April 27, 2017
by Nora Nagy

Tap and learn to the rhythm: Jazz chants in the young learner classroom

Now that UNESCO International Jazz Day is coming up this weekend, we get to think about jazz and music in our classrooms. Think of your earliest language learning memories. When I think of my first experiences of really fun activities, I can still chant the rhymes, sing the songs and recite the poems. Another first memory many of us have is chanting the English alphabet to some rhythm. How are chants and jazz chants such powerful resources? How can we make use of them in the young learner classroom?

There are a few simple but powerful characteristics of jazz chants that allow them to do the magic they do. They use rhythm, natural and approrpiate langauge, repetition and there is a strong element of play in them. They rely not only on listening through rhythm, but they also involve movement and words. Not only do they let us have fun, they also give opporunity to a shared experience and encourage less confident children to join in.

Jazz chants in Hebling Young Readers

If you open any of our young readers, you will see jazz chants in each of them. They are built around a vocabulary item, a grammar point or a language function that features in the story. If you don’t feel comfortable chanting on your own, use the CD that comes with each book, play the jazz chant and clap along. Any time we try them with children, we are amazed how easily they connect to the rhythm.

When you are building up to a shared reading session, we recommend that you do these jazz chants with your groups several times. They are also fun warmer activities, and you can go back to them any time you want a memorable activity that reminds your students of the story you read. You can also close a reading lesson with them in an energetic way.

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The story of jazz chants

Where do jazz chants come from? If any of you have been lucky enough to see Carolyn Graham, the creator of jazz chants, you have had an experience that is impossible to forget. I had the chance to take part in one of her workshops at the 2016 IATEFL conference in Hungary, and it is a memory I cherish. She developed the first jazz chants in the 1970s in New York, and since then she has published several books that have become excellent resources for teachers of all ages and levels. Here you can watch a video with her in which she shares the story of jazz chants.

Jazz chants in course books

In our Hooray! Let’s play!, our 3-level course for 3 to 5-year-olds by Herbert Puchta and Günter Gerngross you will find other examples of chants and songs. Watch this video of chants and songs in the series with Herbert Puchta demonstrating an activity.

Finally, we recommend this video to learn more about repetition in music. Repetition in music, storytelling and language learning is powerful activity. In this TED-Ed video you can learn more about it.

Chant, clap and tap along with us!

April 21, 2017
by Nora Nagy

Think multilingually on English Language Day

It would feel right to write English ‘Languages’ Day as I start thinking about English Language Day, which is celebrated on the National Day of England, Saint George’s Day, April 23rd. The English language has expanded both geographically and conceptually so widely that it is hard to grasp its global dimensions. It sounds even more like a magical act to squeeze a language with so many variaties into a single classroom.

The most popular questions asked by researchers and thinkers, for example Claire Kramsch (1997), Jennifer Jenkins (2007) and Barbara Sedilhofer (2011) concern the ownership of the English language as well as the variety of the language we teach and learn in the English classroom. Whose English is it? What kind of English language is it?

In the classroom we often hear questions which can relate to these issues. Our students might ask which expression, grammar structure or pronunciation is ‘more correct’ or simply ‘correct’ to use. Another important point is that the question of ‘ownership’ might put some teachers in a difficult position, especially non-native speakers of the language. Sometimes non-native teachers feel less confident to ‘represent’ the English language in classroom discussions.

Today we would like to encourage you, teachers to simply shift your thinking of English as a single variety of language which should and can only be spoken as Standard English to a more multilingual concept, and take advantage of your own bilingual or multilingual background, thinking of yourself as a mediator or facilitator who helps students become more aware of and sensitive to the languages spoken around them. The English language we teach, hear and read on a daily basis cannot and has not been approached as a single variety, and its diverisity, varibility and dynamic nature (Seidlhofer, 2011) are what make it such a playful and powerful language. In an English language learning environment it is essential to talk about these questions and accept that when we teach English, we also have to decide what our objective is, and teach the given variety, discourse and register accordingly. Even better, we can practise being reflective language users, whose language awareness expands to such dimensions that we think of English as a lingua franca, in which communication, interaction and negotiation and adaptation (not adoption) are the major norms, objectives and processes (Seidlhofer, 2011).

Here are some terms to consider before we go on to see some classroom discussion questions and activities you can do in a lesson to introduce a different understanding of English to your students.

Some terminology

  • English as a lingua franca: It is used among speakers of different first languages for whom English is a communicative medium of choice, and often the only option. (Seidlhofer, 2011)
  • ENL: English used as a native langauge
  • ESL: English as a second language
  • EFL: English as a foreign language
  • Variety: It is a specific form of a language, and it may include different registers, styles and dialects. It is hard to define varieties of English as language variation is also a naturally occuring adaptive process. The most common understanding of varieties of English includes:
    • British English
    • American English
    • Canadian English
    • Australian and New Zealand English
    • African English and South African English
    • Jamaican English
    • India-Pakistan English
    • Irish English
    • Hong Kong English
    • Jamaican English
    • Singapore English

Some activities for the class

We recommend these activities for secondary school students and adults.

1 Discussions

Think about your own languages. How many different varieties can you think of? Is it spoken the same way in every region of your country? What are the most obvious differences? Is one variety ‘more correct’ than the other?

Now think about the English language. How many different varieties of English can you name?

2 Language quiz

We can see differences in vocabulary, grammar and language use in different variaties of English. Do you know which variety of English the phrases below are typical of? Can you think of more examples?

  • jandals, togs, chilly bin, dairy
  • pants, gas station, truck, French fries, movie theater
  • cinema, trousers, jumpers, rubbish, telly

3 Different books, different Englishes

When you read literature, you will notice how different the language of the stories are. It sometimes happens because of stylistic variations which are typical of the author, sometimes they are influenced by the genre they were written in or the register they are built on because of the target audience, the purpose of the text or the language of the characters represented in the story. However, we can read a wide range of narratives which were written in different kinds of Englishes. Also, we often see examples of multiple languages used within the same narrative, poem or theatrical play. Most typically publishers indicate if a novel was written in British or American English. However, it is fascinating to read stories in different English varieties.

Here are some examples:

  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Nigerian
  • Xiaolu Guo, Chinese-British
  • Anne Enright, Irish

You can also see examples of linguistic variation (different registers and styles) in classic literature think for example of Mark Twain’s use of English in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in comparision to Charles Dickens’  in Oliver Twist and Great Expectations.

4 Different Englishes on the screen or on the radio.

Have you ever noticed that funny or serious situations can arise from people speaking different Englishes in films or TV series? Can you think of examples? Here are some of our favourite series and films.

  • Brooklyn, 2015 – British-Irish-Canadian film
  • Hunt for the Wilderpeople, 2016 – New Zealand film
  • The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, 2011 – British film about people moving to India
  • The Darjeeling Limited, 2009 – American film about brothers travelling in India
  • Slumdog Millionaire, 2009 – British film set in India
  • Lost in Translation, 2003 – American film about some people staying in Japan
  • East is East, 1999 – British film about a Pakistani family
  • Fargo, 1999 – American film set in Minnesota
  • The Englishman Who Went up a Hill but Came down a Mountain, 1995 – British film set in Wales
  • Flight of the Conchords – TV series about two New Zealanders in New York

It is a fun exercise to listen to different radio stations. For example, on the BBC Radio iPlayer you can find various local channels.

5 Get creative in writing

This activity is suggested by Claire Kramsch in her essay ‘The Privilage of the Nonnative Speaker’ (1997). She describes different narratives and poems which use code-switching (the switch between different language variations or languages in your speech or writing). She describes a poem from the 1939 novel in which a poem written both in German and French is recited. Another examples she gives is T. S. Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’, in which we can read some lines in German.

Try a similar activity, and ask your students to write a short poem using two languages or more variations of English. There might be some words they cannot express in English simply because there is not a perfect translation for it, and sometimes a certain word sounds more powerful in a different language. If your students become aware of their own multilingual potentials, they might become more confident about using and learning English.

For more ideas and activities, please visit this post:


  • Jenkins, J. (2012). English as a Lingua Franca: Attitude and identity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Kramsch, C. (1997). The privilege of the non-native speaker. PMLA, 112(3), 359-369.
  • Seidlhofer, B. (2011). Understanding English as a lingua franca. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

April 19, 2017
by Nora Nagy

Inspiring teachers: creative reading in Brazil

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 Cristina Toledano, a language teacher from Santo André, Brazil. Cristina’s work has long inspired us, and we have shared some of her Alice in Wonderland Tea Party pictures in the  post Themed Book Club Party Ideas. In this interview she shares more creative ideas, tips and titles that have worked for her.

Helbling Readers Blog (HRB): How did you become a language teacher?

Cristina: I like to say that this job has chosen me rather than me choosing it. I started teaching at the age of 10 helping my 4th grade teacher with her evening classes in a community project for illiterate adults. At the age of 13, I started studying English and I decided that I’d make a living out of it and here I am, still. Completely in love with it. It’s been 31 years now.

HRB: What do you like most about teaching?

Cristina: I’ve always had this thing for teaching, whatever it is. I basically like creating bounds and sharing. Being able to take part in someone’s education process is what seduces me the most. Language classes, in particular, are a synthesis of all subjects, since, from basic to advanced levels, you get to discuss all sorts of themes and lead them guide students into critical thinking. What’s more, in this language area, you teach all age groups, you help people with all their different needs and desires.

HRB: How did you start using literature in your language classes?

Cristina: In the past, say it, thirty years ago, when I started teaching, coursebooks did not privilege reading as much as they do now, since they had a more grammatical approach. Thankfully, things have changed and nowadays we always have literary extracts in our course books, which we can use as the basis of our language teaching but also to encourage both teachers and students to get to know and read the book as a whole.

HRB: Would you share some classic titles which have worked well in your teaching? 

Definitely. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, 101 Fairy Tales by The Brothers Grimm, Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet by William Shakespeare, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll among others.

HRB: Have you any suggestions for using literature in the classroom?

Last year, in particular, I devoted my teaching to bringing literature back into our classrooms here at our project. It was a big challenge, though. These days, with the Internet and all it offers for both studying and entertaining, getting students to read classics is not an easy task. However, it’s up to a good teacher to adapt to a new generation of students, a new generation of readers.

As a teacher who works with teenagers, I MUST be aware of what they like doing, their interests.  Yes, they like reading, but not the old, boring ways of reading and handing in reviews. Observing what’s going on around them has helped me a lot. Literature has never been more out of the books than now. You see it on  big screens, on TV series, so proposing a good reading activity is easier these days.

We’ve done reading aloud acitivities here and the students are growing to appreciate them. When we do collaborative work, they fight for a role in the reading, they like acting the lines. Last year we celebrated Shakespeare and they read and interpreted Romeo and Juliet. Now I see my students carrying classics with beautiful covers and they feel proud to own them. Revisiting classics with a different approach is the way to conquer new readers.

There’s nothing like  hearing a twelve-year-old student saying “Teacher, hurry,  let´s go to the classroom, I’ve got to know what happened to Oliver, poor thing, he was in trouble last chapter”. We were reading Oliver Twist!

For example, I convinced my students to read The Brothers Grimm last year by working with the TV series Once Upon a Time inthe classroom. My advice for the fellow teachers around the world is that on no account should they give up working with classics in their classes.

 HRB: Many thanks for sharing your experiences and thoughts with our readers, Cristina!

April 14, 2017
by Nora Nagy

Let’s talk about Henry James: New meets old in Daisy Miller

Henry James in 1910. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Henry James, who was born in New York City on 15 April in 1843, is in the great group of British authors who can be considered ‘outsiders’ arriving from various cultural and national backgrounds into the British literary scene. As John McRae reminds us, most of the celebrated 19th and 20th century British authors belong to this group, we just need to think of Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling, Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, T.S. Eliot or Ford Madox Ford. The national identities of these authors are complex, and their writing often reflects their multicultural background and perspective.

In the works of Henry James we often come across Americans travelling in Europe, and we experience different realities and cultures meeting, often clashing. Henry James’s family also travelled in Europe when he was a teenager, and he lived and studied in England, Switzerland and France. He also spent considerable time in Italy, and he enjoyed staying in Rome. In 1914 he became a British citizen, settled down in London, and then lived in Paris for a short time.

Why did Americans travel to Europe in the 19th century? What was their agenda apart from exploring beautiful cities in the popular ‘Grand Tour of Europe’? How were Americans considered by Europeans?

Daisy Miller

The story of Daisy Miller tells us about a young and beautiful American girl, who travels with her mother and brother in Switzerland and Italy. We follow their travels from Vevey, Switzerland to Rome, Italy as well as the development of the relationship between Daisy and an American man, Frederick Winterbourne. Through Daisy’s experiences, Henry James paints a colourful and multilayered picture of the meeting of very different cultures.

Here you will find discussion questions and reading tasks to help your students explore this story. Our reading is based on the Helbling Reader adaptation of the novella, adapted by Janet Olearski and illustrated by Francesca Protopapa (published by Helbling in 2007). The reader is suitable for readers at or above a pre-intermediate level of English (CEF B1).

1 The plot

Start by giving your students a very short plot introduction, if possible, no more than in six sentences. The main focus here is to get them to think about the setting, the situation and the characters. You can share that this is a 19th-century story which deals with contemporary and modern questions of identity, cultural differences, traditions and prejudices.

Tell your students to imagine a beautiful and innocent American girl travelling in Europe with her mother and brother. First of all, they need to be rich to be able to travel in Europe after the Civil War (1861-1865). The Millers belong to a new business class of Americans, and this class aimed at obtaining more ‘culture’ and climbing up on the social ladder through European education and social experiences.

2 Themes

‘It may be enchanting, dear child, but it is not the custom here, ‘ urged Mrs Walker.

Discuss possible prejudices and cultural differences which can be striking for both Americans and Europeans. Students can also reflect on what they might find ‘strange’ or ‘different’ when they visit or read about the United States, or when Americans visit European countries. Students often fail to notice that most of the routines, traditions and customs we take for granted are strikingly different for different cultures.

Cultures and nations

Think of a list of things that might have been difficult to deal with for a young female American traveller in Europe in the 19th century. Then think in broader terms, and describe what any traveller might find very ‘European’. ‘American’, ‘Brazilian’, or ‘Turkish’ when they travel to another country.

New meets old

Another theme to explore in Daisy Miller is the misunderstanding and prejudices built around newly emerging and traditional cultures. In Daisy’s family we see various reactions to the ‘old European’ way. Her nine-year-old brother thinks that everything is superior in America. Daisy admires the ‘high society’ or Europeans but also thinks with an innocent openness about her social relationships, an attitude which is frowned upon by most European ladies of the time.

Think about examples in your own life. Have you ever experienced similar situations to the ones in the novella? Can you share an example when you thought that another person’s traditions and behaviour were very different from yours or when your cultural behaviour suddenly seemed inappropriate to another?

Daisy’s behaviour and clothes are often criticised in the story. Have you ever felt that you have very different ways of thinking about how women, men, young or older people should behave, what they should wear, how they should communicate with others? Tell your group or class about it.

Two tasks to do as you read

1 When you are reading the story of Daisy Miller, take a pencil and mark the words which are used to describe Daisy and the Americans, or which are used by them to describe the Swiss and the Italians. 

Here are some examples. Which of them have positive meaning? Who do they describe?

  • common, vulgar, innocent, ignorant, accomplished

2 Find examples of insights or opinions when either Americans or Europeans find a situation, a tradition or a behavioural actset of behaviour strange or hard to understand.

Here are some examples from the Helbling Reader adaptation. Who says or thinks them? What is the context? What do these situations reveal about cultural (mis)understandings? Think of wider concepts such as courtship, social status, behaviour, etiquette.

  • ‘In Geneva, a young man was not at liberty to speak to a young unmarried lady except under certain conditions.’
  • ‘The only thing I don’t like,’ she proceeded, ‘is the society. There isn’t any society; or, if there is, I don’t know where it keeps itself.’
  • I can’t think where they get their taste. They treat the courier like a familiar friend – like a gentleman. I shouldn’t wonder if he dines with them.’
  • ‘People continued to look at her a great deal, and Winterbourne took much satisfaction in his pretty companion’s distinguished air. He had been a little afraid that she would talk loudly, laugh too much.’
  • ‘They are very ignorant – very innocent—but they are not bad.’

You can also read a very different story, a ghost story by Henry James in the Helbling Readers series. Click here to find out more about the short story The Turn of the Screw.

April 11, 2017
by Nora Nagy

Explore the world of Robin Hood

Say the name Robin Hood, and a series of ideas, images and connotations immediately come to mind. Try it in class as a brainstorming activity and let you students give you words they think of when they hear the name. The story of Robin Hood and his Merry Men has so many retellings and film adaptations that it has become one of the few legends which almost everyone is familiar with, like a favourite fairytale or myth from childhood.

Our Level 2 (CEF A1-A2, Trinity 2-3 levels) Robin Hood reader, adapted by Scott Luader and Walter McGregor from the 1883 book The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle. The Helbling Readers adaptation is illustrated by Catty Flores.

Follow our steps and explore Sherwood Forest and Nottinghamshire in the East Midlands, the setting of the story. Learning about the setting of a story leads us to discoveries about its history, geography, culture, lifestyle and even scientific developments.

  • In groups or individually, ask your students to do some research using internet, maps and encyclopaedias.
  • We recommend these activities for children and young teens at an elementary or pre-intermediate level of English.

Sherwood Forest

Robin Hood in the woods. Illustration by Catty Flores in the Helbling Reader adaptation of Howard Pyle’s Robin Hood. ©Helbling


  • heritage forest, woodland, hunting, to conserve, conservation, to protect, to destroy, destruction, wildlife, endangered species

Sherwood Forest is one of the most famous heritage forests in the world. Although most of your students will have heard about this forest, not all of them will know where exactly it is situated, how old and big it is, and what kind of trees and animals can be found in it.

  1. Where is Sherwood Forest?
  2. What does heritage mean? What is a heritage forest?
  3. Sherwood was a Royal Hunting Forest. What does it mean?
  4. How big is Sherwood Forest?
  5. How has it changed through the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries?
  6. What are the reasons for this change?

The Major Oak, one of the most famous oak trees in the world can also be found here. The tree, just like the forest, has such a long history that it can tell you about life from Middle Ages through the Victorian Era to present day scientific practices. It is also interesting to learn that there are other named trees in the forest.

  1. How old is the Major Oak?
  2. Why is it famous?
  3. How do local groups try to protect it?
  4. What scientific experiments were done on the tree?
  5. What other types of trees can be found in the forest?
  6. What other named trees can you find?

Various trees and animals live in the forest.

  1. Write a list of animals that live in the forest.
  2. Which are the biggest ones?
  3. Which are the smallest ones?
  4. Write a list of the most common birds in the forest.
  5. Which animals do not live in your country?
  6. Are there any endangered animals in the forest?

Here are some websites to help you start your discovery.

Nottinghamshire, the East Midlands and the Midlands

Draw a simple map to show how these places are related to each other.

  • Nottinghamshire is one of the six counties in the East Midlands.
  • The East Midlands is one of the nine official regions of England.
  • The East Midlands is the eastern part of the Midlands, which is a cultural and geographical area in England.

Answer these questions to learn more about the area.

  1. What other counties can you find in the East Midlands?
  2. What are these counties famous for?
  3. What are the nine regions of England?
  4. Which are the most important and interesting places in Nottinghamshire?
  5. List the largest and most populated cities in Nottinghamshire.

Plan a journey to the Midlands

Have you ever visited this area? Tell the story of your journey.

If you haven’t visited the Midlands yet, then plan your journey.

  1. How can you travel there?
    • Check the websites of airline companies, buses and trains.
  2. Where can you stay?
    • Choose a city and find a hostel or a hotel.
  3. How much money will you need?
    • Calculate the number of days of your visit and your expenses.
  4. What attractations would you like to visit?
    • Choose at least one attraction for each day.
  5. What local food would you like to try?
    • Write a list of drinks and food which are typical of the region.

What other counties would you like to explore in England?