May 17, 2017
by Nora Nagy

Beat bullying with books

Bullying is always a central issue in discussions about school, safety and emotional health. Healthier schools and environments can be distinguised from the ones where bullying becomes a real issue in the way they handle bullying. And although we cannot eliminate the phenomenon, one thing is clear: the more we discuss bullying the more it becomes visible making it easier to eradicate and to deal with the harm it causes to everyone involved. But the first question we need to ask ourselves is what is bullying.

What is bullying?

Bullying is the intentional aggressive behaviour of one (or more) people towards another (or others) in order to gain power. There are many types of bullying and it may not always be visible. It may be physical (through aggressive behaviour), verbal (through name-calling, threatening or gossiping) or exclusionary (through excluding the victim/s from interaction). Bullying is often rooted in discrimation where the victim is selected because of his/her race, religion, sexual orientation or other distinguishing feature such as disability.  Cyber bullying, the use of technology to bully someone, is on the increase and as it is almost invisible it is difficult to intervene.

Bullies are as much a victim of their own behaviour as their victims. There are often very painful and understandable reasons behind their actions. But before we can help them we need to stop the bullying.

How can we help?

Bullying is sometimes evident, we either witness it talking place, hear the bully boasting about his/her behaviour or see the signs on the victim. But it often happens that the victim is silent about it, either through shame or fear, or that te actual bullying happens out of school. Here are two simple but powerful approaches you can take in class.

Talk openly about bullying

Unless you talk about bullying, it will remain a taboo topic and students will not have the language or authority to express their feelings about it. Talk openly about this problem, explain what it is, and encourage your students to discuss it.

  • Define the phenomenon
  • Explain that it exists in many different forms
  • Describe and discuss the feelings a bullied person might have (for example anxiety, humiliation, fear)
  • Describe and discuss the feelings a bully might have (for example anger, low self-esteem, frustration)
  • Think of things you can do if you witness bullying
  • Think of what you can do if it happens to you

Approach bullying through stories

Talking about first-hand experiences of bullying might be difficult for students. If this is the case, you can rely on the power of stories to introduce the topic. We often find it easier to discuss difficult situations through other people’s narratives and reading allows us to think about situations and how we would deal with them before they happen.

Here are three stories to help you with this.

The Bully (The Thinking Train Series)

  • written by Herbert Puchta and Günter Gerngross, illustrated by Lorenzo Sabbatini, activities by Marion Williams
  • Finalist in the Extensive Reading Foundation’s Language Learner Literature Award
  • for very young learners, beginner level

Charlie isn’t very nice to the other children. They’re scared of him. Then it’s his birthday. Charlie invites all the children to his party. But no one comes. Charlie is sad, and is sorry. He begins to be nice to the other children. And they start to like him.

In this simple story you can see a typical example of bullying at school. Charlie is an angry child who wants more attention. This picture book is aimed at very young learners at a beginner level. The visual narrative will help you and your young readers make meaning through the pictures and with your guidance they can also read the story.

The Anti-bully Squad

  • written by Rick Sampedro, illustrated by Lorenzo Sabbatini
  • for teens, elementary level

When a pair of bullies hurt Arjun, the youngest boy in class, Tom, Ziggy and Tara decide that it is time to do something. They set up the Anti-bully Squad but they soon discover that the bullies are prepared to do anything to get their own way. Can they find a way to stop the bullies before it is too late?

This story shows us a great example of how talking and acting together can help us deal with bullying.

Dan and the Village Fête

  • written by Richard MacAndrew, illustrated by Giulia Sagramola
  • for teens at an elementary level

It’s the day of the Steeple Compton village fête and everyone is happy. Everyone except Sue Barrington, the new girl in town. Sue’s friend Dan is worried. Dan finds out that someone called Nemesis is bullying Sue and he decides to help. Who can Nemesis be? And why does he or she want to hurt Sue? Only Dan the detective and his dog Dylan can find out.

Stubs Grows Up

  • written by Paul Davenport, illustrated by Giulia Sagramola
  • for teens at an elementary level

Fifteen-year-old Jay Stone is good-looking, athletic and he has got lots of friends. There’s just one problem.
Jay’s legs are short, so short that the other kids call him ‘Stubs’.When Jay gets a surprise place on the school’s American Football team, some of the older members decide to teach him a lesson. Can Jay ignore their comments about his legs and keep the place on the team?

This is a beautiful story of a boy who is bullied for his phsyical appearance.

Preparing for reading

If you choose one of these three stories, you can start by presenting the story instead of the topic.

  • Let your students explore the images in the story and browse the book.
  • Work on the ‘before reading’ activities.
  • Give your students some time to read the book either in class or at home.
  • Focus their attention on the reflection boxes in our Red Readers.

When your students have finished reading the story, talk about their own feelings and encourage them to retell the story. If they find it hard to talk use the illustrations as support. You can also sask them to make notes on the reflection boxes.

Sample reflection box from Helbling Reader The Anti-bully Squad, written by Rick Sampedro. © Helbling

Then, you can discuss how they would act and feel in the situations described in the stories. From here you can further develop discussions on bullying.

Here is a list of stories which touch upon bullying.

Have you found ways to approach bullying in your classroom? Have you read stories on bullying in class? Please share your ideas and experiences with us!

May 9, 2017
by Nora Nagy

Two more puzzles to solve with Dan Parks, the teenage detective

Dan Parks, the teenage detective is back with two more stories to tell. Who is Dan Parks? And what are his stories about? Our ‘Dan the Detective’ series is a collection of original, illustrated stories about a teenage would-be detective, who happens upon and finds solutions for mysterious crime cases. He is accompanied by his friend, Sue Barrington, and more often than not their investigations get them into trouble before they manage to catch the criminals.

The stories are available in three levels (Levels 1, 2 and 3 in our Red Fiction series) covering  CEF A1 and A2 levels (Breakthrough and Waystage), and there are now two titles at each level. You can find more information about the language structures included at each level in the front of each book.

Each story is self-contained, and as such can be enjoyed on its own. But they are also part of a seriesof books, which makes them a great resource for language learning. Once your students get to like Dan and Sue, they will have six stories to explore amd compare.

Please read more about the first four readers in this series in our post Are you a serial reader? Meet Dan Parks, the teenage detective.

The stories were written by Richard MacAndrew and illustrated by Giulia Sagramola and Lorenzo Sabbatini. The readers were edited by Frances Mariani.

Now let’s see some features of the two new stories in the series.

Dan and the Stolen Bikes

When Sue’s bike is stolen one evening in Oxford,  Dan decides to do something. He creates a Facebook page  called Oxford Bike Finders and soon lots of  people are contacting him with information. Then one day, one of Dan’s followers sees a bike being stolen and Dan and Sue decide  to follow the thieves. What happens when they find the thieves  and can they get Sue’s bike back?

Dan in London

Dan and Sue are in London with their parents when they see two men acting in a very strange way outside their hotel. They decide to follow them and find out that the men are stealing handbags. What happens when the men discover that Dan and Sue know their secret? And what can their parents do to help? Join Dan and Sue in London and find out.

What features of the readers can you build on in the classroom?

Dan and the Stolen Bikes

  • You will talk about bikes. Your students who like cycling will definitely love the story.
  • You will explore a new city, Oxford. You will study the map of the city, and you will learn about its history through a quiz in the Before Reading section, and learn more about it as a tourist in the After Reading Project.
  • You will learn about online safety and bike safety through quizzes and discussion activities.
  • You will also learn more about different social media platforms and how they can be used.

Dan in London 

  • In this book you will explore London, and find ways of travelling around the city.
  • You will learn about the Tube, and do a quiz about the city.
  • In the After Reading Project you will read a tourist brochure.
  • Here you will also do language activities, read and talk about the topics in the dicussion boxes, and do a number of  comprehension and language development tasks.

How are the texts organised?

As every reader in our Red and Blue series, these books also have language and cultural activities in the before and after reading sections. You will find vocabulary, grammar, speaking, listening, writing and reading activities.

Dan and the Stolen Bikes

An original feature of this book is that it includes different modes of communication, many of which your students are familiar with and engage in on a daily basis. There is a map of Oxford, a chart of the characters, a focus on social media and online safety, some elements of the story are told through Facebook pages, Facebook Messenger chats and Twitter tweets. The story unfolds through these elements, just as our daily lives are a blend of conversations, private thought and various social media.

Dan in London

This is a more ‘traditionally’ told story which focuses on a joint family holiday to London. Some of the issues it raises are safety in an urban context, obedience and autonomy. Students who have visited the British capital will recognise many landmarks and the story can be used as a way of familiarising the students with the city.

Classroom tip

We recommend starting with the general discussion and introductory activities in the Before Reading activity, then browsng the book to predict what it might be about. Then just let your students enjoy the story! You can work on the After Reading activities together or choose some which you would definitely ask them to do in class, either in pairs or groups.

May 3, 2017
by Nora Nagy

Storytelling with David Heathfield

David Heathfield

Next in our interview series we have an exciting first today. At the recent IATEFL Conference in Glasgow, Maria Cleary, Helbling Readers Series Editor had the chance to sit down with David Heathfield to talk about the magical world of telling stories.

David Heathfield is an international storyteller, teacher trainer and writer of educational resources. We have followed his work for a long time and, like many of you, enjoyed his stories. You can see him at many of the major English language teaching conferences and storytelling festivals, and he also gives workshops and speaks at smaller events all around the world. His speciality is oral storytelling, and he explores the oral cultures of the world through telling stories.

In this 9-minute interview you can hear him talk about his own storytelling memories from his childhood, and he also shares how he became a storyteller. We particularly like the examples and advice he gives to language teachers. Just like him, we also encourage you to believe in your own storytelling skills, start slowly and keep practising and telling stories to and with your students.

An extremely powerful element of David’s storytelling is bringing cultures together. Listen to his ideas on using his students’ native languages and cultures to get them involved and more confident in the classroom. He gives us examples on connecting cultures, boosting his students’ performance, teaching English and eradicating cultural bias all at the same time.

Listen to the interview here. 

You can also listen to a story David shared with us.

Go to the Helbling English YouTube channel to see more videos.

Here you can find more information about David.

Click for a complete transcript of the interview.

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.