June 22, 2017
by Nora Nagy
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Slow the Summer Slide

What happens to your students’ development when the school closes for the holidays? Do they keep on practising all four skills as well as thinking in English? The long weeks of the holidays are full of fun, but the time spent away from learning takes its toll on your students’ language development. Although most of us give homework for the holidays, which might range from writing a diary through reading books to grammar activities, there is a lot more that can be done also within the family.

We encourage parents, family members, sisters and brothers, friends as well as teachers in summer camps and holiday courses to motivate their students to learn outside the classroom. The summer slide or summer literacy slide is a phenomenon which is experienced not only by language teachers but all across the curriuclum in different disciplinary fields. What can we do to help children and teens put the brakes on the rate of attrition in an engaging and meaningful way?

 1 Read something every day

Encourge the children in your family or in your group to read something every day. At different times of the day they can read different things. They can read the news in the morning, and the news can be about their favourite bands, sports people, actors. Then during the day they can read novels, short stories, comics, anything that they feel like reading, even a cereal box will do. It often happens that students forget that reading a magazine (even if it is an online edition) also counts as reading.

2 Binge watch TV series

TV series have become as popular and well-made as films today. Watching a good series is a bit like reading a good novel. It is even more fortunate if the series is the adaptation of a novel, and then the students can also read the original text.

Explain the following strategy to make the students more aware of the language learning potential in TV series.

  • Watch an episode in English with subtitles.
  • Then choose your favourite scene and watch it again with subtitles. Stop and repeat sentences which sound interesting.
  • You can then watch it again without subtitles.
  • If necessary, first you can watch the episode or the scene in your native language with English subtitles, or in English with subtitles in your own language.

3 Play computer games 

Recommend adventure and strategy games, or games which encourage students to solve puzzles. If they do it in English, not only will they have fun, but they will also learn new phrases in English as well as engaging in communicative tasks.

4 Play board games

Several board games are available in English, and especially the co-operative ones encourage communication and problem solvoing.

5 Turn your students into teachers

Finally, we recommend that you ask children and teens in your family to teach someonesomething in English every day. It can be a phrase, it can be a song or a story, but they will feel that other people can benefit from their knowledge.

An extra idea. 

Set your social media channels to English. Use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat in English, and try chatting in English. Just by learning to use the interface in English, you can practise navigating in a different language.

What tasks do you usually give to your students over the holidays? Share your ideas with us!

June 20, 2017
by Nora Nagy
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A story and a song for World Refugee Day

June 20th is United Nation’s World Refugee Day, and it makes us think about the importance of addressing this topic with our students. Is there a way to talk about refugees, to bring this topic into classroom conversations? The refugee crisis is one of the most obvious global topics we see on every news channel and newspaper on a daily basis. We believe that it is important to give time and space to this topic in our classrooms. Some of our students may be refugees and others may have questions and opinions. By giving them the chance to reflect they can come to a better understanding of what is happening around them and how the world perceives refugees in general.

Talking about the facts is one way of addressing the topic of refugees, but it is certainly not enough to only give our students historical events and statistical figures. It is also important to approach the affective aspects of the refugee crisis, and by creating a context we can also paint a more detailed picture. We can turn to the power of narratives and music to help our students and ourselves get a deeper understanding of the chaos around us.

We have collected some resources which you can use with your students.

Picture book story for young and older learners

The Beach (written by Rick Sampedro and illustrated by Agilulfo Russo) is a picture book for young learners. It tells the story of two little girls who come from very different backgrounds and meet on a beach. Nina arrives at the beach on a boat, and Anna is there on holiday. When the two girls meet, they decide to be friends and start playing with their dolls. In this short, heartwarming and eye-opening story we see the sadness and danger in the reality of refugees through Nina and her parents’ story, and there is a sharp contrast between their life and Anna and her family’s life as it is represented through their beach holiday. All through the story we can see a doll in both little girls’ hands, accompanying them in their happy and sad moments. When the two girls meet, we see that their dolls look the same, as if these dolls represented something about their innocence and youth.

In Roger Waters’ video for the song ‘The Last Refugee’, we can see the same symbolic function of the doll in the story of a dancer who remembers her previous life in flashback memories, living through all the pain and suffering she experienced as she left her homeland. We would like to thank Rick Sampedro for drawing our attention to this, and for his constant work towards a more equal world for all.

The story and the song in the classroom

We recommend reading the young reader with young learners and working through before and after reading activities in the classroom. You can also do the project at the end of the book and make a sand bottle.

With older students – and by older we mean teens as well as adults – you can also read the story and ask more complex questions. Although young learners will be sensitve to the differences in the visual reseprentation of the lives of Nina and Anna, they will not have the language and the knowledge to reflect on it. Teens and adults will be able to compare and contrast the events of the little girls’ lives as it is told through the words as well as the images. There are differences in the setting of the two parallel stories, and it is visually represented through the colours of the pages. Ask your students to respond to the images and describe what is going on in the pictures as well as how these pictures make them feel.

Then, you can watch the video and find similarities between the affective aspects of the reader and the video. After watching the video, they can reconstruct the woman’s story through her childhood memories and make inferences about her life based on what they see as she is dancing. Apart from classroom discussions, you can also ask your students to write a reflective essay on the stories in the reader and the video and to draw parallels between their lives and those of the families in the book and the woman in the video.

June 15, 2017
by Nora Nagy
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Quick Guide to Children’s Books 1: Picture books

The world of children’s literature is an enchanting place which often looks like a colourful maze with imaginary creatures in fantastic worlds. These creatures and worlds are mostly versions of our own realities, and through them we can learn more about our own worlds, and through the words and the images in the stories we can explore our own lives, reflecting on its beauties and dealing with its difficulties.

When you enter a book shop, these miniworlds which we call picture books are well-organized on shelves, usually labelled and categorized in a systematic way. There are picture books, silent books, illustrated books, comics, graphic novels, poetry books and a many more formats. What is the difference between these books? What are their main characteristics?

In this new series we will explore the world of children’s books together, providing definitions and examples for each main type of books. In this first part we enter the magical world of picture books.

What are picture books?  

A picture book is a book which combines both visual and verbal narratives in a book format. It is important to mention that in a picture book the visual field, that is the illustrations, are equally important as the verbal field, that is the words.

Picture books are typically aimed at young children, and they are usually designed to encourage shared reading with a parent or family member, which then can be followed by independent reading. Some picture books are written for elementary and middle school children, and recently artistic picture books have been published to appeal to adult readers as well.

Most picture books are such rich reading materials that we tend to revisit them as adults, and as we re-read them, we can see different levels of meaning in them.

Picture books are typically between 24 and 32 pages long, but there are some books which are shorter.

Where can you learn more about them?

In recent years much research has been done into the different aspects and uses of picture books and more picture books are being published than ever before. There is a worldwide interest in high quality picture books now, and many awards, book fairs and exhibitions specialize in picture books.

The CLELE Journal is dedicated to picture books and children’s literature in English language education. Explore its current and previous issues here:

Opal Dunn pioneered the use of picture books in language eduation almost 40 years ago in Japan. You can read some of her findings here:

Picturebooks in ELT,  Sandie Mourão’s groundbreaking blog, is still available for reading. We recommend it for anyone who would like to learn more about picture books.

You can also read our interview with Sandie on this blog:

Most academic publishers have excellent materials on picturebooks, mostly in a first langauge reading context, focusing on different thematic aspects of these books. Here is a list of some books you can browse.

The Bologna Children’s Book Fair, organized in spring each year is one of the greatest and most fascinating events in the world of children’s books.

What are the most famous examples?

Here are some of our favourite picture books. What are yours?

  • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
  • The Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss
  • Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
  • I Want My Hat Back by  Jon Klassen
  • Press Here by Herve Tullet
  • The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, illustrations by Oliver Jeffers
  • Best Word Book Ever by Richard Scarry
  • The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
  • The Lorax by Dr Seuss

Picturebooks in the Helbling Readers series

The Helbling Young Readers and The Thinking Train series offer a wide choice of original stories and retold classics for young language learners. These unique series combine language learning with an aesthetic and interactive reading experience. Click here to learn more about the two series:

Next week we’re going to talk about wordless picture books (silent books).

June 13, 2017
by Nora Nagy
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Hooked on books: motivation and reading with Chaz Pugliese

Chaz Pugliese

In this series of interviews we talk to teachers, ELT writers, visual artists and researchers about the importance of using literature in the language classroom. Together they have over a hundred years of experience in teaching and writing so they can definitely give us plenty of advice and insight into the best practices. We talk about the importance and transformation of literary texts in education, we ask for genre and title recommendations as well as personal stories.

This month we talked to Chaz Pugliese, the author of our latest resource book for teacher, Creating Motivation. He is co-author of the resource book The Principled Communicative Approach. He is also a well-known teacher trainer and presenter. We talked about motivation, reading and language teaching.

“The stories we tell about ourselves may not be true, but they are all we have.”

(The Good Story, J. M. Coetzee)

Helbling Readers Blog (HRB): Chaz, how long have you been working as a teacher?

Chaz: I’m in my 25th year now, and in six countries. It’s been a great ride so far, I’ll tell you!

HRB: And as an author and teacher trainer?

Chaz: As a teacher trainer about 15 years, and as an author, my first book came out in 2010, even though I’d contributed a few chapters to other colleagues’ books before that.

HRB: What do you like reading when you read for pleasure?

I kind of keep swinging between fiction and poetry and essays. We live in a very complex world, I need essays to develop a better understanding of what we’re doing to ourselves and where we’re heading as a human species. But I also need and crave stories. As J.M. Coetzee said, the stories we tell may not all be necessarily true, but that’s all we have. Finally, poetry just reminds me what it feels like to be alive!

HRB: How do you see the status of reading in the English classroom?

Chaz: I don’t know about other people’s classrooms, I can only say that in my teaching, there’s always been a big emphasis on reading, though not just stories. As far as I’m concerned this is a great way to keep the students engaged and to expose them to the target language.

HRB: Can you give us an example of when you used narratives in your teaching?

Chaz: I like to use short stories for Oulipo-type exercises: for example, students read a very short story 4-5 lines max, or a paragraph from a story, and they have to rewrite it skipping a designated vowel. They can change anything they want but the original meaning should remain intact.

HRB: Can you give us an example how reading can be motivational in the classroom?

Chaz: Well, for starters, reading is motivational only if the students like reading. Reading makes you travel, think, learn, doubt, in one word: grow. And a classroom, education, in fact, should be conducive to growth, not to yet another test!

HRB: Can you think of authors (both classic and modern) whose works you have used with your groups?

Chaz: Lately, I’ve been using David Forster Wallace, Ray Carver, E. Hemingway, and the late Polish poet whose name I can never remember… [Wisława Szymborska – the editor].

Thank you for the interview, Chaz!

June 8, 2017
by Nora Nagy
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Teacher’s Holiday Relax & Recharge Package

Illustration from the Helbling Reader adapation of To the Lighthouse written by Virginia Woolf. Illustrated by Francesca Protopapa. © Helbling

What are the most inviting things on your imaginary (or real) holiday to-do list? Most people in education will mention ‘reading’ among their most anticipated holiday activities. Although reading is one of the skills teachers most often engage in, it is also the activity we turn to when we want to relax and recharge. After the busy last days of school we might want to stuck into stories and texts which are very different from our everyday reading experiences, and then we might want to dedicate some time to reading something to motivate us and help us with our own professional development. Then again there are other forms of reading and gaining information – videos, talks, picture books and films, which we finally get to explore without having to rush off to prepare for or teach a class or correct home assignments.

We have collected some titles in various categories to help you find some exciting content.
Read fiction
  • The Ministry of Utmost Happines by Arundhati Roy
  • Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gysasi
  • Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
Read novels which have been adapted to popular TV series or films
  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman (2004)
  • Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery (1908)
  • The Handmaid’s Tale written by Margaret Atwood (1985)
  • The Cormoran Strike series by J.K. Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith (2013)

Explore websites

  • Khan Academy: free online courses
  • Visual Arts Circle: learn about the visual arts and how you can use them in your classroom
  • CLELE Journal: informative research papers about classroom research and text analysis
  • YouTube Play: Online videos from all over the world selected by the Guggenheim Museum curators
Watch talks
Read original stories
  • Dan, the teenage detective series for teens, written by Richard MacAndrew
  • The Right Thing and A Single Shot, two political thrillers for young adults and adults written by Scott Lauder and Walter McGregor
  • The Beach written by Rick Sampedro: a story for Very Young Learners about a summer trip to the beach which becomes a much more meaningful experience.
Read picture books
  • Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois by Amy Novesky, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault (Abrams)
  • Show & Tell Me the World by Tom Schamp
  • This is a Poem That Heals Fish by Jean-pierre Simeon, illustrated by Olivier Tallec
  • We’re All Wonders by R.J. Palacio
We hope to read your recommendations as well. Share your favourite reads and talks with us.