June 17, 2019
by Nora Nagy

A love of libraries: 5 famous libraries and their resources

In our ‘A love of libraries’ series we have discussed setting up and managing a school or classroom library and have recommended activities for adults, teens and young learners. This time we take a look at five famous libraries with rich online resources to inspire you. We browse their online collections, visit their digital exhibitions and learn more about their history.

Here is some library vocabulary to remember: reference library, research library, legal deposit, manuscript, rare books.

The British Library in London

The British Library’s Reading Rooms. Source: www.bl.uk

The official logo of the British Library.


The British Library was established in 1973, and there are over 150-200 million items in its collections. It receives a copy of all the books produced in the United Kingdom and Ireland. It is a research library and it also organizes exhibitions. The British Library is a reference-only library, which means that you cannot borrow books from here. You can visit the library’s Reading Rooms without charge, but there are a couple of rules you need to follow. → Activity tip: Ask your students to follow this link to learn about the opening hours and the rules of using the Reading Rooms.


Explore the area around the library on Google Maps (the link will take you to the library) and walk around the building using the Street View function of the map.

→ Activity tip: Students can find information about getting to the library here. Ask them which metro stations are nearest to the library.

Online resources

→ www.bl.uk The website of the library is easy to recognize by its red logo. We recommend the following areas to explore on the website:

The catalogue

  • This guide will help you find your way in the collections.
  • You can search the main catalogue here.

Trinity College Library in Dublin

The Long Room in the Old Library. Source: Wikimedia Commons


The Library of Trinity College in Dublin is an old library which was established in 1592. It is similar to the British Library in the sense that it receives a copy of all the books published in Ireland and the United Kingdom. It has over 6 million copies of printed volumes. The library is a research library and it occupies several buildings in the college campus. The famous Long Room is the main chamber of the Old Library. It is almost 65 metres long and has 200,000 of the library’s oldest books. One of the most famous manuscripts in the library is the Book of Kells.

→ Activity tip: Ask your students to follow this link and learn more about the Book of Kells.


Explore the area around the library on Google Maps (the link will take you to the library) and walk around the building using the Street View function of the map.

→ Activity tip: How long does it take to walk from the Old Library to the River Liffey? How many interesting places can you see in the area?

Online resources

Digital Collections Browsing the Digital Collections of the Library is like a treasure hunt. They have fascinating manuscripts, photographs, maps, books and paintings.

The catalogue

You can search all the collections here.

The Bodleian Library in Oxford

Duke Humfrey’s Library (the oldest reading room) in the Bodleian. Source. Wikimedia Commons.


The Bodleian Library is part of the Bodleian Libraries, a group of more than thirty libraries. It is the second largest library in Britain. It is also a reference library and it has over 12 million copies of different publications. It gets its name from Sir Thomas Bodley, who founded the library in 1602. Apart from being an important research library, it also holds rare books, classical papyri, maps and manuscripts and organizes exhibitions. You have to go through an admissions procedure to get a reader card.

→ Activity tip: Ask your students to follow this link and find out about how you can become a member of the Bodleian Library.


Explore the area around the library on Google Maps (the link will take you to the library) and walk around the building using the Street View function of the map.

→ Activity tip: List two important buildings near the library.

Online resources

Digital Collections The collections have over 860,000 images. You can create your own collection with personalised tags and annotations, and then share them with your friends.

→ Activity tip 1: Type in the name of your favourite animal and see what kinds of images you can find about them.

→ Activity tip 2: Visit the Online Exhibitions page and choose an exhibition to explore.

The catalogue

You can search all the databases here.

The Library of Congress in Washington D.C.

The Main Reading Room in the Library of Congress. Source: Wikimedia Commons


The Library of Congress is the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States. The Library was founded in 1880 and it occupies three buildings on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. It holds more than 168 million items. You can learn more about the Library and its collections here.

→ Activity tip: Follow this link and find information about the smallest and the largest books in the Library.

→ Tip for teachers: Check out the Lesson Plans under Classroom Materials on the Library webpage.


Explore the area around the library on Google Maps (the link will take you to the library) and walk around the building using the Street View function of the map.

→ Activity tip: How many official buildings can you find near the Library?

Online resources

Digital Collections

→ Activity tip: Type in the name of your favourite city in the search box on the top of the page and find images. What kind of written and visual information can you find?

The catalogue

You can search all the Library Catalog here.

New York Public Library in New York

Grand Study Hall, New York Public Library. Source: Wikimedia Commons


The New York Public Library is a different type of library from the four libraries above. It is a library system with various locations across New York City. It has about 53 million items, which makes it the second largest library after the Library of Congress in the United States. The first version of the library was established thanks to the will of John Jacob Astor, who left a substantial amount of money for the creation of a public library. This original library was then developed through the decades. The most famous and recognizable building is the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, commonly known as the Main Branch. You can learn more about the Library and its collections here.

→ Activity tip1: What animal is in the logo of the Library?

→ Activity tip2: Follow this link and look for information about the number of locations you can access with a New York Public Library Card. How long is your card valid if you are a visitor of the United States from outside the country?

→ Tip for teachers: Check out the Resource Packets to learn about different topics in History on the Library webpage.


Explore the area around the library on Google Maps (the link will take you to the library) and walk around the building using the Street View function of the map.

→ Activity tip1: What is the name of the nearest famous railway station?

→ Activity tip 2: How far is the Main Branch from Times Square?

Online resources

Digital Collections

→ Activity tip: Find images of New York City from different decades in the Digital Collections.

The catalogue

You can search the Catalog here.

Read more in our series on libraries:

June 5, 2019
by Nora Nagy

Stories that support language and thinking development

A need for stories

Stories help us meaningfully organize our experiences, no matter how old we are or what language we speak. When we think about the importance of stories in our everyday life as language teachers, it feels natural to assume that stories facilitate language learning. These pedagogical hunches have been well-supported by different academic fields such as narrative studies (Bamberg, 1997; Barthes, 1966; Labov & Waletsky, 1967), cognitive psychology and narratology (Herman, 2003, 2009; Richardson & Spolsky, 2004; Vygotsky, 1997), language education (Egan, 1989, 1997, 2006, Ellis & Brewster, 1991) and genre-based pedagogy (Martin & Rose, 2009), and they claim that stories are fundamental to language and thinking development just as much they are essential to our human existence. As Clare Painter (1996) has pointed out, language development enables thinking development, highlighting the “spiralling relationship” between linguistic and cognitive development in children. In a previous post we have reflected on the power of stories, and now we turn to their educational potential, focussing on thinking skills development in young learners.

Good story structures for young learners

Stories in the classroom are often used to entertain and educate children, and they are equally powerful learning resources for adults. However, in order to benefit from these resources in language teaching, we also need to define what makes a story effective. There are a number of definitions of narrative structures, and they all agree on three basic components: Orientation – Complication – Resolution. Stories with this structure are classic ‘problem solving’ narratives. Rose and Martin (2009) compare this type of story with recounts, anecdotes, observations or news stories, where the ‘resolution’ component is missing.

Children need this type of narrative structure to make an emotional and cognitive engagement with the story they are reading, a quality pointed out by educational psychologist and philosopher Kieran Egan (2015). He reminds us of the importance that young children should know how to feel about what is being learned, and this ‘feeling’ makes things more meaningful: what they learn should be “affectively meaningful.”

Good narratives also give us examples of different social contexts, and by presenting different characters in different situations, they give access to areas of knowledge that might be difficult to imagine or access without the story. Apart from the basic classification and definition routines of language learning, this way young learners can experience different life situations and see examples of abstract ideas through everyday examples. For instance, for some students it might be difficult to imagine life in a different country, but a story like Roberto’s backpack – about a little boy in a small Mexican village – can open their imagination.

Breaking down thinking skills

The creators of The Thinking Train series have studied various approach to teaching thinking (e.g. The Somerset Thinking Course, Blagg et al., 2003; The Thinking Maps, Hyerle, 2008), and they have chosen the most important areas of thinking. The stories and the activities support the development of different thinking skills. You can read more about these in the Teacher’s Guide to the series written by Marion Williams.

Now we will turn to five basic areas of thinking and demonstrate how they are developed in the readers. You can see the main thinking skills addressed in the series on page 10 of the Teacher’s Guide to the series. Download the guide in PDF here.

Making comparisons

In I can’t sleep (Level A) and many other readers, the students are asked to compare two pictures and find the differences between them. It gets students to carefully observe and recognise different objects, identifying their physical features (colour, size, shape).

Activity from I can’t sleep written by Herbert Puchta and Gavin Biggs. Illustrated by Francesca Assirelli. © Helbling Languages

Categorising and sorting

In The desert race (Level D), the children are asked to sort the animals into three categories: Alive today, Extinct, Mythical. This important skill helps them see similarities and differences, and organising things makes it easier to remember them – an important skill for learning new vocabulary.

Activity from The desert race written by Herbert Puchta and Gavin Biggs. Illustrated by Lorenzo Sabbatini. © Helbling Languages

Spatial awareness

Our sense of position is important in our everyday life just like in our scientific studies. In The three seeds the readers need to place the vegetables in the right beds, understanding the positions left of, right of, opposite, next to. In Paul learns to plan the children use adjectives to describe the planets in our Solar System. In The sick dragon the readers follow the flight of a dragon to learn about the prepositions of movement and place.

Activity from The sick dragon written by Herbert Puchta and Gavin Biggs. Illustrated by Andrea Alemanno. © Helbling Languages

Cause and effect

In Ruby runs the race (Level E), children are encouraged to match the missing parts of a mother’s warnings. For example, ‘Don’t eat too many sweets!’ should be followed by ‘You’ll get a tummy ache!’. This type of exercise encourages children to learn about cause and effect and anticipate what might be the consequence of their actions.

Activity from Ruby runs the race written by Herbert Puchta and Günter Gerngross. Illustrated by Marzia Sanfilippo. © Helbling Languages

Creative thinking

Apart from analytical thinking, the students are encouraged to use their imagination and make new associations, re-design and re-discover things in a playful way. For example, in Deborah’s dreams the children are asked to re-think the use of everyday objects such as a sofa, a scarf, a slide and a table.

Activity from Deborah’s dreams written by Herbert Puchta and Gavin Biggs. Illustrated by Viola Niccolai. © Helbling Languages

We encourage you to pay attention to the Before and After Reading activities, the Make and Do projects sheets and the activity boxes on the story pages in each reader. The questions in these boxes will direct the students’ attention to details, they get them to practise different thinking skills, and they encourage students to make connections between different study areas, the own experiences and the story.

Here are all the available titles in The Thinking Train series:

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In the next articles on The Thinking Train series we will talk about the following topics:

  • Visual storytelling
  • Emotions
  • Topics to discover: Family, Fantasy, School, History

Read our interview with Marion Williams:


  • Bamberg, G.W. (1997). Oral Versions of Personal Experience: three decades of narrative analysis. London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Barthes, Roland ([1966] 1977). “Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narratives.” Image Music Text. New York: Hill & Wang, 79–124.
  • Egan, K. (1989). Teaching as Story Telling: An Alternative Approach to Teaching and Curriculum in the Elementary School. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
  • Egan, K. (1999). The Educated Mind: How Cognitive Tools Shape Our Understanding. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
  • Egan, K. (2014). The cognitive tools of children’s imagination.
  • Egan, K . (2015). Imagination and the Engaged Learner: Cognitive Tools for the Classroom. Teachers College Press, New York. Herman, David ed. (2003). Narrative Theory and the Cognitive Sciences. Stanford: CSLI.
  • Ellis, G., & Brewster, J. (1991). The storytelling handbook. London: Penguin Books.
  • Herman, David (2007a). “Cognition, Emotion, and Consciousness.” D. H. (ed). The Cambridge Companion to Narrative. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 245–59.
  • Labov, W. and Waletzky, J. (1967). Narrative analysis: oral versions of personal experience. In J. Helm (ed.) Essays on the Verbal and Visual Arts. (Proceedings of the 1966 Spring Meeting of the American Ethnological Society) Seattle: University of Washington Press. 12–44.
  • Martin, J. R., & Rose, D. (2009). Genre relations: Mapping culture. London: Equinox.
  • Painter, C. (1996). The development of language as a resource for thinking: a linguistic view of learning. In R. Hasan and G. Williams (eds.), Literacy in society. London: Longman.
  • Richardson, Alan & Ellen Spolsky, ed. (2004). The Work of Fiction: Cognition, Culture, and Complexity. Aldershot: Ashgate.
  • Vygotsky, Lev S. (1978). Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Cambridge: Harvard UP.

May 24, 2019
by Nora Nagy

A love of libraries: library activities for young learners

There are lots of exciting ways to end the school term or start a holiday course. One of them is taking young learners to your local or school library. In our series about libraries, we will guide you through some activities you can do to help young learners explore and learn about libraries. The earlier children learn to feel confident in libraries, the more they will want to return to these places.

Helbling Readers Catalogue 2018 cover illustration by Gabriella Giandelli. © Helbling Languages

Continue Reading →

May 17, 2019
by Nora Nagy

The Age of Innocence in the English 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? These are just some of the questions a teacher might have to consider when thinking about teaching through literature.

In this 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 intimidated 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. We also encourage you to offer projects for students individually or in groups so that they can connect with the novel through many pathways. These projects place the story in a wider cultural, historical and scientific context.

Our next story is The Age of Innocence, written by Edith Wharton and published in 1920. The following year Wharton won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for the novel. You can read a short description of the Helbling Reader edition here.

The book was adapted by Nora Nagy and illustrated by Simone Manfrini for intermediate level learners (from pre-teen to adult) of English (CEFR B1). Read our interview with Simone Manfrini here. Continue Reading →

May 14, 2019
by Nora Nagy

Using classic fiction to talk about families in the English class

Since 1993, United Nation’s International Day of Families is observed on 15th May each year. This year the focus on families and climate action. “Although families all over the world have transformed greatly over the past decades in terms of their structure and as a result of global trends and demographic changes, the United Nations still recognizes the family as the basic unit of society” (UN website, 2019). This gives us the opportunity to talk about the importance of families, introducing very different family models and looking at how each family faces different challenges in life. We have collected seven amazing families from classic literature for a family-themed lesson in your English class.

Talking about families

The family is an recurring topic in English courses and exam preparation, but tends to be presented as a ‘traditional’ family. Students may find it difficult or uncomfortable to talk about their own families or feel that their family is in some way different. One way to introduce the topic is by talking about families in literature, looking at their lives, their challenges and their sources of happiness. Some of these families are funny, some of them are traditional, some are unusual or have curious members, and some face life-changing events. Together they create an inclusive extended family for your students. Continue Reading →