choices for a healthy life-study balance. What’s more, it highlights how lucky Paul is to have parents who support and help him in finding the best way to learn.

Space link

In the story, Paul plays an online space game and dreams of becoming an astronaut when he grows up. The illustrations reflect his love of space: you will see images of space with the planets, the stars, meteors and an astronaut. In the After Reading activities, you can learn about the solar system and practise using superlatives to describe the planets.

Vocabulary and grammar

In this book, children will learn or revise the following:

  • school subjects
  • jobs
  • the solar system
  • hobbies/talents
  • giving advice
  • superlatives

The structure of the book and online resources

In the book there are Before Reading activities, After Reading activities and a Make and Do project, which explains how to make a sand timer.

In the story pages we will find questions in small boxes which invite the students to think, speak or look for details in the illustration.

On Helbling e-zone, you will find five fun games. Go to and enter the access code which can be found in the book. You can also listen to the story here.

A Big Book for shared reading is also available.


Next Door

The story was written by Robert Campbell, and illustrated by Giovanni da Re.

Level: Helbling Readers Red Series, Level 1 – CEFR A1


When a new family with a twin brother and sister move next door to Eoin, strange things start to happen. The kids at school make fun of the twins and say that they are from another planet. But Eoin decides to find out where they really come from.

Eoin in his room. Illustration by Giovanni da Re. © Helbling Languages

The book

The story is written in the form of a blog, in which Eoin writes something every day. We follow the blog over eight days from Thursday to the following Friday, and we also read some of the dialogues that Eoin writes about.

The Before Reading activities introduce new vocabulary: astronomy, prepositions and some special words to know.

The After Reading activities guide students through personal response, text comprehension, talking about the characters, plus the plot and the theme. There is also an Exit Test and a Projects page, which inspires students to keep a blog for five days.

In the story pages, there is a glossary in the footnote to help with difficult vocabulary, and there are reflection boxes which involve the students in thinking about interesting topics in the story.

Space link

Eoin’s hobby is astronomy. Throughout the story, we read about studying the sky and the planets. And we also find out if it is possible to meet people from another planet today.

A class project

A class of 2nd year high school level students, from the Liceo delle Scienze Applicate ’G. Marconi’ in Tortona sent us a story they wrote as a sequel to the story. You can read about this creative writing project in our blog post, in which we asked the Nadia Roncoli, the teacher of the class to tell us more about the idea.

August 8, 2019
by Nora Nagy

Beyond the Moon: Space projects for the language class

In our latest post on space travel we boldly go where no language class has gone before: to the outer regions of our solar system!

Double page illustration from Paul learns to plan (The Thinking Train Series) written by Herbert Puchta and Gavin Biggs. Illustrated by Vanessa Lovegrove. © Helbling Languages

We recommend the following projects as starting points for both individual and group work or as the basis for whole in-class lessons.

Most questions and project plans here are best for students over 12 years.

1 The language of space

Brainstorm space-related words and phrases. When you come up with a list similar to the following, define the words and phrases. Try to get the students to use them in context (point out that most of the words may already be familiar to them in non space-related contexts).

  • universe – cosmos
  • dark matter
  • black hole
  • galaxy – Milky Way
  • cluster – constellation
  • nebula
  • solar system
  • cosmic dust
  • dwarf – giant
    • dwarf planet
    • white dwarf
    • gas giant
    • red giant
  • meteor – falling star – shooting star
  • meteorite
  • supernova
  • comet
  • planet – exoplanet
  • moon
  • star

Great resource: NASA Explore Solar System & Beyond

  • This website will tell you all you want to know about space.
  • NASA also has an app with lots of information, images, videos and animations.

Tip for teachers! The NASA pages usually have a ‘kid-friendly’ description of the theme. These texts are written in simple English and are often an ideal solution for language learners. Check out this learning page about the Sun for more.

2 CLIL projects to explore the Cosmos

2.1 History

If some of your students are more into Arts than Science, they can talk about the history of astronomy.

Some topics to get your students thinking.

  1. The first telescope
  2. The speed of light
  3. Round Earth/flat Earth?
  4. Isaac Newton
  5. Earth orbits Sun/Sun orbits Earth?
  6. Venus: planet or star?
  7. Discovery of Pluto
  8. Early space travel
  9. Moon landings (from the first to the latest)
  10. The Space Race
  11. The far side of the moon
  12. Mars

2.2 Culture

Our relationship with the Cosmos is also present in our greatest pieces of literature and in different mythologies.

Project 1: Different perspectives

If you have more advanced students, you can direct them to a project which compares ancient Chinese and Greek astronomy.

Project 2: Navigation

Celestial objects have helped different travellers for centuries.

  • How do travellers find their way during the day and at night?
  • How do pilots and sailors find their way around without navigational systems?

Project 3: Constellations

  • Where did most of the constellations get their names from?

Project 4: Architecture and Archaeoastronomy

Many ancient sites were built with astronomical alignments and knowledge of the constellations in mind. Find out more about the following sites and their relationship with astronomy.

  • Stonehenge (England)
  • Newgrange (Ireland)
  • The pyramids of Giza (Egypt)
  • Uxmal (Mexico)
  • The Pantheon (Italy)

2.3 Literature: top 10 books set in space

A lot of exciting stories (which then were also turned into films and comics) are set in space. We have selected our top 10 books to get your students into the Cosmos.

  1. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  2. The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov
  3. 2001: a Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
  4. Star Wars Trilogy by George Lucas
  5. Solaris by Stanislaw Lem
  6. The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut
  7. Dune by Frank Herbert
  8. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
  9. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  10. The Martian by Andy Weir

2.4 Science

Students who are more interested in Science can answer the following questions in short presentations, leaflets or posters.

Project 1: Meteors

What are falling (or shooting) stars?

Project 2: Instruments

  • Alidade, astrarium, astrolabe: what are these three objects?
  • Where is Newton’s original reflecting telescope?
  • Where is the largest optical telescope on Earth?
  • Where can you find radio telescopes on Earth?
  • What is the name of the telescope in space?

Project 3: Time

  • Why is a day divided into 24 hours?
  • Why are most months 30 or 31 days long?
  • When are there 5 Sundays in February?

Project 4: Space junk

Pollution is not only a dangerous and serious issue on Earth, but it is also a problem in space. What is space junk? Why and how can it become dangerous?

In our course, For Real Plus pre-intermediate, we have a full lesson dedicated to space junk. Check it out on pages 114-115.

Reading task about space junk in For Real Plus pre-intermediate. © Helbling Languages

Project 5: Life in space

There are always some humans out in space. Where do they live? How do they live? What difficulties do astronauts have to face? How do they train? There are several questions to ask and answer when we think about life in zero gravity.

Ask your students to find out about the astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS). They can also follow the space station in the sky. These astronauts are also on social media, and they share interesting information about their lives.

Tip: Get your students to write questions for astronauts. Then, tell them to go and find the answers on the Internet!

In our course, For Real Plus pre-intermediate, a lesson is dedicated to the solar system and life in space. Check it out on pages 104-105.

Reading task about space junk in For Real Plus pre-intermediate. © Helbling Languages

3 Documentaries to learn more

Watch these documentaries to learn more about the universe.

4 Films set in space

Here are some serious films, some classics, some scary ones and some comedies – all set in space!

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – directed by Stanley Kubrick
  • The Martian (2015) – directed by Ridley Scott
  • Interstellar (2014) – directed by Christopher Nolan
  • Gravity (2013) – directed by Alfonso Cuarón
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005) – directed by Garth Jennings
  • Alien (1979) – directed by Ridley Scott
  • District 9 (2009) – directed by Neill Blomkamp
  • E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (1982) – directed Steven Spielberg
  • WALL-E (2008) – directed by Andrew Stanton
  • Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) – James Gunn
  • Spaceballs (1987) – directed by Mel Brooks

July 24, 2019
by Nora Nagy

A love of libraries: unusual little libraries around the world

In our ‘A love of libraries’ series we have discussed setting up and managing a school or classroom library and recommended activities for adults, teens and young learners. Last time we took a look at five famous libraries with rich online resources to inspire you. This time we turn towards unusual libraries which can be found in some of the most unexpected places throughout the world.

Free libraries, microlibraries and street libraries have become immensely popular over the last decade. The Little Free Library movement in the United States initiated a trend which has become standard by now. What are these libraries and why are they so important?

The importance of little libraries

When people creating little libraries, making books freely available for everyone, they start building communities. What’s more, they start supporting all sorts of people: keen readers in affluent districts of cities as well as the homeless or refugees. Apart from these extreme examples, everyone can find inspiration in these easy-access book spots. They represent sharing and equality by spreading stories and giving access to knowledge for free. Although more traditional libraries also support learning in communities, they are often seen as institutions. Some people can’t walk past their town library without going in, while others feel discouraged from entering it. This is why little libraries, apart from being fun places to happen upon, have a significant function as truly democratic places.

Our favourite examples

We have seen small libraries set up in old buses in villages, in telephone boxes and old mailboxes, in tiny sheds on Swedish islands, and at underground stations in boxes specifically designed for the purpose of the tiny library. These libraries were born as grassroots initiatives, usually created by teachers and librarians. We have collected five examples to amaze and inspire you.

1 The Little Free Library: the great network

Since the first Little Free Library in Wisconsin was set up in 2009, these book spots have become well-known all over the world. It’s an interesting fact that even the Little Free Library movement was inspired by a microlibrary set up in Portland, Oregon in 1996. Today you can see a map of the network of Little Free Libraries on the website of the movement.

Little Free Library in Easthampton, MA.
Photo credit: John Phelan. Wikimedia Commons.

Continue Reading →

July 18, 2019
by Nora Nagy

Moon Landing 50: Moony goes on holiday

2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing. In a previous post we have collected resources for you to learn more about the Moon landing and lots of stories to inspire CLIL and cultural projects in the classroom. Today we look at Moony Goes on Holiday, a space-themed Young Reader written by Dilys Ross and illustrated by Mario Onnis about the day the man on the moon came to visit Earth.

The plot

Every day is the same in Moony’s life: he cleans his home, he waters his garden, then he goes for a walk. However, he feels bored and wants to hear noise and see people. When Alex, the astronaut arrives on the Moon, he agrees to take Moony back to the Earth with him. On Earth, Moony is initially excited about the people and the noises of the busy streets on London. But soon all the noise and confusion gets too much and he misses the peace of life on the Moon.

The themes

The story of Moony touches upon several important themes that interest young and older readers. Moony is seen as an outsider, who watches life on Earth, but knows hardly anything about it. This unknown, colourful planet makes Moony curious and adventurous. When Alex, the astronaut leaves him on the streets of London, he makes sure they meet up the next day so that Moony can decide if he wants to stay or go back home. It seems that Alex had sensed Moony’s possible reaction to life on Earth. Indeed, Moony feels lonely and realises he is happy at home. In some way, this journey made him realise what he thought he wanted was not the same as he needed.

Implicitly, the story creates a feeling of curiosity, the desire to travel, followed by the sense of alienation and realisation of the security of a home and a place where we belong. Although young readers may not be able to reflect on these abstract notions, the feelings the words and the images together create in them will be familiar and will go towards developing a greater sense of empathy and self-awareness in them.

The author, Dilys Ross on the story

“The idea of Moony came to me a few years ago, when I was writing a play to be performed at the children’s Christmas party in the office where I worked (the British Council).  We couldn’t afford an entertainer or professional storyteller and the children were getting fed up of seeing a film every year, so my colleagues and I started putting on little plays, written by me, and they were usually a success. I tried to find themes they would recognize but which weren’t just based on every-day life (family, school, etc). Pirates, cowboys and Indians, witches and fairies, and mermaids were some of the themes. I thought the children might like something about the Man in the moon, whom they would probably have heard about in stories or nursery rhymes, but they knew didn’t really exist.

I don’t know if children today can understand a person NOT wanting noise, crowds and music everywhere! I hope however that they can understand that Moony needed to see something different and to experience the wonderful life on Earth he had heard about – but really in the end everyone should be content with the life they are familiar with and the things they know and understand. Moony is happier at the end because at least he knows a little about Earth and what it is like, and can appreciate his own peaceful home and surroundings all the more. Children today might prefer a story written the other way round – about a person living in a noisy, crowded environment trying out a taste of life in a quiet, peaceful place and then preferring to return to the chaos and crowds!  However I think that they will still understand that the message is basically that home and what you really know are the things you can live with best.”

The illustrations

The illustrations by Mario Onnis create a melancholic, dream-like world for Moony. 

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The illustrator, Mario Onnis on the images

“I remember when I was studying the character I had recently arrived in a new city. I didn’t know many people, and surely this state of mind is reflected in Moony’s melancholic face. I wanted him to look a little sad, a little dazed and out of time. The first spread (ed. double-page illustration) I started was that of the house, in which he is sitting on the steps, a little bored. So I put together some things that I liked, for example Moony’s house is that of Bosch’s painting “The Wanderer” (16th century).

I really enjoyed creating his wardrobe and the things he uses in his daily life on the moon. The spaceship, his kitchen, his room. A lot of the things are related to time measurement, like the hourglass and various clocks, an astrolabe. On the wall of his room, in the scene, I put a frame with a very realistic drawing of the first man on the moon. I imagined that Moony had kept the photo as a memory of the first visit of an earthling. If you look closely, it is a portrait of Buzz Aldrin, the first man to arrive on the moon on  Apollo 11 in 1969.”

Picture of the first Moon landing in 1969 on Moony’s wall. Illustration by Mario Onnis. © Helbling Languages

The activities

The Before Reading and After Reading activities will help you develop several language areas:

  • Structures: adverbs, comparative, present simple and continuous, present simple vs. present continuous, ‘want to’
  • Vocabulary: space, town, transport and daily actions
  • Functions: describing space, comparing things, saying what you want to do, talking about how you feel

We recommend the exercises on the CD-ROM that comes with the reader: you will find a jazz chant and games to play.

Check out all the extra worksheets under Teacher’s Resources on the Helbling Young Readers website.

Play Station project

Apart from developing all these language structures and vocabulary areas, the story is a great resource to talk about Science and Geography. The Play Station project is a fun introduction to learn more about the planets, the Sun and the Moon.

Play Station Project in Moony Goes on holiday. © Helbling Languages

July 16, 2019
by Nora Nagy

Make an origami monster bookmark

Arts and crafts are a fun idea during the holidays or afternoon sessions for little and big ones alike. In each picture book in The Thinking Train series, you will find a Make and do project. In Deborah’s dreams written by Herbert Puchta and Gavin Biggs, illustrated by Viola Niccolai, you make an origami monster bookmark. Follow these steps and make the bookmark yourself!

Make an origami monster bookmark

  1. Cut out a 15cm x 15cm square of coloured paper.
  2. Fold the bottom to the top along the diagonal making a triangle.
  3. Fold the left corner to the top of the triangle.
  4. Fold the right corner to the top of the triangle.
  5. Open out your triangle.
  6. Take the top piece of paper. Fold the top of the triangle to the bottom.
  7. Fold the left corner inside the ‘pocket’,
  8. Fold the right corner inside the pocket.
  9. Now decorate your monster!

If you already have a copy of the reader, then go to and enter the 16-digit code you can find in the book. You will find a downloadable PDF of the origami bookmark, online games and the audio recording of the story.

Origami monster bookmark in Deborah’s dreams written by Herbert Puchta and Gavin Biggs. Illustrated by Viola Niccolai. © Helbling Languages

Origami monster bookmark in Deborah’s dreams written by Herbert Puchta and Gavin Biggs. Illustrated by Viola Niccolai. © Helbling Languages

Origami monster bookmark in Deborah’s dreams written by Herbert Puchta and Gavin Biggs. Illustrated by Viola Niccolai. © Helbling Languages