October 19, 2018
by Nora Nagy

The audio experience: young readers, young listeners

Rhymes, chants and songs

If you started learning a second language as a child, it is most likely that you still remember the rhymes and chants you used to practise the alphabet, the parts of the body, or in my case, the steps of making a wooden table in Italian. Children respond to a melody, a rhyme, a chant long before they can speak a language. Babies move, dance, try to mimic and sing along as they assimilate new language. They never seem to get tired of a catchy tune so what better way could there be to remember new words than a song on loop?

From a social perspective, rhymes and chants help us connect with others, form a community and a sense of belonging. From a cognitive viewpoint, they help the development of memory skills and the learning of new sounds through their catchy beat and repetitions. Thinking on terms of psychological benefits, slow, rhythmic chants can have a calming effect, but with powerful words and strong beats they can also empower and energise the speakers. All these aspects of rhythm and chants contribute to their educational benefits as they stay with us from the earliest months of our life and become great resources for langauge learning not only for teens and adults, but also for young learners. Finding the right resources is key in planning lessons for young learners.

Listening to stories

But there’s more to the audio experience than the inclusion of rhymes and chants in the classroom experience. The audio content of readers is an essential part of the storytelling experience, and it can aid not only the teachers, but also the parents if they decide to read to their children in English at home. As Ellis and Brewster point out in their book on storytelling, listening to stories helps children improve their pronunciation, sense of intonation and rhythm. Listening exercises also help with concentration and various aspects of listening skills such as prediction, guessing, hypothesizing.

As Krashen has also written, the content of learning needs to be comprehensible and easy enough to engage the children. We all know that feeling of not understanding something properly which can lead to us becoming anxious and ultimately our attention will start to wander. Well-designed audio recordings with vocabulary which is just challenging enough for learners, will contribute to the success of storytelling lessons.

When students are listening to instructions and stories told by their teachers, they become familiar with a certain voice and pronunciation. When listening to stories and activities recorded for them, children will become familiar with various types of pronunciation through the voices of the children and adults they hear. As they are listening to longer (4-7 minutes) stories, they will improve concentration and meaning-making capabilities. This will help them become familiar with different types of media in real-life communication, where they will combine and understand information coming in through various channels: audio and visual, spoken and written, etc. Training our students’ ears is just as important as training them in writing, speaking, reading and observing.

Another important aspect of the story experience in class is the exercises children do before and after storytime. Most readers include listening exercises which will practise the meaning of the words and their use in context. While listening to the audio will help with developing listening, thinking and comprehension in our students, well-scaffolded exercises will help them to focus on the meaning of words and their pronunciation. As most students are still learning to write well in young learner classes, it is important to do exercises which connect visual images with sounds as well as the written word. You can see an example for this type of activity below.

Listening activity in the young reader ‘The Kite’ written by Rick Sampedro and illustrated by Stefano Misesti. © Helbling Languages

Let’s see now how the range of audio materials in our Young Readers and Thinking Train series can help you teach and consolidate language and pronunciation with your young learners as they include not only rhymes and chants, but also add a dimension of oral storytelling in your lessons.


In each Helbling Young Reader there is a specially written chant to help you introduce, practise and recycle the basic vocabulary and language structures which appear in the story. The chants are recorded using multiple children’s voices, allowing you to teach and practise it chorally in class.

For example, in the reader Little Red Riding Hood, you will find this chant:

A chant from the young reader ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ written by Richard Northcott and illustrated by Catty Flores. © Helbling Languages

Students can practise vocabulary related to the body, the structures ‘You’ve got’ and ‘can + infinitive’. There are two speakers, a young boy and a young girl so the chant sounds more like a dialogue and will invite both boys and girls to join in.

Listen to the chant first, then invite your students to clap and hum along. Point to the parts of the body which you chant about to connect the mind with the movements of the body. You can stop the recording after a verse and repeat the words slowly. If your students find it difficult to follow, you can pre-teach the basic vocabulary with pictures or labelling.


Each story is recorded in full using professional voice actors, The recordings are paced to the level of the children and engaging to create a nice storytime atmosphere.

Listen to this example from the reader The Kite from the Young Readers series:

You can listen to the full recording of the Thinking Train series stories on our educational platform, e-zone. First you need to scractch the access code in the back of the book and then go to e-zone and insert the code here: www.helbling.com/code. You will find a series of classrooms games, the full recording, worksheets and flashcards.


Use the story recording and the exercises to get the students used to hearing other English-speaking voices than yours. These exercises also help them with concentration and pronunciation. Here is an example from the young reader The Kite.

Listening activity in the young reader ‘The Kite’ written by Rick Sampedro and illustrated by Stefano Misesti. © Helbling Languages

If you’d like to have more exercises to use songs, raps and chants in your lessons, check out our resource books:

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Further reading

  • Goh, C. & Taib, Y. (2006). Metacognitive instruction in listening for young learners. ELT Journal, Volume 60, Issue 3, 1 July 2006, Pages 222–232.
  • Ellis, G & Brewster, J. (2002). Tell it again! The New Storytelling Handbook for Primary Teachers. British Council.
  • Field, J. (2008). Listening in the Language Classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Krashen, S.D. (1997). Foreign Language Education. The Easy Way. Language Education Associates.

October 9, 2018
by Nora Nagy

The audio experience: why and how to listen to graded readers

Illustration from The Time Capsule by Robert Campbell, illustrated by Arianna Operamolla. © Helbling Langauges

Have you ever listened to a good story? Most of us will say, ‘yes, of course’, and we will probably think about bedtime storytelling, something we much enjoyed as children. However, there’s another way of listening to stories, and even whole books. Audiobooks give us a similar experience to listening to bedtime stories, but apart from this emotional engagement they also have a series of educational benefits, which are particularly helpful in the language classroom.

Why use audiobooks?

Most graded readers come with audio recordings on a CD or in mp3 format, and some students might forget about them if teachers don’t direct their attention to them. But why are they such useful materials? Firstly, as several research studies indicate, they help reluctant readers with reading as the narration not only scaffolds their learning,  it also creates a special and memorable experience. The narrator’s voice and intepretation of the text helps break the text into chunks, indicating the differences between descriptive passages and dialogues, as well as adding valuable emotional meaning. Secondly, listening to the recordings helps with pronunciation and intonation, and listening activities support text comprehension, vocabulary and pronunciation development.

Some readers are great fans of audiobooks, while some are against it, saying that listening to a book is not the same as reading it. Several articles (Time Health, The CutDaniel Willingham on his blog) defend audiobooks by saying reading them isn’t cheating, they simply provide a different experience of the story.

Indeed, audiobooks create a very different experience from reading a story, and this difference can be important in the language class. Language learners often have different reading and listening proficiency levels, and they rely on different language skills when processing aural and written texts. By finding ways of incorporating the audio in our students’ reading experience, we integrate these key skills thereby making the process more engaging and memorable.

Some practical tips on using the audio recordings

Home and individual reading

1 Relax and listen

Some students will find it comfortable to listen to a story at home. So they can do the simplest thing: just sit back and listen. In adults this might evoke good memories of childhood reading, or they will simply feel satisfied about practising English while relaxing. Teens might find it easy to get started with reading.

2 Listen on the go

Teen and adult learners often commute or spend a lot of time on the move. Why not take advantage of shorter and longer trips and listen to books on the go? It is often easier to listen to an audio book while travelling. We do not recommend asking the students to listen while doing homework or doing something that demands their attention.

3 Listen and write

There are students who keep a learning journal or like taking notes while reading. Why not ask your students to listen to a chapter and then write or record a summary of the plot? They can also write or record a review or their feelings after reading.

4 Stop and repeat

Instead of reading along with the narrator, students can try repeating full sentences.

5 Listen and read

After the first listening (or right from the beginning), students can listen and follow the text. It will help them with the comprehension of difficult words, grammatical structures and pronunciation and spelling.

In-class and group reading

1 Act it out

Short passages are more practical in class. Listen to a dialogue, and then act it out in groups.

2 Listen and visualize

Listen to a short passage and ask the students to write down how they feel about the characters. What are they like? How do they feel?

3 Listen and find the illustration

You can play a short excerpt, and students can find the matching illustration. They can also find and identify the characters and the setting and describe them.

Here is a sample from the original reader Dan and the Village Fête by Richard MacAndrew, illustrated by Giulia Sagramola. Experiment with the three activities above using this sample.

Here you can download the first chapter of the book.

4 Listen and take notes

Play the first two-three minutes of a recording while the students write down as much important information as they can. It is a bit like listening to a radio show or talk.

5 Listen and write questions

Ask the class to listen to the first three minutes and write comprehension check quiz questions for their partners.

Here is a sample from the classic reader Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, illustrated by Valentina Russello. Experiment with activities 4 and 5 using this sample.

Here you can download the first chapter of the book.

Illustration by Valentina Russello from the reader Great Expectations. © Helbling Languages


Exam practice and language practice

In every Helbling Reader there are Before Reading and After Reading activities, which often contain listening exercises. The audio materials come from the story, but you will find exam-style practice and other comprehension and vocabulary development exercises.

The audio in Helbling Readers is available in an audio CD format or in some cases on our educational platform, Helbling e-zone.

Read more about listening and reading on this Blog:

October 2, 2018
by Nora Nagy

Inspiring teachers: group reading radio play 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.

Reading competition in Germany

Our fifth teacher interview takes us to Germany where our colleagues  organized the first Helbling Germany Reading Competition for school grades 5-10. The winning class was Class 6d from Dientzenhofer-Gymnasium in Bamberg with a project on a passage from the Helbling reader The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. We speak to their teacher Gertrud Merz.

Class 6d from Dientzenhofer-Gymnasiums in Bamberg with Gertrud Merz on the right and Brigitte Cleary, headmistress on the left

Details of the competition

The competition was for grades 5-10 students with different sections for grades 5-7 and 8-10. The task was to create an audio recording or a radio play based on a passage or a dialogue from a Helbling Reader (Red and Blue series). This type of project offers an excellent opportunity for group work, reading aloud, dramatization and experimenting with digital literacy skills. The recordings were then evaluated by a team based on previously set criteria:

  • reading quality (voice, stress, rhythm)
  • pronunciation
  • timing (4 minutes for grades 5-7 and 6 minutes for grades 8-10)
  • additional criterion for grades 8-10: creativity/interpretation/originality

If you’re interested in more details, please read the call in German. You can listen to the winning recordings and see the list of winners on our German website (in German).

Different types of reading aloud

Reading aloud is powerful strategy in the language classroom, although it is often mistakenly thought of as a monotonous and dull activity. If you have bad memories of reading aloud, it might be because you were asked to read a text line by line, jumping from student to student, not really paying attention to what is being read. However, if you think about your best childhood memories, it will most likely involve someone reading to you or you reading with someone. In the classroom we can build on such positive experiences and build language practice activities on them. With young learners you can share a Big Book experience and read to your students. With teens and adults you can focus on intonation and pronunciation, allowing your students to become familiar with their own voices. You can also focus on chunks of language within a passage, reflecting on your own reading. Reading like this is an entertaining way of carrying out a syntactic analysis as well as indepth work on word groups. Such close reading of a passage can help the students’ understanding of a text and boost their confidence. You can read about a lot more ideas in our post on reading aloud.

Reading aloud with a twist

The main focus of the reading competition in Germany was reading aloud with the extra benefits of dramatization and group work. Not only did the students work together on a meaningful project, they also recorded their own voices, selected music and reflected on the narrative. Such a project builds on basic reading skills, technical skills, helps with text interpretation, and encourages a playful creativity that comes from text awareness. Every student can find something interesting to do, and even if you have children who are shy about being recorded, they can have other tasks such as selecting music or helping with audio editing or direction.

Now let’s get some first-hand experience and tips from Gertrud. We hope her thoughts will inspire you to do something similar!


How long have you worked as a teacher? What do you like most about this job?

I work at a secondary school. My pupils are 10 to 18 years old, and we prepare them for their ″Abitur″, which is the school leaving exam. Unfortunately, our curriculum is extremely tight, and the number of lessons is continually reduced. But I enjoy doing smaller projects with my English and geography classes which are motivated and eager to learn. Due to the above-mentioned circumstances we have to do projects in the pupils’ and my spare time.

How do you integrate reading longer texts in your teaching?

The pupils read some chapters in class, some at home and if we have to speed up a literature project, we listen to the CD, which comes along with the Helbling Readers.

How long did it take you to prepare the radio play? How many students took part in this project? What steps did you follow?

The project took us about four weeks and almost everybody had to read a bit. That’s why Dorothy’s voice is not always the same. We proceeded like this: First, we listened to the CD, then we read the chapter, afterwards we practised reading in order to get the pronunciation right and finally we did the recording.

How did you manage the recording? Do you need to be media-savvy to manage this project? 

I used the ″Garage Band″ app which is on my iPad. Teachers who are more media-savvy would have managed to do the recording more quickly, but even I learnt it (the hard way). I spent many hours on sound effects, volume, the elimination of unnecessary breaks or disturbing background noise, etc. to get a passable result. In hindsight, it was not too difficult, though. Only sometimes did I slightly feel inclined to scream out loud, for example when I had deleted the correct version instead of the wrong one.

How did the students react to the idea of the project?

They love being recorded and they even suggested repeating one scene four or five times because they had made a mistake. They were even angry with themselves when they got into a muddle. Surprise, surprise, they wanted the recording to be as good as possible. Strangely enough, they never grumbled when I told them to improve on this or that and they followed my advice willingly. When they have to read in class or in their textbooks they do not come up with such a degree of motivation. So there must be something magic about an iPad, and after years of teaching one still can experience miracles. (Nevertheless, I have to admit that I hated being recorded when I was their age and I still run for miles when I have to listen to my own voice.)

What are the main benefits of such a project?

It’s highly motivating for a class as well as the teacher and pupils. The students learn phrases as they have to do one recording again and again. As we had to do the project in our spare time, we also got to know each other a little bit better, which is a positive side effect that cannot be underestimated in the always hectic daily routine of our school day.

Can you give some tips to other teachers who might be considering doing something similar?

If you do not have loads of time on your hand, don’t do it. It is a time-consuming activity, but I think well worth it.

We think that reading aloud is an excellent way to develop language skills. How often do you use this technique?

I use it very often. When I was a trainee teacher an experienced English teacher, who was about to retire, told me: ″Our kids can learn thousands and thousands of words after they have left school, but what they definitely have to learn at school is pronunciation. This is very hard to correct once it is wrong.″ I totally agree with him, although thanks to the internet and electronic dictionaries it has become much easier to learn proper pronunciation.

Are you planning another project this year? 

Time will see, the problem is the increasing amount of bureaucracy.

Many thanks for the interview!

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!