September 20, 2018
by Nora Nagy

Extending reading through projects with young learners

How can you make reading with young learners as interactive and fun as possible? One way to make the reading experience more memorable is by extending it through projects.

Arts and crafts projects create excellent opportunities to

  • recycle vocabulary learnt during the reading,
  • create new learning situations,
  • link to cross-curricular topics,
  • allow students to ‘personalise’ the story and create affective links to it;
  • and extend the story beyond the reading session.

And let’s not forget to mention that these activities will give young learners the opportnity to use their hands, work in groups and do things manually, which is a great benefit in a digital environment.

At the end of each reader in The Thinking Train series (as well as the Helbling Young Readers series) you will find a one-page project related to the story. We often feel that it’d be nice to have a small souvenir from the novel we have read. Doing arts and crafts projects which recall a scene from the story are a bit like briging home spercial souvenirs from a favourite hliday spot. What’s more, they are great educational tools. The stories create contexts in which the project becomes an engaging experience, and the activities create situations in which we can retell the story and practise the language.

We have selected three projects from The Thinking Train series to give you some examples. Some of them also work as nice presents.

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1 Olympic wreath

What’s the story?

James has got lots of toys and games. His dad buys him lots of presents and he plays lots of games with him, too. But James is always bored. Then one day Dad gives James’ toys and games to the children next door. They are very happy – and they invite James to play with them.

What’s the project?

You’ll only need some green cardboard, scissors, a glue stick and a stapler. Then you’ll be ready to make prizes for your little Olympians!

Details of the book:

Let’s play! written by Herbert Puchta and Günter Gerngross, illustrated by Francesca Assirelli, activities by Marion Williams.

  • Level ‘B’ book: Cambridge Young Learners English Starters level, Trinity Level 1. Recording in British English.

You will activate the following thinking skills in this book:
choosing, noticing, matching and problem solving.

You will learn or revise the following vocabulary and structures:
ages, numbers, it’s too …, like/don’t like/do you like?, sports and games, this/that

2 Press flowers

What’s the story?

When Oliver’s mum goes away for a year, he is sad. He starts making things for his mum, so she can be with him in a new way. When Mum comes back home, Oliver has got a wonderful surprise for her.

What’s the project?

You’ll need some fresh flowers, paper, heavy books and glue stick. Then you can make beautiful pressed flowers and turn them into gift cards! Follow the instructions in the book to make them last!

Details of the book

A year without Mum written by Herbert Puchta and Günter Gerngross, illustrated by Cecilia Tamburini, activities by Marion Williams.

  • Level ‘D’ book: Cambridge Young Learners English Movers level, Trinity Level 2. Recording in British English.

You will activate the following thinking skills in this book:
creative thinking, matching, sequencing, problem solving, deciding and choosing.

You will learn or revise the following vocabulary and structures:
present simple, jobs, months of the year, countries, nature vocabulary

3 T-shirts

What’s the story?

Ruby hates PE. Her teacher always tells her to run faster and try harder. But Ruby can’t. The other girls are not happy when Ruby is in their team. They want to win, and winning is impossible with Ruby in the team. Then, one day there is a cross-country race, and Ruby shows that she is a winner, too.

What’s the project?

Make T-shirts for your team or class. Follow the instructions to get creative ideas.

Details of the book:

Ruby runs the race written by Herbert Puchta and Günter Gerngross, illustrated by Marzia Sanfilippo, activities by Marion Williams.

  • Level ‘E’ book: Cambridge Young Learners English Movers level, Trinity Level 2/3. Recording in British English.

You will activate the following thinking skills in this book:
cause and effect, spatial awareness and problem solving.

You will learn or revise the following vocabulary or structures:
comparatives, first aid, likes/hates, ’ll for future predictions, past simple, prepositions

Would you like to read more about projects? Check out our previous post about our Young Readers projects:

September 11, 2018
by Nora Nagy

Keep reading: 5 basic projects for the new term

Starting a reading project is always a good idea and the beginning of the new term is defnitely the perfect time to start planning one. We have collected five simple but inspiring ideas for your teen and adult classes. You will find short projects as well as longer ones for the whole term. You can start with one and then soon your class could have a reading focus!

Helbling Readers Catalogue 2018 cover illustration by Gabriella Giandelli. © Helbling Languages

1 Book club or reading club

Simply set up a book club or reading club. Start by asking your students what they are interested in. Choose a theme or several themes, an author or a genre.   Select a book or books and with your school library if you have enough copies for the whole class. Then start reading. Remember to talk about the stories you read.

Some tips:

  • If you don’t have enough copies, you can also start a patchwork book club where your  students read different books individually or in small grops and then pass them around.
  • Think about reading fiction, non-fiction, poetry, drama, journalism, interviews, comic books and picturebooks.
  • Download our Book Club Starter Kit for badges, activities and more.

2 Events around a book

Read only one book but make it big. If you turn the reading into a series of events which ends with a book party, your students will surely remember the story. For example, if you read The Great Gatsby, you can start by discussing the jazz age, then move on to reading the story either in the original or a graded reader edition. Dedicate a couple of sessions to discussions. Remember to watch the film adaptation of the novel. At the end of the month or term (depending on how much time spend on reading), organize a party in the style of the 1920s.

Here is a lesson plan to help you work with The Great Gatsby:

Of course you can build events around any other novel. Check out our ideas for book-themed parties here:

3 In-class reading for fun

Your students often have little time to dedicate to reading outside the classroom. Dedicate a 15-minute session to reading for fun in the lesson once aweek. When you really see that it is time to stop and do some reading, you can do a D.E.A.R. (Drop everything and read) session. Ring a bell and your students what they are doing and read.

Read more about classroom reading in our post:

4 Creative projects

Reading a book can lead to exciting arts and crafts projects. Our best tips here come from practising teachers. You can make posters, lapbooks or organize tea parties. Check out our series with teachers from all over the world to get some ideas.

5 One-day events

A reading marathon, a night reading session, a book swap or book giving event can all raise awareness and get your students to think more about reading and discover more books. Check out our posts about various events to get ideas.

You can also check out our Events Calendar for lesson plans.

We truly believe which reading projects that start within classrooms and which are initiated by teachers can lead to exiciting changes and can become traditions in schools. Starting with one project and following it through the term will lead to successful and memorable days of reading.

Share your own reading projects with us!

September 6, 2018
by Nora Nagy

Literacy and skills development in the English class

What do you think of when you hear the term ‘literacy’? In its simplest sense, being ‘literate’ means that a person is able to read and write texts, and has a reasonable level of education. Let’s reflect on the importance of literacy development on 8th September, UNESCO International Literacy Day (ILD 2018).

Illustration by Nick Tankard from Mystery at the Mill, level 5 Helbling Reader written by Elspeth Rawstron. © Helbling Languages

This year’s theme is ‘Literacy and skills development’, and the concept of the event focuses on ‘youth and adults within the lifelong learning framework’ and the links between literacy and skills. It is important to note that ILD 2018 places the concept of ‘skills’ in a wide context, and  includes ‘knowledge, skills and comptencies required for employment, careers, and livelihoods, in particular technical and vocational skills, along with transferable skills and digital skills’. (Source: UNESCO International Literacy Day, Literacy and Skills Development Concept Note)

What does it mean for teachers and students in the English classroom? Continue Reading →

August 24, 2018
by Nora Nagy

Inspiring teachers: creativity and reading in Germany

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

We share real examples from real teachers to show how small ideas can make powerful learning activities. When teachers share their techniques and experiences, with us, the first thing we notice is that no matter how diverse our world is, our students are interested in similar issues and enjoy doing similar creative tasks.

Katharina Nordlohne

During the summer months we talked to Katharina Nordlohne, who teaches English in the Albert-Schweitzer-Realschule in Lohne, Germany. When we read an article about her ‘lapbook project’ based on the Helbling Reader Ricky and the American Girl written by Martyn Hobbs and illustrated by Lorenzo Sabbatini, we immediately wanted to find out more about her and her teaching. We hope her ideas will inspire you in the new term to make lapbooks or other creative reading projects. You can see some of the lapbooks in our gallery below and see how colourful, creative and smart they all are. Continue Reading →

August 8, 2018
by Nora Nagy

Cats in fiction and in the classroom

How many famous cats can you list off the top of your head? As we started thinking about our favourite fictional and real feline friends, we realized that there are quite a lot of them. Not only are cats mythological creatures with important roles in fairy and folk tales, they are also popular characters in famous literary works. And they are all different with different personalities and habits. Just read our quick list below.

Cheshire Cat, Behemoth, Findus, the Cat in the Hat, Liszt, Puss in Boots, Tom, Garfield, ’Cat’, Crookshanks, Mrs. Norris and Buttercup.

How many of them have you met in various literary works? Do you have a favourite cat? What about your students?

Cats and other fictional animals can be your students’ first literary pets. Young readers and teens can easily get hooked on a story if they find a loveable character like a cat in it. As your students get older, they might enjoy noticing and discussing the different roles of cats in books and think about them from a cultural perspective. Why not dedicate a whole lesson to cats and involve your students in discussions and activity building?


You can easily develop a cat-themed lesson if you follow the steps we share below.


Write you own list and then invite your students to think in terms of classic and contemporary novels, poetry, children’s books, cartoons and comics.


When you have your list, ask your students to work in pairs or groups. Each student chooses a cat and prepares a short description of it. Ask them to describe what their cat looks like, what they are like, what they like doing. Then they can talk about their roles in the stories and tell an interesting story about them.


What are cats like? Collect words to describe cat personalities. Are they similar to people?

What do they look like? There are many cat words that your students might find amusing. What is a tabby cat like? What is a tom? What’s catnap?

You can also collect cat phrases like

  • Has the cat got your tongue?
  • let the cat out of the bag
  • grin like the Cheshire cat


What noises do cats make? What do cats do? Collect verbs of action to describe cats. Can you also imitate these noises and movements? For example, can you purr? How do cats knead their owners’?


Of course you can be like Holly Golightly in Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s and call your cat ’Cat’, but there are many more descriptive cat names. What types of cats do you associate with these names?

Ginger, Smokey, Gizmo, Fluffy, Misty and Muffin

What are the most popular names in your country?


Let us introduce us to our favourite cats in the Helbling Readers series.

Fat Cat is taking a nap in Fat Cat’s Busy Day written by Maria Cleary and illustrated by Lorenzo Sabbatini. © Helbling Languages

Our first friend Fat Cat from our young reader Fat Cat’s Busy Day written by Maria Cleary and illustrated by Lorenzo Sabbatini.

And of course we love the Chesire Cat from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Our reader was illustrated by Roberto Tomei.

Both of these cats are tabbies and have extremely important roles in the stories. However, their personalities differ. Fat Cat seems lazy and slow, but he is a real, brave hero who is not afraid of dangerous people at all.

The Cheshire Cat with the big grin on his face often behaves mysteriously, says silly comments and acts in unpredictable ways. His famous line is ’We’re all mad here.’

But I don’t want to go among mad people,’ Alice remarked.
`Oh, you can’t help that,’ said the Cat: `we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.’
`How do you know I’m mad?’ said Alice.
`You must be,’ said the Cat, `or you wouldn’t have come here.’

So do you have a favourite feline friend? Send us the title of the book in which he or she appears!