July 21, 2017
by Nora Nagy

All about adaptations: speaking and writing tasks to have fun with adaptations

This week we have been looking at various aspects of adapatations. This time we take a more practical approach and share some ideas on using and creating adaptations in the language class.

Exploring differences: from page to screen

Your students have probably seen most of the major adapatations of literary classics either on film or TV. Recent hits include the Sherlock stories, Anne of Green Gables, the Jane Austen film adaptations, the Dickens classics from Oliver Twist to Great Expectations, and then there are the Jack London stories, and Gulliver or Robinson Crusoe.

In your language classes you can explore these film adaptations and build guided discussions around them. First, select a scene which you can easily access both in the text and in the film adaptation. Then, follow our three-step approach, which can work with any of the scenes and films you select.

  1. Get your students to describe what the text says about the plot, the setting and the characters in the selected scene.
  2. Then, get them to explain how they imagine this person, place or story. Ask them to explain how they would feel in the company of the character, what they would see in the setting of the story. This way they can distinguish between what is written on the page and they imagine based on this input.
  3. Finally, ask them to watch a scene with the character in the given setting.  Your students should recognize how the same things (characters, setting, plot elements) are represented in the film.

When you are talking about films, it’s important to have some technical focus points to describe the language of films. Here is a list of technical aspects of them you can discuss.

  • Use of space
  • Use of colours, lighting
  • Soundtrack, sounds and voice-over
  • Camera angles, camera movement, point of view (you can use a projector and a small camera to show some of these)
    • Close-up
    • Mid-shot
    • Long-shot
    • Panning shot: the camera is fixed but the lens moves across a scene, for example a landscape
  • Flashback, foreshadowing
  • Special effects

After having gone through all these steps of describing the audio-visual features of the film scene, you can do a more complex analysis. This is when you can turn to a more metaphorical, symbolic understanding of the selected scene.

  • Discuss if your students see any special reason for choosing a certain building or landscape in the film. Do these have any symbolic meaning?
  • Then, talk about how the characters are portrayed. What are they wearing? How are they talking?
  • It is also important what camera angles are used in certain scenes. Where is the viewer positioned through the camera angles? What are the relationships between the characters in the scene? What is the director trying to convey through angle choice?
  • Does the director make use of movement in the scenes? Is it a slow- or a fast-paced film?
  • Can you notice the symbolic application of colours and signs in the scene?

In some cases the film recreates a similar atmosphere as the film, and it remains true to the original text. When you cannot find striking differences between the novel and the film, – for example in the case of the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice – it might be more difficult for less experienced readers and learners to carry out an analysis. When you select a film which is true to the original text, you can rely on the similarities and maybe focus more on how your students imagined the scene based on the input from the novel. When the differences are significant, for example in the case of Pride and Prejudice and Bridget Jones’s Diary or Emma and Clueless, it might be easier to spot differences and talk about them.

If you’d like to have more speaking activity ideas, download our worksheets and vocabulary sheet which will help your students talk more about films at a B1 level and above.

Rewrite a scene

This is a fun task which does not demand too much preparation. You can select a scene from a story you are reading either in the original  or as a graded reader. Then, ask your students to change the setting and the time of the scene, and make changes. They can try to make changes which place the scene in a familiar and contemporary setting.

You can find detailed desciptions of writing tasks to play more with adaptations. Click on the links below to get the task sheets.

Check out some lessons plans which are based on novels and their film adaptations:

Read these interviews with Frances Mariani and Jennifer Gascoigne about writing adaptations:

Check out the Helbling Readers Classics series for great titles:

July 18, 2017
by Nora Nagy

All about adaptations

Think of your favourite classic tale or novel, and then try to remember the different adaptations you have read, seen or heard of it. Adaptations surround us, not just because so many great stories have been written, but also thanks to our tendency to tell and retell the stories which are significant in our lives. When you enter a cinema, a game store or a theatre, most of the films, games, plays and musicals you see will be adaptations. We  benefit from the power of these narratives not only in our personal lives but also in education. It is also fascinating to realize that some of the blockblusters of our times are adaptations of classic stories, just think of Frozen which is based on The Snow Queen, or the recent hit, A Handmaid’s Tale, which is contemporary classic written by Margaret Atwood. There are more obvious adaptations like the numerous novels, contemporary rewritings, film adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels. For example, apart from the obvious BBC series, you will see creative and fun examples like The Lizzie Bennett Diaries, Bridget Jones’s Diary (both based on Pride and Prejudice) or the film Clueless (based on Emma).

How can you incorporate adapatations into your language courses? Why should you do it? And how can you approach them? Let’s look at some basic characteristics of adaptations. In our next post we will look at different ideas to read and learn with them in the language classroom.


When we think of adaptations, most often we focus on the film adaptations of literary classics and tales or retellings in different genre of text, for example a short and modernized version or a comic book retelling. However, as contemporary theorist Linda Hutcheon (2007) reminds us, there many more forms of media and genres in the playground of adaptations, and it is not a recent phenomenon. If we look back at the Victorian Era and the Pre-Rapahaelite Movement, we notice that many artists cross the boundaries of different forms of expression. Biblical and mythological stories, medieval legends and classic literary works were frequently retold in paintings and poems. Think of the story of Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and you then of the painting by John Everett Millais. The transformation of a story told in one medium to another was common practice. The spectrum of these media has widened in our times, and now you can see theme parks, video games and musicals added to the long list of poems, novels, dances, songs and operas.

Ophelia. John Everett Millais, 1851. Tate Britain. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

What is an adaptation?

The easiest way to define an adaptation is to think of it as the transformation of a text into another medium, and doing it openly, acknowleding the existence of the original text. Just like in evolutionary biology, in cultural studies adaptation is a process and a product at the same time (Hutcheon, pp 15-21). If we think about biological adaptation and the animal world, we can imagine how important it is for texts to be adapted in order to survive the environmental changes that surround them. This is how they can be retold and reach more viewers, readers and listeners through different forms of engagement such as narrating, performing and interacting (Hutcheon, p. 22).

We would like to encourage all teachers, learners and readers to think outside the box for a moment and consider a ‘postmodern’ way of approaching adaptations, and explore the differences between various adaptations. This way these  retellings  provide even more opportunities for learning and having fun with texts.

The question of fidelity and the original text

How much should an adaptation resemble the original text? Until recently, the question of fidelity was one of the most important aspects when evaluating adaptations, as the plot was often considered to be the most meaningful and transferable part of a text (Séllei, 2017). However, theorists and practitioners now tend to focus on how various elements such as characters, mood, and underlying messages can be represented in different forms and modes of engagement. This makes it possible to select certain elements of the plot or certain features of a character, and then change or omit other elements which are less significant for the adaptor and the objective of the adaptation. These choices during the adaptation process are often seen as an act of interpretation, and they are made consciously by the creators.

So actively look for differences and similarities between the original text and its different adaptations, and think about how the form (film, painting, game or another written text) and the era (when and where the story is adapted) influence the product of the adaptation.

Intertextuality and intersemiosis

These two technical terms are important to understand the power and potential that lie in adaptatons. Here, in my understanding, we need to focus on intertextuality as a neverending dialogue between the text, its author and era, its implied meaning, its implied and actual reader as well as the various different adaptations that are based on the text. These texts talk to each other, and during these interpretative processes of adapting a story, significant elements come to surface and new meaning emerges. We all respond to the same text in a different way, both as individuals and readers of a certain cultural context and era.

Adaptation often means transferring a story from written language to the language of film, visual arts, music or games. It also means that different semiotic resources will become significant, that is the story is not only told through written words, but also spoken language, visual elements, the language of films, the sounds of music. What can be said and then imagined by the reader in a written narrative will be different from what the creators of a film or musical will share with us. If we approach these different forms of expression in an open and exploratory way, we will find fascinating topics to talk about.

You can discuss how a character is portrayed through written language, how you imagine this character, and how a similar or different representation can be seen on screen or stage. How does the director and his or her team create the character? It happens through a choice of clothes, make-up, sound, intonation, perspective, their position in space, their gestures and posture. Discussing all these elements can help your students understand the different channels we communicate through, not only in medium such as films and novels, but also in our everyday dialogues.

Famous examples of film adaptations of literary classics

Adaptations provide some scaffolding and  reassuring background knowledge that students can easily access and rely on while reading and discussing the texts. They might have already seen a film adaptation or they will be interested in them after or before reading a novel.

Click on the link below to see a list of the Helbling Reader adaptations which also have film adaptations.

In our next post we will look at classroom activities to read and talk about adaptations, and recommend some reading strategies which can help you compare original texts and their adaptations.


  • Hutcheon, L. (2014). Theory of Adaptation. Taylor and Francis.
  • Séllei, N. (2017). “Az adaptáció mint újrakódolás: A francia hadnagy szeretője könyvben és filmvásznon.” (In Hungarian). (In English: Adaptation as re-coding: The French Lieutenant’s Woman on paper and screen). http://szemle.unideb.hu/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/07-Sellei.pdf

July 13, 2017
by Nora Nagy

Quick Guide to Children’s Books 4: Comic books and graphic novels

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 many more formats. What is the difference between these books? What are their main characteristics?

In this series we will explore the world of children’s books together, providing definitions and examples for each main type of books. In this fourth part we enter the magical world of graphic novels and comic books.

What are comic books and graphic novels?

What does a comic book and a Grecian urn have in common? How is the Bayeux Tapestry connected to Garfield? Can you see any similarities between Egyptian hieroglyphs and your favourite comic strips? All of these forms of art and storytelling can be collected under the umbrella term of ‘comics’ (McCloud, 1994) as well as ‘sequential art’ (Eisner, 1985). It simply means that in all of these art forms we get a narrative which is the product of images and often texts juxtaposed in a sequence. All of these types of sequential art rely on similar visual vocbulary and grammar, which might be the key to their success.

In the world of comics we have different subcategories, which are based on the length of the sequence. A comic strip contains a few panels and are often features of a newspaper or magazine. Some comic books are compilations of these comic strips in a magazine or book format. There are other comic books, which are self-contained stories, for example the superhero comic books. Graphic novels, which are longer comic books, became popular in the 1990s with the Pulitzer Prize winning Maus (Spiegelman, 1991). The only differences between a comic book and a graphic novel are the length and self-contained nature of the story (Duncan & Smith, 2009). Different definitions of graphic novels agree on the description that all graphic novels are comic books but not all comic books are graphic novels.

Comic book elements in David and the Great Detective by Martyn Hobbs. In Helbling Readers Fiction Graphic Stories series. © Helbling

Reading comic books and graphic novels

Do you remember your first comic books? There is something so entertaining and naturally engaging in them that even the most reluctant readers enjoy reading them. The visual representation of movement, feelings, sound and dialogues make these books a truly multi-sensory experience. We read the panels in a linear way, but there is also depth to each frame.

Try to encourage your students to read as many comic books and graphic novels as they can in their free time. They can pick and choose anything they like, and if they get to read them in English, it is even better. They can definitely help your students get hooked on reading. They also encourage students to connect visual and verbal input and concentrate on what they are reading.

Comic book elements in Grace, Romeo, Juliet and Fred by Martyn Hobbs. Illustrated by Lorenzo Sabbatini. In Helbling Readers Fiction Graphic Stories series © Helbling

Comic book elements in the classroom

When you combine comic book elements with other types of narratives, it is even more beneficial for your classrooms. In the Helbling Readers Fiction Graphic Stories series we have twelve titles which all contain double spreads in a comic book format. Not only do they speed up and make the reading process more fun, they also create opportunities to improve your students’ visual and multimodal literacy skills and allow for a refreshing break in the standard narrative.

Read more about these graphic stories in this blog post.

You can also make your own graphic stories in the classroom. Read the post below to get some ideas.

Recommended books

Here are our favourite selection of comic books and graphic novels.

Comic books

  • The Marvel Comic Series (e.g. The Amazing Spider-Man, Incredible Hulk, Iron Man)
  • DC Comic Series (e.g. Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman)
  • Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
  • Peanuts by Charles Schulz
  • P. Howard Dirty Fred comic books

Graphic novels

  • Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
  • Blankets by Craig Thompson
  • The Sandman by Neil Gaiman
  • Maus by Art Spiegelman
  • V for Vendetta by Alan Moore

Remember to check out the Helbling Readers Fiction Graphic Stories series.


  • Duncan, R., Smith, M. J., Levitz, P., & Bloomsbury Publishing. (2015). The power of comics: History, form and culture. London: Bloomsbury Academic.
  • Eisner, W., & Eisner, W. (2008). Comics and sequential art: Principles and practices from the legendary cartoonist. New York: W.W. Norton.
  • Frey, N. (2009). Teaching visual literacy: Using comic books, graphic novels, anime, cartoons, and more to develop comprehension and thinking skills. Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press.
  • McCloud, S., Martin, M., Busiek, K., Eisner, W., Lappan, B., & Bissette, S. R. (1994). Understanding comics. New York, NY: William Morrow, Harper Collins Publishers.
  • Spiegelman, A. (2003). Maus: A survivor’s tale. London: Penguin.

July 11, 2017
by Nora Nagy

Empowering young people on World Youth Skills Day

World Youth Skills Day (WYSD) has been observed as an official UN Day on 15 July since 2015. UNESCO – UNEVOC join their forces and resources to raise awareness about the importance of skilled work, technical and vocacational training.

We are joining their #SkillsForAll campaign to support the inclusive view that “everyone should have the opportunity to discover and develop their talents”.

Why is WYSD an important day?

Unemployement and underemployment among young people aged 15-24 is an issue all over the world. Study the WYSD Infographic for facts and figures below.

World Youth Skills Inforgraphic. Downloaded from the UNESCO – UNEVOC website.

On this day we can appreciate the hard work of skilled workers, highlight their achievements, and encourage them to set new objectives. This day is also a good occassion to look at the various aspects of youth skills, what training and education they can receive, and what the reasons are for the high unemployment rates.

In this video, Shyamal Majumdar, Head of the UNESCO-UNEVOC International Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training explains what work has been done and what can be achieved through hard work.

How are these work skills related to language and literacy skills?

To be able to develop any kind of skills, learners need to have sound literacy and language skills. Their performance during the training process as well as on the job will highly be affected by how well they can communicate and make meaning through various sources and channels. From reading the instruction manual to assemble a desk through learning from multimedia material to learning about metal or wood, and training other workers around them, our learners will need to rely on complex literacy skills, and not just technical skills.

The 2018 OECD definition of Reading Literacy has responded to the social, economical and technological changes in our world, and the 2016 updated framework proposes a new definition of the construct of reading literacy. It is understood as “understanding, using, evaluating, reflecting on and engaging with texts in order to achieve  one’s goals, to develop one’s knowledge and potential, and to participate in society” (OECD, p. 11). Another important aspect of the 2018 PISA reading framework is the inclusion of digital reading literacy skills which enable students to read and interact with digital texts.

In order to understand how these The 2018 PISA understanding of ‘text’ is a crucial step in guiding us towards visual literacy skills. According to this interpretation, text includes

“all  language  as  used  in  its  graphic  form:  handwritten, printed  or  screen-based.  In  this  definition,  we  exclude  as  texts  those  purely  aural  language artifacts  such  as  voice  recordings,  as  well  as  film,  TV,  animated  visuals  and  pictures  without words.  Texts  do  include visual  displays  such as  diagrams,  pictures, maps,  tables,  graphs  and comic  strips,  which  include  some  written  language  (for  example,  captions).  These visual texts can exist either independently or they can be embedded in larger texts” (OECD, p. 13).

As language teachers we need to consider working with various types of texts in our classes. Learners receive training and education in any sector through different types of texts. In a language class, the best thing we can do is introduce digital, visual and multimodal texts just as well as written text and see how our students comphrened them.

Check out the Motivating for Skills Development: A Campaign Package, prepared by UNEVOC. You can see how video and written materials can be used to explore a topic.

World Youth Skill in the Classroom

We propose that you introduce the topic of world skills in a classroom discussion. Some of your high school students might not consider enroling in vocational training, and others might not know enough about the diverse jobs other young people do all over the world. Learning about these skills and training opportunities might open new doors in front of many students.

The UNEVOC Campaign Package above can be a good start to explore the opportunities offered by different sectors.

Modul 4 from SURE pre-intermediate. © Helbling

Talk about jobs in the classroom

In our two courses, SURE (for teens) and JETSTREM (for young adults and adults). Here are three lessons that you can use from these courses.

  • SURE, pre-intermediate: Module 4, Nice work
  • SURE, intermediate: Module 6: Part-time jobs and personal growth
  • JETSTREAM, pre-intermediate: Unit 3, Lesson 1: Work and its problems


OECD. (2016). PISA 2018: Draft analyitcal framework. Paris, France: OECD Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.oecd.org/pisa/data/PISA-2018-draft-frameworks.pdf

July 6, 2017
by Nora Nagy

Quick Guide to Children’s Books 3: Illustrated fiction

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 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 third part we enter the magical world of illustrated fiction.

What are illustrated books?

It would be hard to imagine Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland without John Tenniel’s drawings, Peter Rabbit without Beatix Potter’s watercolour illustrations, or Roald Dahl’s fantastic world without Quantin Blake’s quirky drawings. The symbiosis of text and image in such works has created such a verbal-visual imprint in our memories that when we see an illustration, we immediately think of the scene, style and probably the whole story.

Illustrated ficiton is mostly associated with children’s books, but in the 18th and 19th centuries they were popular in serialized fiction. Although in the early 20th century, with the rise of other forms of media (photography, cinema and television) the popularity of having illustrations in novels declined, other graphic design features of these books (for example the cover design and the font) remained important.

One author who really supported the use of illustrations was Charles Dickens, and with his 1836 serialized edition of The Pickwick Papers, he created a new trend for Victorian fiction writers. We can easily compare these serialized publications to the popular television series of today.

Illustrations have the power to change our understanding of stories and our perception of the characters. This is why many authors might be concerned about including them in their books. However, if the illustrator is well-chosen and works closely with the author, the collaboration can have exciting results, just like in the case of Dickens. An interesting example of the power of illustrations can be found in the Sherlock Holmes phenomenon. Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories were published in the Strand Magazine, and the most well-known attributes of Sherlock, the deerstalker hat and the cape were additions by Sidney Paget.

  • You can read more about these in this article from the Smithsonian Magazine.

Recently illustrations are back in demand in both adult and young adult ficiton. In young adult fiction illustrations often gain special meaning-making significance, transforming the pages into stylish, fun and adventurous territories waiting to be explored.

Illustration from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll © Helbling

Skills development

The features of truly memorable illustrated books not only make them aesthetically pleasing and entertaining, but also create excellent educational affordances both for first and second-language learners. They can help the reader with visualization (an important reading strategy of successful language learners), learning new vocabulary, creating an atmosphere, learning about the historical era and the setting, and then recalling the events in a story.

Here at Helbling Readers we dedicate a lot of effort and time to selecting the right illustrator for each graded reader, and we design visual elements so that they improve the reading experience, and support the readers with learning vocabulary and remembering the plot.

Illustration from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving. ©Helbling

Recommended books

Here are our favourite selection of illustrated books.

  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland written by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by John Tenniel
  • The Pippi Longstocking books, written by Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Ingrid Vang Nyman
  • The Wind in the Willows, written by Kenneth Grahame. illustrated by Michael Foreman
  • The Clarice Bean stories, written and illustrated by Lauren Child
  • A Monster Calls, written by Patrick Ness and illustrated by Siobhan Dowd
  • The Little Prince, written and illustrated by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  • Mach a Šebestová, written by Miloš Macourek, illustrated by Adolf Born
  • The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily, written and illustrated by Dino Buzzati

Remember to check out the Helbling Readers series.

You can also read interviews with some of the illustrators of our readers.

Next time we will talk about comic books and graphic novels.