June 6, 2017
by Nora Nagy

Ocean’s 6: Six adventure stories to take you across the seas to faraway lands

Imagine you are sitting by the sea, your feet dangling in the water as you look into the distance. The longer you look, the more details you start to notice. Waves lap the shore, a seagull cries, a fish jumps out of the water. There are fishermen in a boat, and some ships on the horizon. You wonder how far that horizon really is, and as you look below the surface you see that there’s another world to explore under the water. How many famous adventurers and explorers have felt this urge to know what lay across the sea and beyond its surface?

June 8th is World Oceans Day, a worldwide awareness-raising and action project organized by The Ocean Project. You can learn more about the organizer and the event if you click on the links below:

We invite you on some literary ocean trips on this day, and encourage you to introduce the idea of protecting our oceans also in the English class. Why is it such an important issue? Pollution, and especially plastic pollution does not only pose a threat to human health, but also to marine life, and it also affects the environment far from the oceans. Plastic pollution may travel up the food chain and get into your food as well. You can learn more about this in the downloadable information pack which can be found on the World Oceans Day website.

An important and effective way to introduce the topic of oceans is through establishing a connection between our own lives and the aquatic world. We may not live by the ocean, and we may not be able to travel there often, but we still need to understand that we are connected to these bodies of water. Experiencing the world of oceans is one way of making connections with them and making them part of our own memories.

Six adventure stories

Stories for teens

In our childhood and teen years we often imagine going on long adventures across the sea. This is why stories like Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe and Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson hold a timeless appeal and lend themselves to great adaptations. Other stories about explorers and legendary figures have also become part of our experiences of the sea.

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These stories have become the most vivid memories of the ocean adventures for many of us. As they are available in graded reader editions in our Helbling Young Readers and Helbling Readers Fiction series, you can introduce them in your English classes. They all come with Before Reading and After Reading activities and projects, fascinating artistic illustrations and discussion boxes to assist reading and give the reader the chance to reflect on what they are reading. On e-zone, our educational platform you will also find online activities to give further help with language practice built on the stories.

Stories for Young Readers

In the Helbling Young Readers series we recommend three stories which take you to the oceans. In the story Lola in the Land of Fire written by Rick Sampedro, we learn about the Selk’nam and Yamana tribes, Ferdinand Magellan and how the name of the Tierra del Fuego, ‘the land of Fire’ was born. In Peach Boy, the classic Japanese folk tale retold by Richard Northcott, we go across the sea with Peach Boy (Momotaro in Japanese) to fight the ogres. In Lost on the Coastwritten by Rick and Steve Sampedro, we learn about Rawiri, who helps a baby whale which has been stranded on the shore after an oil spill.

Here is some information about the six readers.

  • Robinson Crusoe, written by Daniel Defoe, illustrated by Arianna Vairo, adapted by Jennifer Gasicogne
    • Helbling Readers Level 2, CEF A1/A2

    Gulliver’s Travelswritten by Jonathan Swift, illustrated by Michele Rocchetti, adapted by Beverley Young

    • Helbling Readers Level 3, CEF A2
  • Treasure Islandwritten by Robert Louis Stevenson, illustrated by Giuseppe Palumbo, adapted by David A. Hill
    • Helbling Readers Level 3, CEF A2
  • Peach Boy, retold by Richard Northcott, illustrated by Elly Nagaoka
    • Helbling Young Readers Level c, Cambridge Young Learners English Starters
  • Lola in the Land of Firewritten by Rick Sampedro, illustrated by Catia Girolametti
    • Helbling Young Readers Level e, Cambridge Young Learners English Movers
  • Lost on the Coast, written by Rick and Steve Sampedro, illustrated by Cristiano Lissoni
    • Helbling Young Readers Level e, Cambridge Young Learners English Movers

Four reading projects

If you would like to explore the world of these strories and their authors, we can also offer you great resources built around them on this blog.

Do you know any other stories about the oceans which you loved as a child or teen? Are there any stories in your culture which talk about the seas? Share them with us in the comments below.

June 1, 2017
by Nora Nagy

Spend time with nature on World Environment Day

Illustration by Lorenzo Sabbatini from the young reader Sam and the Sunflower Seeds. © Helbling Languages

UN World Environment Day is observed on June 5th with lots of inspiring initiatives, educational projects and global involvement. In the long list of important dedicated days this day should be among our priorities, and it’s definitely a topic we should talk about both in and out of the classroom.

If you can, take your students into nature around June 5th or any other time, but if it’s difficult to  manage, you can still take nature into the classroom. Here are some classroom ideas, projects and reading tips for your young learner, teen and adult classes.

Things to do on World Environment Day 

In order to get started, we need to do some language work. Brainstorm words with your students (if they are lower level, use pictures and flashcards). Write the words they come up with on a board, or get them to collect them in groups and then share with the rest of the class.

  • You can find images and videos on the official UN Environment Day website to help you with visualisation.

Then you can list things you can do to enjoy or improve your environment. Some of our ideas are cleaning the school yard, a local park, walking through a green space, having an outdoor picnic.

Project ideas

Does your school, town or region run any projects about the environment? Ask local representatives if they already have active teams. Otherwise you can also take part in global events held to raise awareness of Environment Day by posting a photo or a video on social media. Click on the link below to learn more about this project.

You can also check out the UN World Environment Facebook page.

You can apply for a prize as well in the UN Young Champions of the Earth program. Find out more about this prize and initiative.

The official website introduces this programme with these words:

‘If you have a big idea to protect or restore the environment; if you have a vision for a more sustainable future; if you have a strong track record of instigating change; if you are unafraid of failure; and if you believe in a bright future for our planet, then you just might have what it takes to become a Young Champion of the Earth.

Read stories about the environment

We have a collection of readers which can help you experience different issues connected to the environment.

Young Readers

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Red and Blue Readers for teens and adults

  • Jack’s Endless Summer – written by Martyn Hobbs and illustrated by Lorenzo Sabattini
  • Holly the Eco Warrior – written by Martyn Hobbs and illustrated by Lorenzo Sabattini
  • Operation Osprey – written by David A. Hill and illustrated by
  • Red Water – written by Anoinaette Moses and illustrated by
  • The Albatross – written by Scott Lauder and Walter McGregor and illustrated by
  • Heart of Darkness – written by Joseph Conrad, adapted by … and illustrated by Michele Rochetti

Here is a really inspiring project about the environment form a Turkish teacher and her young students.


May 30, 2017
by Nora Nagy

A talent to thrill – 2 exciting political thrillers

Detective stories, mysteries and thrillers have enjoyed immense popularity in recent years. Just think of Scandinavian thrillers like the Millenium trilogy, or TV series like House of Cards. Many of our teenage students are becoming interested in politics and what is happening in the world around them and start understanding what a fragile and important question social justice is. This is the time to introduce them to investigative fiction, allowing them to develop their critical thinking and analytical skills.

When selecting stories for young adult and adult learners it’s always a good idea to choose something they care about, a story they are familiar with from their the everyday news. We have two political thrillers with universally familar themes of corruption and state secrecy, written by Scott Lauder and Walter McGregor, the two author-friends who also wrote another Helbling Reader, The Albatross. The authors are currently working on an exciting prequel to the two stories in order to complete the trilogy.

The Right Thing and A Single Shot are aimed at young adult and adult learners at an intermediate level (CEF level B1, Cambridge level PET, Trinity levels 5-6). Since they deal with serious topics, they will be challenging and engaging enough for grown-up readers, too. The Right Thing was published in 2016, and A Single Shot has just come out in May 2017.

What are the stories about? 

The Right Thing

When Josh meets Trish and Suzi at their first day of college in London, little do they know that they will soon be swept up into a mystery involving the British and Yolandan governments. Luckily for them, Morrow, a British Security Service agent, takes them under his wing. But by doing so he has to decide what is the right thing to do. What will Morrow’s decision mean for him? Only Control can decide.

A Single Shot

When Lewis Morrow escapes from his captors and a sure death he makes a new life for himself as a taxi driver in Paris. He thinks he has left everything behind until one day he sees three young people he once helped in London. When Josh, Trish and Suzi get into trouble, Morrow needs to decide if he will help them or let the past stay in the past. Find out what he decides in this exciting sequel to The Right Thing.

Some ideas for classroom work and discussions

The setting

The Right Thing is set in London, while in A Single Shot we visit Paris. All through the stories we see an overview of the landscapes of the two cities, passing their most famous landmarks and getting glimpses of the everyday life of Londoners and Parisians. We see how the weather changes what people are doing at certain times of the day as we move through the streets.

If you have students who are more interested in architecture and travelling, ask them to focus on the features of the setting in these stories, collecting examples of what happens at each landmark and how the environment is described.

The plot

The Right Thing is presented in the form of daily events, just like in a diary. A Single Shot is resembles a more traditional narrative, divided into chapters. Both stories have complex plots with lots of details, and they offer good practice in the meaning making potential of narrative tenses.

Ask your students to create a news report about the events. They can start with a day-by-day description of the events, presenting it in a visually meaningful way can make the plot more accessible. For example, ask them to present the events in a calendar format. They can also choose to draw a big map of London and Paris and add the events to the different landmarks.

Political issues

With older or more informed students you can also discuss the evident and underlying political issues that the stories are dealing with. Which countries share a similar history to Yolanda? What are the main problems in these countries?

The illustrations

It’s worth paying some attention to the illustrations in these stories. The illustrator, Arianna Vairo‘s style perfectly matches these exciting stories. You can use the images to create an atmosphere and predict what the stories are going to be about. You can also rely on these full-page illustrations to retell the story, and ask your students to express their feelings invoked by them.

Who are the authors?

Walter McGregor

Scott Lauder

Get to know the authors in an interview they gave us before the publication of the stories, and read the Meet the Authors section at the beginning of each book.

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.