September 21, 2017
by Nora Nagy

The Dark in the Box: engaging with emotions through stories

We have all most likely  experienced what it is like to be afraid of the dark, either in our own childhood or through the eyes of a child we care for. Fear, anxiety and loss are some of the negative emotions which can be challenging to deal with not only at home but also in the classroom, especially when we are working with young children. Young learners do not possess the complex language skills to describe what they are afraid of and they might not be familiar with the vocabulary to talk about the things that concern them.

One way of addressing feelings which are often considered difficult is reading stories. When working with young learners, stories with illustrations and pictute books in particular are highly indicated. Our new young reader, The Dark in the Box written by Rick Sampedro and illustrated by Manuela Scarfò is an excellent example of how poignant images accompanied by simple texts can get young readers to engage meaningfully with stories which help them express their innermost thoughts and feelings.

Young learners might not be able to describe exactly how they feel, but they can respond to the images in the book, and by doing so they can notice similarities between themselves and the characters in the book. They may feel similar to Andy, the main character who is dealing with his fear, or they might be like one of his classmates and they can actually help someone else address their feelings.

The Dark in the Box

What’s the story about? 

Andy loves the summer, the days are long and he can play in the sun with his friends. Andy likes the winter too. But in the winter the days are short and the nights are long. Andy doesn’t like nights. He doesn’t like the dark.
Then one day Andy has an idea. What’s Andy’s idea and how can it help him to sleep at night?

Level B young reader written by Rick Sampedro and illustrated by Manuela Scarfò. The book contains a picture dictionary, before and after reading activities, a project and a CD-ROM with interactive activities and jazz chants.

Before you start reading the story…

Let the images do their work first. When your students flip through the book, they will slowly make some meaning through the colours on the pages. Each double page has a very strong colour palette, varying from  yellow to white, dark blue and black. These colours represent either a season or a time of the day and they might remind the readers of their own experiences and feelings at that time. Then get them to look at the characters and their facial gestures in order to understand what Andy, the main characters is feeling in each situation.

Positive change

The story  is circular: it moves from the happy summer scene with bright yellows through the pure winter mornings with the sparkling white, then into the dark blue and black shades of the night ending once more with bright warm colours in the safety of the boy’s room. The boy learns to deal with his fears, and works his way through the darkness, finding his own solution (light), through acute observation thereby regaining the joyful atnosphere of the beginning with a newfound mturity and wisdom.

When you are reading story…

Read the story, one page at a time,  giving your students  enough time to explore each double page and point out things that they find interesting. Then, continue and go back to the beginning to retell the story. Young learners enjoy hearing the same story several times. Probably by the second or third time they will start commenting and creating their own version of the text.

After reading the story…

Do all the after reading activities and the arts and crafts project in the back of the book. Then, use the flashcards to practise the new vocabulary (both the textual and visual levels). and downlpad the worksheets online, for lots of ideas on how to develop the story.

If you are interested in reading more stories which can help students implicitly engage with difficult situations and feelings, check out some of our other readers.

  • The Sun is Broken written by Andrés Pi Andreu and illustrated by Catty Flores
  • Dad for Sale written by Andrés Pi Andreu and illustrated by Enrique Martinez
  • The Beach written by Rick Sampedro and illustrated by Agilulfo Russo
  • The Big Wave written by Stefanella Ebhardt and illustrated by Anna Crema
  • Henry Harris Hates Haitches written by Maria Cleary and illustrated by Lorenzo Sabbatini

Some thoughts from Rick Sampedro, the writer of the story

What do you think of dealing with topics such as fear and loss in children’s literature?

I think in a story for children magic can play a very interesting role and, as is the case with many young kids, darkness represents the things they are scared of or those that they feel threatened by or anxious about. So in an imaginary world, I reckon it would be perfect if we could get rid of those things through a quick magic fix, as in the story. The fact that Andy gets this idea of boxing it like his dad had done with the mouse to take it into the garden is a good way to show how creative young kids are and how important parents are as role models and examples.

Stories dealing with fear and loss allow children to address issues which they may not feel very comfortable with from an outside perspective. While they can relate to the character involved, they do not need to expose themselves to talk about them and they can decide how open they want to be about what’s worrying them.”
Where did the idea of the story come from?
My youngest son, Alvie, was really scared of the dark when he was a little child and although the magic didn’t work in his case, I thought the idea was good.

September 19, 2017
by Nora Nagy


Pirates from Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. Illusrated by Giuseppe Palumbo. ©Helbling

Who doesn’t like pirates? We have all read a story or watched a film or sung a song  featuring pirates. One of the most fun international days is International Talk Like a Pirate Day on 19th September. We invite you to dedicate a lesson to pirates and build activities on resources related to them. Talking about pirates is not only engaging and motivating, but it also offers language development opportunities for younger and older students alike.

Here are resources which can be good starting points for a pirate lesson.


Choose any of the five Pirates of the Caribbean film trailers with Johnny Depp. As you are watching it, ask your students to spot things which are typical of pirates. Write the words on the board and then use them to retell the plot previewed in the trailer.

Words might include:

  • white shirt
  • boots
  • long coat
  • baldric (a belt for a sword)
  • belt
  • bandana
  • bottle (for rum)
  • Jolly Roger (the pirate flag)
  • hook
  • leather eye patch
  • ship
  • sails
  • wooded (or peg) leg
  • parrot
  • treasure
  • coins
  • deserted island


In Something to Say, our resource book with ready-to-use speaking activities offers three sets of questions to to interview pirates. Here are some examples from the first set.

Ten questions to ask a pirate

  1. What’s the most exciting thing about being the captain of a pirate ship?
  2. And the second most exciting thing?
  3. Can you tell us when and how you first became a pirate?
  4. What are the rules that all your crew members must obey?
  5. What happens to anyone who breaks your rules?
  6. What happens to anyone who insulted you or your mother?
  7. Who gave you that terrible scar you have on your right cheek?
  8. Where is this person now?
  9. Moving on, your men  all look incredibly dangerous: Where do you find them?
  10. You seem to prefer crew members who are very young. Why is that?

You will find more questions to ask the everyday pirate, and two more sets of questions to ask a gentleman and a lady pirate.



The most famous classic pirates can be found in two stories which are also available in our Helbling Readers series. Read Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson and Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie. Talk about the stories, describe the pirates in the stories and talk about their roles.


An original story

We also recommend an original story written for elementary level learners. David and the Black Corsair written by Martyn Hobbs and illustrated by Lorenzo Sabbatini.

  • What’s the story about? 

It’s not a good day for David. It’s his mum’s birthday but she rushes out without seeing his presents. It’s raining and he falls and hurts himself on his way into school. The lessons are either impossible or boring and he leaves his lunch at home. He feels very sorry for himself. Daniel the Black Corsair is feeling sorry for himself, too. He’s lost and lonely and far from home. Can David and Daniel feel happy again?


Watch this film trailer of the 1950 adaptation of Treasure Island and ask your students how it looks or sounds different from today’s trailers. Then, listen to the actor Robert Newton and repeat some of his phrases said in an accent.

Words that pirates use.

Ask your students to form group and use an online dictionary to find out what these words mean.

  1. Aarrr!
  2. Ahoy!
  3. Avast!
  4. Aye! Aye!
  5. cutlass
  6. Davy Jones’ Locker
  7. grog
  8. keelhaul
  9. matey
  10. pieces of eight

What other pirate-inspired stories or films do you know? Do you know any games (board games or video games) which feature pirates? Ask your students for recommendations and share them with us!

August 31, 2017
by Nora Nagy

Find your way around our Readers Blog

This week we take a tour of the Readers Blog and all the resources you will find on it. We offer lesson plans, quizzes and games as well as advice on methodologies and interviews with authors and illustrators to help you get the most out of reading both the text and the images. We hope that by getting to know the sections and possibilities of this resource you will be able to plan your reading classes better.

Follow our lesson steps, download worksheets, find links to great Internet resources or just simply get inspired by some of our themes. We offer lesson plans based on classic titles, authors, geographical regions, historical eras, themes and seasonal events.

Lesson plans






Seasonal events

Reading and literacy methodology

Reading education

Figures in education

Dealing with difficulties

Visual literacy


Films, Games and Quizzes

Book Clubs

August 29, 2017
by Nora Nagy

Three new term reading resolutions

We, teachers know that the real beginning of the new year is the beginning of the new term. August and September are months of transition, when we are still relaxed after the holidays, but also getting ready to embark on new adventures. Take this opportunity to set new reading goals for the new term. On this website you will find resources to get inspired and started. Check out our ideas on starting a book club, becoming a reading teacher, organising book parties and themed reading lessons. We also offer a series of lesson plans, quizzes and games to get you and your students to read more and to enjoy reading more.

We are also sharing three ideas that we consider crucial for any successful reading (or simply language) programme.

Read aloud

We’d like to encourage you to read not only with children, but also with teens, and even with adults. Think about reading in a second language. We often feel that we are lost in complex sentences, maybe we are not sure about what references a word might have, and we simply end up not being motivated enough to carry on with the text. Often students don’t have access to books or have very little time to read in English and would never think of reading aloud.

Reading aloud is not only a way of understanding and interpreting the text, it also helps with pronunciation and intonation. What’s more, meaningful reading also means chunking the text in an expert way. You will clearly hear where your students need more help, which language structures are too difficult, which sentence types are hard to follow, which words make them struggle.

Take turns in reading aloud. Modelling reading is also a helpful way of teaching: not only will you give your students the chance to hear clear and slow pronunciation, they can see how you think about the text, when you stop to breathe, when you change your voice, your intonation.

Read in class

Some teachers feel they cannot afford the time to read in class. However, in-class reading, role play and even silent reading are all excellent ways of encouraging reading. Give time to reading, and make reading without the stress of having to answer exam or test questions part of your syllabus. Remember, if you don’t read with your students in English, it might happen that no one else will.

Read about ways to encourage in-class reading.

Book recommendations in SURE Intermediate written by Julia Keddle and Martyn Hobbs. © Helbling

Read the classics

Italo Calvino has already summarized almost all that we should know about the benefits of reading the classics, but we hope to add to his great ideas. When we are reading the classics, we are also reading and learning about culture and the manifold uses of langauge, its different registers and styles. Not only are you expanding your students’ knowledge of the world, but you are also contributing to the growth of their creativity and imagination. As Jeanette Winterson wrote in 2012, “We do need a facility with language that allows us to express, to be understood, and crucially to think. The mind doesn’t want to be a mess. The mind wants to be creative. That means order.”

All in all, the classics provide resources to students, and these reading experiences will teach them not only about language use, but will also inspire more creative thinking in them.

What are your new term resolutions? Share them with us here!

August 24, 2017
by Nora Nagy

Quick Guide to Children’s Books 6: Fairy and folk tales

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 sixth part we enter the truly magical world of fairy and folk tales.

Wolf on his very best behaviour with Little Red Riding Hood.

Continue Reading →