September 11, 2019
by Nora Nagy

Inspiring projects: Read, speak and upload!

We often talk about the use of technology in the language classroom, and it’s always inspiring to see real projects in which students use their digital and technical skills to create something new, based on our readers.

Two reading/video competitions

Unlimited Educational Services, our distributor in Turkey have just completed a series of exciting projects. They organised two competitions, one called Readasaurs 4, and another one called The Read-Speak-Upload competition this spring. The rules were simple. Those who entered the competitions were asked to:

  • choose a reader,
  • read it,
  • make a video sharing their ideas on the reader in the form of a review, the description of a character, the description of a scene or making a recommendation,
  • and upload the video to the competition website.

The uploaded videos had to be under 3 minutes. The assessment was simple and clear: points were given for accuracy, fluency, vocabulary and discourse management.

Over 1550 videos were uploaded as part of the Readasaurs 4 Primary and Secondary competitions, and over 450 videos in The Read-Speak-Upload high school competition.

A young and a teenage reader

Amazingly, each student approached the video project in different ways, showing how our personal reaction to what we read is always slightly different to that of another person reading the same book. Some of students recorded the videos in a well-designed setting, and some used hand-held mobile phones for an edgier, simpler video. Some filmed their piece inside, and others, outside. No matter what solution they chose, the results were outstanding.

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Here we are sharing the winner in the Primary category of the Readasaurs 4 competition. Ipek Özden, an 8-year-old student from Istanbul talked about the The Three Seeds written by Herbert Puchta and Günter Gerngross, and illustrated by Maria Sole Macchia in our The Thinking Train series.

Another video is by Doğa Melek Çınar from the Denizati Anatolian High School in Istanbul, and she won the second prize in The Read-Speak-Upload high school competition. She shares a review about the story and the film adaptation of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving. She read the story in the Helbling Reader edition, which was adapted by Janet Olearski and illustrated by Giuseppe Palumbo.

Congratulations to all the winners and their competitors!

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The benefits of making videos

Talking about the books we read, the films we watch, the exhibitions we go to are everyday activities we do with our friends. When we ask students to read a story, we often ask them to write about or discuss them with another student in class. Sometimes, if there is time, they are asked to give a short presentation in front of the whole group. These activities get the students to practise summarising, analysing and critically evaluating books. In the case of longer, classic novels, students also research either the literary history of the story, its setting and characters, and it often leads students to finding film adaptations which they can then compare with the novel.

When students get the chance to express their thoughts in connection with the novel in front of a group, they start practising an essential skill for the future, which is public speaking. Such an activity demands a complex group of language and presentation skills: pronunciation, fluency, accuracy, vocabulary, gestures and body language. They also need a lot of courage to talk in front of others, and any positive feedback will boost their confidence in their second language.

Now, when students are asked to also record and share these short talks, they are putting themselves to another challenge: they need to combine digital skills and overcome the fear of seeing themselves on film (which is often very intimidating).  But soon they realise it is also fun , and if they are motivated by their teachers and the other group members, they soon become immersed in the task. Plus seeing yourself on film is an excellent way of becoming aware of yourself as an English-language speaker and notice how you speak, the mistakes you make (and therefore can correct) and also how successful you are.

A video project for your class

These video projects can be done in any kind of group, no matter if you are teaching young learners, teens or adults. You only need to adjust your expectations and the support you give to your students. With young learners it is definitely a good idea to involve the family. Here are some steps to follow when planning such a project.

  1. Decide the theme. Can students choose any book they have read in English? Can it be a comic book, a play, a graded reader or original fiction? We recommend setting some basic expectations (as in the Turkish competition above). Indicate a running time (3 minutes should be enough), and the type of content expected, such as a review, the description of a character or a scene, or a recommendation.
  2. Think about categories. Organise a competition for different age groups and different language levels. You can also divide the groups by grades or simply organise it within a class.
  3. Set a time frame. Students will need time to read the books, make the videos, and then upload them. Then, you will need time to watch the videos and decide on the winners. T
  4. Involve other teachers. Sharing the workload can be fun and helpful. Talk to other language teachers in your school.
  5. Make posters. A simple poster printed in full colour will get the message to all the students in your school. Also make announcement letters for the parents. You can see two examples from the Turkish competition below. Remember to add the assessment criteria and all the necessary details!
  6. Have fun! If you enjoy the organisation and give yourself enough time, your students will get into the mood and participate with even more enthusiasm.

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Check back to read our next post about the apps and digital platforms we recommend for this video project!

September 4, 2019
by Nora Nagy

The ABC of a graded reader: David and the Great Detective

As teachers, we would all like our students to read more and read better in English. I often ask my students what they are reading for pleasure and they always amaze me with their experiences: some read thick historical novels, car magazines or books about physics. Others love reading biographies, poetry or young adult fiction. Of course there are always some students who claim to ‘hate’ reading. Both groups of students are interesting for the teacher. Every teacher would like the non-reader students to experience the joy of reading and equip them with the power of gaining knowledge through reading. As for the students who are already avid readers in their own languages, we would like to show them the fun of reading in English. Often they exclude this as their level of English doesn’t allow them to read the books that interest them, and that is where graded readers come into the picture.

Let’s see how graded readers, and in this post specifically illustrated readers and graphic stories can assist us in transforming our students into good readers in English. We will walk you through the crucial question of using a graded reader and highlight its most important features by showing you details from our elementary level (CEFR A1) reader, David and the Great Detective written by Martyn Hobbs and illustrated by Lorenzo Sabbatini. The reader belongs to a series of 12 graphic stories about 6 English teengagers called the Westbourne Kids (all readers in the series are either CEFR level A1 or A2).

The benefits of using graded readers in the classroom

There are three important benefits of using graded readers in the language classroom: story-based teaching, multimodal learning, and interactive engagement. First of all, each reader gives us a story which contextualises the vocabulary and the grammar structures in focus. Through stories we create memories, illustrate the situation and the wider context of the events. Plus we already ‘know’ about stories and have been taught (by our family, neighbours and teachers) though stories since we were born. Secondly, graded readers – especially graphic stories in the Helbling Readers Fiction series – are multimodal texts, combining written, spoken and visual modes. These stories are an interesting combination of illustrated short stories and cartoons. The parts with more action and dialogue are presented through the cartoon spreads, letting the reader experience the fast-spaced verbal and visual aspects of a real-life conversation. The illustrations help the readers visualise the scenes and their atmosphere. When we are working with these pages, it is important to pay careful attention to the images. Apart from these written and visual features, each reader comes with a complete dramatised audio recording, which expands the story experience with the sound effects, real dialogues and narration. Thirdly, these readers engage not only the reader but also the language learner in your students. The before and after reading activities help the students prepare for reading and then consolidate the new vocabulary and grammar structures they have learnt.

Apart from these explicit teaching benefits, there is an important implicit message you send when you are using graded readers in the classroom: reading is valuable and it is worth your attention and time. When students see that you dedicate time to reading – even just 10 minutes on a regular basis – they will see that reading is just as an important part of language learning as grammar or speaking practice. Through the shared reading of a graded reader you are creating a community experience and memories you can then refer back to in your teaching.

Before the first lesson

If you are a newcomer to the world of graded readers, here are some tips for you.

1 The right level and the right topic

We should not confuse not liking a book with not liking reading. It is a good idea to select a number of readers at the right level for your group and then ask them to pick the one they like. Also, there is a difference in what your students are able to do with your help in class and what they can manage to do and read alone. Students should be able to read the book independently, which means that they should be able to comfortably understand most words and expressions in context and that they should be familiar with all the main structures used. Check the back cover of the reader you have selected to see the right level. It is often a good idea to get students reading slightly below their actual level, that way their confidence is boosted and they can get into the spirit of reading for fun.

Helbling Reader levels.

2 How many copies should we have?

In an ideal world every student should have their own copy before you start reading the book. However, if it is hard to manage, you can also use one reader for reading pairs, this way students can share the book in the classroom and do the activities in their exercise books.

3 When should we read?

Decide how much time you can dedicate to language work and how much time you can have for actual reading. We recommend one lesson to become familiar with a reader and reading the first page of the story. Then, there are a number of possible ways to continue reading the story. Students can read it at home in a given period of time, or you can dedicate 10 minutes in each lesson to reading the story, or you dedicate one lesson a week to reading the story or you combine a mixture of reading at home, talking about the reading then reading in class to consolidate. Depending on the language proficiency level of your students and how well they work independently, you can either set the After Reading exercises as homework or do them in class together.

The main features of a reader

Although readers are short and user-friendly books, they are packed with features that facilitate learning and engage the students both in the classroom and when they are reading alone. For the first lesson, take enough copies to the classroom and tell your students that you will read an exciting story today. We recommend working with the cover and the Before Reading activities and becoming familiar with the book for this first approach to the story.

The cover

Hand out all the books, and give the students some time to take a look and flip through them. Then, ask them to focus on the cover. Ask them who they think David is and who the Great Detective may be? Then, ask them to read the blurb on the back cover and flick through the illustrations and predict what will happen in the story.

“David dreams of becoming a great detective like David Delgado, the hero of his stories. When thieves take Jack’s bike, David decides to help him get it back. Can David find it and become the detective of his dreams?”

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Before Reading activities

Go to pages 6 and 7 and spend some time on looking at the view of Westbourne, the setting of the story. Walk through the image with the students: the houses on the left side, the factory site in the background and the main street in the foreground. Ask students to name as many things and activities as they can in the picture. Then, move on to pages 8 and 9 and work with specific vocabulary items. Be prepared to use the audio recording, which is available on the Audio CD in the reader or as an mp3 download from e-zone, our educational platform.

The Story and the Glossary

The story is 44 pages long, and half of the pages are illustrations which support the reading experience. A large part of the new vocabulary is represented in the images so students are given context to help with the specific meaning they need to understand. Spend some time reading the first pages together, and give your students the following reading strategies that will help them with learning the language.

First of all, encourage the students to study the illustrations before, while and after reading a passage. The red dots next to certain words are also important as these highlight difficult vocabulary items. When students see a red dot, they can go to the Glossary on page 64 and check the meaning of the word or phrase. When you get to pages 14 and 15, explain that here the frames of the comic strips are read from left to right. When the lesson is over, no matter how far you got with reading the text (either silently or with the help of the dramatized recording), ask students to predict what will happen next.

The Audio recording

Point out that the audio symbol means that they can also listen to the story as they are reading it. The audio helps students with listening comprehension, and it provides a model for the right intonation and pronunciation of spoken English. Audio recordings are also useful if the students would like to read the story at home and they are not sure about the pronunciation and spelling of words.

After Reading activities and Exit Test

There are various types of activities after the story. On pages 56 and 57 you will work on general reading comprehension, followed by Vocabulary (pages 58-59) and Grammar (pages 60-61) activities. There is an Exit Test on pages 62 and 63. We suggest setting the After Reading activities either as homework or as pairwork in class. The Exit Tests can also be done in pairs in the classroom. It is important that the students understand that these are consolidation exercises and their reading is not being tested like in an exam.

Digital resources

You can give your students extra practice for individual work on e-zone, the Helbling educational platform. Under ‘Cyber Homework’ the students will find interactive activities. Results and feedback are given automatically as soon as the deadline fixed by the teacher has expired. These activities are especially useful when you do most of the activities in class and would like to set some individual practice.

Encouraging reading 

There are several ways you can encourage reading in the classroom and motivate students to read out of the classroom.

D.E.A.R. sessions

D.E.A.R. stands for ‘Drop Everything and Read’, an excellent idea which engages students in reading immediately. A session can be 10 or 15 minutes long, and all you need to do is ask students to stop doing what they are doing, grab a book and start reading.

Reading groups

You can form reading groups based on the students interests. Students in groups of three of four can choose books to read by the end of the semester and rotate them in the group. At the end of the semester, dedicate a lesson to discussing the reading experiences of the reading groups.

Reading challenges

Introduce a reading challenge for your students. Here are some reading challenge examples:

  • Read 10 books by the end of the year.
  • Read stories on four different topics by the end of the year: detective, history, nature and humour.
  • Read a poem, a magazine article, a graphic story, a classic and an original story by the end of the semester.

Project lessons

Project lessons invite students to engage with a topic related to the book. For example, in the case of David and the Great Detective, students can do some research and then prepare a poster or a presentation about the most famous detectives in history. Some students can choose only one and talk about them in detail, others can make a list of the top 10 detectives, and others can talk about films about famous detectives.

CLIL projects

Another type of project lesson is a CLIL lesson, in which you integrate another disciplinary content area with language learning. For example, David and the Great Detective is set in Westbourne in Bournemouth, Dorset. Students can explore the map of England, find Westbourne and then learn about the Geography and the History of the area.

August 16, 2019
by Nora Nagy

Beyond the Moon: Two readers to travel in space

In the last on our series celebrating the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, we present some Helbling readers which will launch you and your students into space.

We have already looked at Moony Goes on Holiday this time we show you the picturebook Paul learns to plan from The Thinking Train Series, and the reader Next Door in the Helbling Readers Red series.

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Paul learns to plan

The story was written by Herbert Puchta and Gavin Biggs, and illustrated by Vanessa Lovegrove.

Level: The Thinking Train series, Level D – Cambridge Young Learners English Movers – Trinity 2


Paul needs to study for his tests in school, but he also needs to finish his online space game before the aliens come. Paul finds tests very difficult: the more he tries to remember, the more he seems to forget! It’s terrible! How can Paul’s parents and friends help him to find time to study and time to relax?

Thinking skills

The story shows children how important it is to keep a balance between studying and taking breaks, which can also mean playing computer games. It also talks about learning strategies and the importance of asking for advice in the family as well as making wise choices for a healthy life-study balance. What’s more, it highlights how lucky Paul is to have parents who support and help him in finding the best way to learn.

Space link

In the story, Paul plays an online space game and dreams of becoming an astronaut when he grows up. The illustrations reflect his love of space: you will see images of space with the planets, the stars, meteors and an astronaut. In the After Reading activities, you can learn about the solar system and practise using superlatives to describe the planets.

Vocabulary and grammar

In this book, children will learn or revise the following:

  • school subjects
  • jobs
  • the solar system
  • hobbies/talents
  • giving advice
  • superlatives

The structure of the book and online resources

In the book there are Before Reading activities, After Reading activities and a Make and Do project, which explains how to make a sand timer.

In the story pages we will find questions in small boxes which invite the students to think, speak or look for details in the illustration.

On Helbling e-zone, you will find five fun games. Go to and enter the access code which can be found in the book. You can also listen to the story here.

A Big Book for shared reading is also available.


Next Door

The story was written by Robert Campbell, and illustrated by Giovanni da Re.

Level: Helbling Readers Red Series, Level 1 – CEFR A1


When a new family with a twin brother and sister move next door to Eoin, strange things start to happen. The kids at school make fun of the twins and say that they are from another planet. But Eoin decides to find out where they really come from.

Eoin in his room. Illustration by Giovanni da Re. © Helbling Languages

The book

The story is written in the form of a blog, in which Eoin writes something every day. We follow the blog over eight days from Thursday to the following Friday, and we also read some of the dialogues that Eoin writes about.

The Before Reading activities introduce new vocabulary: astronomy, prepositions and some special words to know.

The After Reading activities guide students through personal response, text comprehension, talking about the characters, plus the plot and the theme. There is also an Exit Test and a Projects page, which inspires students to keep a blog for five days.

In the story pages, there is a glossary in the footnote to help with difficult vocabulary, and there are reflection boxes which involve the students in thinking about interesting topics in the story.

Space link

Eoin’s hobby is astronomy. Throughout the story, we read about studying the sky and the planets. And we also find out if it is possible to meet people from another planet today.

A class project

A class of 2nd year high school level students, from the Liceo delle Scienze Applicate ’G. Marconi’ in Tortona sent us a story they wrote as a sequel to the story. You can read about this creative writing project in our blog post, in which we asked the Nadia Roncoli, the teacher of the class to tell us more about the idea.

August 8, 2019
by Nora Nagy

Beyond the Moon: Space projects for the language class

In our latest post on space travel we boldly go where no language class has gone before: to the outer regions of our solar system!

Double page illustration from Paul learns to plan (The Thinking Train Series) written by Herbert Puchta and Gavin Biggs. Illustrated by Vanessa Lovegrove. © Helbling Languages

We recommend the following projects as starting points for both individual and group work or as the basis for whole in-class lessons.

Most questions and project plans here are best for students over 12 years.

1 The language of space

Brainstorm space-related words and phrases. When you come up with a list similar to the following, define the words and phrases. Try to get the students to use them in context (point out that most of the words may already be familiar to them in non space-related contexts).

  • universe – cosmos
  • dark matter
  • black hole
  • galaxy – Milky Way
  • cluster – constellation
  • nebula
  • solar system
  • cosmic dust
  • dwarf – giant
    • dwarf planet
    • white dwarf
    • gas giant
    • red giant
  • meteor – falling star – shooting star
  • meteorite
  • supernova
  • comet
  • planet – exoplanet
  • moon
  • star

Great resource: NASA Explore Solar System & Beyond

  • This website will tell you all you want to know about space.
  • NASA also has an app with lots of information, images, videos and animations.

Tip for teachers! The NASA pages usually have a ‘kid-friendly’ description of the theme. These texts are written in simple English and are often an ideal solution for language learners. Check out this learning page about the Sun for more.

2 CLIL projects to explore the Cosmos

2.1 History

If some of your students are more into Arts than Science, they can talk about the history of astronomy.

Some topics to get your students thinking.

  1. The first telescope
  2. The speed of light
  3. Round Earth/flat Earth?
  4. Isaac Newton
  5. Earth orbits Sun/Sun orbits Earth?
  6. Venus: planet or star?
  7. Discovery of Pluto
  8. Early space travel
  9. Moon landings (from the first to the latest)
  10. The Space Race
  11. The far side of the moon
  12. Mars

2.2 Culture

Our relationship with the Cosmos is also present in our greatest pieces of literature and in different mythologies.

Project 1: Different perspectives

If you have more advanced students, you can direct them to a project which compares ancient Chinese and Greek astronomy.

Project 2: Navigation

Celestial objects have helped different travellers for centuries.

  • How do travellers find their way during the day and at night?
  • How do pilots and sailors find their way around without navigational systems?

Project 3: Constellations

  • Where did most of the constellations get their names from?

Project 4: Architecture and Archaeoastronomy

Many ancient sites were built with astronomical alignments and knowledge of the constellations in mind. Find out more about the following sites and their relationship with astronomy.

  • Stonehenge (England)
  • Newgrange (Ireland)
  • The pyramids of Giza (Egypt)
  • Uxmal (Mexico)
  • The Pantheon (Italy)

2.3 Literature: top 10 books set in space

A lot of exciting stories (which then were also turned into films and comics) are set in space. We have selected our top 10 books to get your students into the Cosmos.

  1. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  2. The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov
  3. 2001: a Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
  4. Star Wars Trilogy by George Lucas
  5. Solaris by Stanislaw Lem
  6. The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut
  7. Dune by Frank Herbert
  8. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
  9. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  10. The Martian by Andy Weir

2.4 Science

Students who are more interested in Science can answer the following questions in short presentations, leaflets or posters.

Project 1: Meteors

What are falling (or shooting) stars?

Project 2: Instruments

  • Alidade, astrarium, astrolabe: what are these three objects?
  • Where is Newton’s original reflecting telescope?
  • Where is the largest optical telescope on Earth?
  • Where can you find radio telescopes on Earth?
  • What is the name of the telescope in space?

Project 3: Time

  • Why is a day divided into 24 hours?
  • Why are most months 30 or 31 days long?
  • When are there 5 Sundays in February?

Project 4: Space junk

Pollution is not only a dangerous and serious issue on Earth, but it is also a problem in space. What is space junk? Why and how can it become dangerous?

In our course, For Real Plus pre-intermediate, we have a full lesson dedicated to space junk. Check it out on pages 114-115.

Reading task about space junk in For Real Plus pre-intermediate. © Helbling Languages

Project 5: Life in space

There are always some humans out in space. Where do they live? How do they live? What difficulties do astronauts have to face? How do they train? There are several questions to ask and answer when we think about life in zero gravity.

Ask your students to find out about the astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS). They can also follow the space station in the sky. These astronauts are also on social media, and they share interesting information about their lives.

Tip: Get your students to write questions for astronauts. Then, tell them to go and find the answers on the Internet!

In our course, For Real Plus pre-intermediate, a lesson is dedicated to the solar system and life in space. Check it out on pages 104-105.

Reading task about space junk in For Real Plus pre-intermediate. © Helbling Languages

3 Documentaries to learn more

Watch these documentaries to learn more about the universe.

4 Films set in space

Here are some serious films, some classics, some scary ones and some comedies – all set in space!

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – directed by Stanley Kubrick
  • The Martian (2015) – directed by Ridley Scott
  • Interstellar (2014) – directed by Christopher Nolan
  • Gravity (2013) – directed by Alfonso Cuarón
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005) – directed by Garth Jennings
  • Alien (1979) – directed by Ridley Scott
  • District 9 (2009) – directed by Neill Blomkamp
  • E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (1982) – directed Steven Spielberg
  • WALL-E (2008) – directed by Andrew Stanton
  • Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) – James Gunn
  • Spaceballs (1987) – directed by Mel Brooks

July 24, 2019
by Nora Nagy

A love of libraries: unusual little libraries around the world

In our ‘A love of libraries’ series we have discussed setting up and managing a school or classroom library and recommended activities for adults, teens and young learners. Last time we took a look at five famous libraries with rich online resources to inspire you. This time we turn towards unusual libraries which can be found in some of the most unexpected places throughout the world.

Free libraries, microlibraries and street libraries have become immensely popular over the last decade. The Little Free Library movement in the United States initiated a trend which has become standard by now. What are these libraries and why are they so important?

The importance of little libraries

When people creating little libraries, making books freely available for everyone, they start building communities. What’s more, they start supporting all sorts of people: keen readers in affluent districts of cities as well as the homeless or refugees. Apart from these extreme examples, everyone can find inspiration in these easy-access book spots. They represent sharing and equality by spreading stories and giving access to knowledge for free. Although more traditional libraries also support learning in communities, they are often seen as institutions. Some people can’t walk past their town library without going in, while others feel discouraged from entering it. This is why little libraries, apart from being fun places to happen upon, have a significant function as truly democratic places.

Our favourite examples

We have seen small libraries set up in old buses in villages, in telephone boxes and old mailboxes, in tiny sheds on Swedish islands, and at underground stations in boxes specifically designed for the purpose of the tiny library. These libraries were born as grassroots initiatives, usually created by teachers and librarians. We have collected five examples to amaze and inspire you.

1 The Little Free Library: the great network

Since the first Little Free Library in Wisconsin was set up in 2009, these book spots have become well-known all over the world. It’s an interesting fact that even the Little Free Library movement was inspired by a microlibrary set up in Portland, Oregon in 1996. Today you can see a map of the network of Little Free Libraries on the website of the movement.

Little Free Library in Easthampton, MA.
Photo credit: John Phelan. Wikimedia Commons.

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