January 18, 2017
by Nora Nagy

Themed-based lessons for young learners 1: Houses and homes

Among the various approaches to content-based instruction and content and language integrated learning (CLIL) some of the most effective ones seem to be theme-based and language-driven. It means that content becomes ‘the vehicle for language learning’,  opposed to content-driven approaches, in which language is ‘the vehicle for content learning’ (Byram, 138).

In this new series for young learners, we are going to explore themes which are drawn from the rich content of the stories in our young readers series. These stories for young learners are linked to various topics in the primary school curriculum, and they also reflect topics found in young learners examinations. Through stories you can explore engaging cultural and imaginative contexts, and the topics are more stimulating for the learners. You can also support the content of other subjects across the curriculum, letting your students set up projects to explore various aspects of the same topic.

In a twin series, we are also going to offer reading ideas, activity tips and discussion questions to explore the same themes with teen and adult learners.

The theme we explore in January is ‘Houses and homes’.

Young learners usually love describing their own houses and rooms, even drawing and colouring pictures of them in great detail. As they grow older they also like imagining ideal houses and homes. Stories usually feature cozy homes, enchanted houses, fabulous castles and all sorts of weird and wonderful places which function as the homes of real or imaginary characters. In this journey through four readers we learn about houses from the outside in. We also learn about castles in fairy tales.

The Kite
written by Rick Sampedro and illustrated by Stefano Misesti.
Level ‘b’ story.

In this lovely story of two families with a grudge against each other you can introduce the basic words and colours to describe houses and gardens. Using simple languages and colourful illustrations this story talks about friendship and peace on the very familiar backdrop of the family home. Ehud and Elisa like flying kites, and on a windy day Ehud’s kite goes up and he can’t see it. Then the kite  comes down in Elisa’s garden. You will learn the words house, garden, fence as well as colours and sizes.

Activity tip: Take a copy of the black and white line drawing of the house and garden on page 2 of the book. After you have read the book give copies to the students and ask them to write their own sentences about the picture, modelled on the listening activity in the book. In pairs they read their sentences while their partners colour the picture as instructed.

The Fisherman and his Wife
retold by Richard Northcott and illustrated by Andrea Alemanno. Level ‘c’ story.

In this retelling of the German fairy tale (collected by the Brothers Grimm), we read about a fisherman who catches a magic fish. The fisherman lives in a hut with his wife. When he tells his wife about the magic fish, she asks the fish for a nice house. Then she wants a castle. And then she wants to become queen.

Apart from the rather explicit moral lesson offered by the tale, we can learn about different types of houses. The three words for young learners are hut, house and castle. Introduce adjectives to describe these types of homes, and teach parts of these buildings with higher level students. Here is a list of a few words that you can add: chimney, roof, wall, window, door, stairs, tower.

Activity tip: What’s your favourite thing about your house? What do you want to change about it?

Extra question: What is the sea like in the pictures? What colour is it when the fish is happy? What colour is it when the fish is angry? Draw a picture of happy you at the sea.

Freddy the Frog Prince
written by Maria Cleary, illustrated by Agilulfo Russo.
Level ‘c’ reader.

This story tells you about Freddy the frog, who lives a happy life in a pond near a castle. But one day, Princess Priscilla arrives and tries to change Freddy’s life.

This heartwarming and funny story of the frog who does not want to become a prince, gives you the perfect opportunity to introduce words to describe the environment where you live. The princess lives in a castle, the frog spends some time in the castle, but his real home is in the pond in the woods.

Activity tip 1: Draw a picture of a castle. How is it different to your house? What is the same?

Activity tip 2: Where do other animals live? You can use the story as the basis for CLIL projects on animals and their habitats.

Fat Cat’s Busy Day
written by Maria Cleary, illustrated by Lorenzo Sabbatini.
Level ‘d’ reader.

The hero of this story is Fat Cat, a lazy tabby cat, who saves the house from burglars. Use this story to teach and revise different rooms and furniture  through the activities and using the context of the colourful and dynamic pictures.

Activity tip: Before reading the story, using Play Station 1 to preteach the rooms in the house as well as bedroom furniture. After reading get your students to personalise the Spot the Difference activity on page 31 by drawing their favourite room in the house, and then copying it, adding some differences.


Byram, M. (2004). Routledge encyclopedia of language teaching and learning. London: Routledge

January 13, 2017
by Nora Nagy

Colour your days and your reading: a literary colour quiz

Do you ever feel blue? Do you easily see the silver lining? Have you ever felt green with envy? Colours convey so many different feelings and meanings that we could easily dedicate a series of lessons to English phrases and idioms which are built around them. It takes only one step to continue our colour journey with other languages to highlight the cultural and linguistic differences in colour and explore the “different semantic distinctions between hues”, an idea that Aneta Pavlenko describes in her paper ‘Bilingualism and Thought’. We will discuss language relativity, this exciting research area of linguistics in our next post, so do come back to find out more about it.

In art and literature colours can signify different emotions, moods, places and people. In our post ‘Colourful journeys’ we looked at colours in general in picture books, novels, poetry and culture. Read this post for more on the basic language and general symbolism of colours.

The middle of January is often said to be the most depressing period of the year in the northern hemisphere, and  the third Monday of January is popularly known as ‘Blue Monday’. But we won’t let the January blues get to us… Today we are going to study examples of  three colours: green, red and black from six of our favourite novels. Let’s add some colour to blue January!

Here’s a tip: Remind your students to watch out for colours when they are reading a novel, listening to a story or watching a film. What do the colours in the story stand for? Do they have any special meaning? Do the readers share the same perception of the colours? Share a dictionary of symbols with them where they can check the historical and cultural references of different colours. Here are two of our favourite reference books:

  • Cirlot, Juan E. A Dictionary of Symbols. New York: Philosophical Library, 1962.
  • Ferber, Michael. A Dictionary of Literary Symbols. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

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Green is a transitional colour which links dark and light colours. In the colour wheel it is a secondary colour, created by mixing the primary colours blue and yellow. Green is the colour of nature, earth, growth and life. It also stands for progress, think of the term giving a project ‘the green light’ and is the sacred colour of Islam, representing respect.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

There is a fun research with interesting charts on the blog ‘Scientific Gems’. You will see that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is on of the children’s novels which has the highest number of references to the colour green. The article mentions that it has plot-related reasons.

What can these be?

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Although the novel is packed with important colour references (gold, blue, white and red are some of the most significant ones), the green light at the end of the novel is probably the most memorable example.

What does it symbolise?


Red, like most colours, is a diverse, ambiguous colour. It is associated with passion and love yet also with danger and anger. Red signifies strong emotions and excites our feelings. In China red is associated with luck and joy and is used as a portent of good fortune during New Year celebrations.

Jane Eyre by Emily Brontë

In this novel Jane often talks about being sent to the red room.

How does she feel about this room?

Red Water by Antoinette Moses

This is an original story written for pre-intermediate level language learners. It has an exciting plot, in which two teen hackers Tricia and Daniel discover that a local company could be involved in a sinister plot to trade carbon, they suddenly find that their lives are in danger.

What do you think ‘red’ means in the title?


Black is a strong colour, often associated with the supernatural, decay and death. For this reason, it is a popular colour in Gothic literature, for example in the stories of Edgar Allan Poe or Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Technically black is the total lack of colour and is traditionally the colour worn by people in mourning.

The Masque of the Red Death in the volume ‘Tales of Mystery’ by Edgar Allan Poe

Although in the title of story you can read the colour ‘red’, which is also significant, the colour ‘black’ appears several times in the story.

As you are reading the short story, find objects it describes.

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

In this dark story you will find more almost 150 words which signify darkness and the lack of clarity, as we learn from the paper by Michael Stubbs which offers a corpus stylistics analysis of the novel.

As you are reading the novel, find examples of words which mean darkness and the lack of clarity.


How many of these colour questions can you answer?

  1. What does ‘darkness’ mean in the title Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad?
  2. Why is the league ‘red-headed’ in Sherlock Holmes story The Red-Headed League by Arthur Conan Doyle?
  3. Why does Anne Shirley live in ‘Green Gables’ in Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery?
  4. Can you name three novels in the Helbling Readers series which have a colour and an animal in their titles?
  5. What colour are Peter Pan’s clothes?
  6. What does the colour ‘green’ refer to in the story The Green Room written by Robert Campbell?

Check out this space and our Facebook page to find the answers to these questions.


  • Kroll, Judith F, and A M. B. Groot. Handbook of Bilingualism: Psycholinguistic Approaches. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.
  • Stubbs, Michael. “Conrad in the Computer: Examples of Quantitative Stylistic Methods.” Language and Literature. 14.1 (2005): 5-24.

January 10, 2017
by Nora Nagy

Inspiring teachers: a reading project from Turkey

In this series we talk to inspiring teachers who use storytelling to set up creative projects, set up reading programmes, and use the arts and literature to develop their students’ language and literacy skills.

We would like to share real examples from real teachers to show how small ideas can make great learning projects. When they share their techniques and experiences, we realise that no matter how diverse our world is, our students are interested in similar questions and enjoy doing similar creative tasks.

This month we talk to Manolya Eker, a language teacher at the Adana Gundogdu College, Turkey. When we saw her project built around the Helbling Young Reader Lost on the Coast (written by Rick Sampedro and illustrated by Cristiano Lissoni), we thought it was an excellent example of motivating creativity and reading in the language classroom. Manolya talks about her teaching practices and techniques, and shares great ideas on building projects based on the school curriculum. Continue Reading →

January 5, 2017
by Nora Nagy

Four classic authors to read in January

January is full of great author birthdays, both classic and contemporary. The best way to celebrate our favourite authors is reading their works, and this month we have four classic authors to celebrate in the Helbling Readers Catalogue. These readers are perfect for teens and adults alike, and we recommend them from elementary (Alice in Wonderland) up  to intermediate (CEFR A2 to B1+).

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Jack London: 12 January 1876

Read White Fang and The Call of the Wild. Both stories have been adapted for language learners by David A. Hill, with illustrations by Stefano Fabbri.

We have project ideas for your classroom discussions.

Edgar Allan Poe: 19 January 1809

Read three short stories in our volume of Poe’s classics in Tales of Mystery adapted by Janet Olearski with illustrations by Giuseppe Palumbo.

Use this lesson plan which can be built on the illustrations of the tales:

Virginia Woolf: 25 January 1882

Read To the Lighthouse adapted by Elspeth Rawstron with the illustrations of Francesca Protopapa.

We have a lesson dedicated to Virginia Woolf:

Lewis Carroll: 27 January 1832

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is an all-time favourite of younger and older readers. The Helbling edition was adapted by Jennifer Gascoigne and illustrated by Roberto Tomei.

Choose one of these fascinating projects for your classes:

January 3, 2017
by Nora Nagy

New Reading Habits for a New Year

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

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

2017, a new year with a new beginning and lots of new plans, including plans for reading of course! It is a good time of the year to motivate our students to read more in both English and their first language. Encouraging them by giving some guidance can lead to a more successful and enjoyable reading year. What practices can we follow to get our student to pick up more books and read other texts than their course books?

Here are three very simple approaches to planning your classroom reading in the new year. We believe that letting your students pick from a list of different genres is motivating and gives your students greater ownership of their reading. Letting them choose from a recommended list for the whole class can make it more like a classroom experience plus you can organise book discussions every or every second month.

Here’s a simple tip: let your students choose a short story,  poem, play,  graphic novel, graded reader, original fiction or non-fiction book for every month, but also pick at least one book to read as a class from now until the end of the term. If all goes well, they will have read twelve books of their own choice and at least three books in the classroom reading group by the end of 2017.

The choice of themes you can introduce is endless and setting or finding relevant themes can feel challenging for that very reason. We recommend our general reading planner which gives you an overview of available genres and themes. It also helps you visualise your goals. Use this as a guideline, changing and introducing themes of your own.

Reading planner

1 Read around your course book.

You know your course book and the general interest of your students. Have a look at your contents page to see what topics you are going to cover, and then have a look at our readers catalogue to see which books  fit best with these themes.

2 Read around themes.

Collect twelve interest groups or hobbies with your students, and find themes which match them. For example, you can have themes such as sports, space, nature, animals, detectives, adventure and travel. Then check our catalogue to see what is available for these themes.

You can focus on famous classics and select a few titles to read as a class. The list above is from SURE, the Helbling course book for teen learners.

3 Read around the months.

Each month on our blog we will be reading a book and exploring a theme together. Join us and read with us throughout the year, sharing your thoughts and experiences.

For example, in January we’re reading Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll as we celebrate the author’s birthday at the end of the month. And during January we will be exploring the theme of colours in various stories and language activities.