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!

July 26, 2018
by Nora Nagy

Holiday Reading Challenge

We have an excellent challenge for your holidays (or simply for the rest of the year). Print our sheet, put it on the fridge or keep it in your bag. Click here to download the sheet.

You can also make your own reading challenge. Here are some ideas.

  • Make a reading challenge sheet for your parents.
  • Make one for your best friends.
  • Make one for your teacher (you can do it in class, at the beginning of the year).
  • Make one based on a theme or a historical period (for advanced readers!).
  • Make a reading challenge based on picture books, comic books and graphic novels.
  • Make one based on a genre (only detective, only crime, only love, only adventures).
  • Make a reading challenge based only on film adaptations.
  • And of course, make a reading challenge based on Helbling Readers!

Send us your own reading challenge.

June 29, 2018
by Nora Nagy

Arts & crafts projects for sunny and rainy days

Now that the holidays are here, we need the most playful activities to keep the language your children learnt during the school term alive and help them use the words they have learnt in various contexts.

In our series of readers for young learners (Helbling Young Readers and The Thinking Train) you will find a project at the end of each book. These one-page projects are arts & crafts activities or board games which will help you end the reading sessions in a playful way, connecting the story with your immediate environment and creating something that not only serve as toys but also remind you of different elements of the story. Here are our favourite projects for cooler, rainy days and warmer, sunny days. Some of them will work well inside the house and some you can also take or make outside.

This week we select our favourite projects from the Helbling Young Readers series. You will find each project at the end of the readers or you can download them from the Helbling Young Readers website.


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1 Make a sand bottle

What’s the story?

Anna is very happy. It is a beautiful day. A perfect day for the beach. But Nina is not happy. She is on a boat, far from the beach. This is the story of two little girls, and how a place can mean very different things to different people.

What’s the project?

Follow the instruction to make a sand bottle for your family.

Details of the book:

The Beach, written by Rick Sampedro, illustrated by Agilulfo Russo

2 Make a kite

What’s the story?

Ehud and Elisa like flying kites. One windy day Ehud’s kite goes up and he can’t see it. Ehud is sad. Then it comes down in Elisa’s garden. Elisa gives Ehud his kite and he is happy. But then Ehud and Elisa look at their fathers. Their fathers aren’t friends. They are sad. Can the children think of a way to make everyone happy?

What’s the project?

Follow the instructions to make your own kite, decorate it and fly it!

Details of the book:

The Kite, written by Rick Sampedro, illustrated by Stefano Misesti

3 Make a sunflower picture

What’s the story?

Sam loves visiting his grandad in the country and playing in the sunflower fields. One day, Sam’s grandad gives Sam some sunflower seeds. Sam plants his seeds and he waters them carefully. But the seeds do not grow. Can Grandad help?

What’s the project?

Follow the instructions to make a sunflower picture. Even better if you can also visit some sunflower fields!

Details of the book:

Sam and the Sunflower Seeds, written by Maria Cleary, illustrated by Lorenzo Sabbatini


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1 Make a board game

What’s the story?

Big Goat, Middle Goat and Little Goat are hungry. And there’s lots of grass on the hill on the other side of the bridge. But there’s a mean and nasty troll under the bridge. How can the three goats cross the bridge and eat the grass?

What’s the project?

Follow the instructions to make and play your own board game.

Details of the book:

The Three Goats, retold by Richard Northcott, illustrated by Stefano Misesti

2 Make a toy theatre

What’s the story?

Today Little Red Riding Hood is visiting her grandmother in the forest. In the forest there is a woodcutter and… there’s a big, bad wolf. Be careful, Little Red Riding Hood! What happens when she arrives at Grandmother’s house? And can the woodcutter arrive in time to save the little girl and her grandmother?

What’s the project?

Follow the instructions to make a toy theatre, and then act out a scene from the story. You can download the templates for the theathre from our website.

Details of the book:

Little Red Riding Hood, retold by Richard Northcott, illustrated by Catty Flores

3 Perform ‘Beauty and the Beast’

What’s the story?

When Beauty’s father picks a rose for his daughter he makes the owner of the rosebush, a terrible beast, very angry. In payment for the rose Beauty must leave her family and go to live in the beast’s castle. In time Beauty and the beast become friends. Then one day Beauty’s father falls ill and she returns home to look after him. Does she return to the beast?

What’s the project?

Download the playscript, download the Beast’s mask, follow the instructions and perform the play.

Details of the book:

Beauty and the Beast, retold by Richard Northcott, illustrated by Catty Flores