January 13, 2017
by Nora Nagy

Colour your days and your reading: a literary colour quiz

Do you ever feel blue? Do you easily see the silver lining? Have you ever felt green with envy? Colours convey so many different feelings and meanings that we could easily dedicate a series of lessons to English phrases and idioms which are built around them. It takes only one step to continue our colour journey with other languages to highlight the cultural and linguistic differences in colour and explore the “different semantic distinctions between hues”, an idea that Aneta Pavlenko describes in her paper ‘Bilingualism and Thought’. We will discuss language relativity, this exciting research area of linguistics in our next post, so do come back to find out more about it.

In art and literature colours can signify different emotions, moods, places and people. In our post ‘Colourful journeys’ we looked at colours in general in picture books, novels, poetry and culture. Read this post for more on the basic language and general symbolism of colours.

The middle of January is often said to be the most depressing period of the year in the northern hemisphere, and  the third Monday of January is popularly known as ‘Blue Monday’. But we won’t let the January blues get to us… Today we are going to study examples of  three colours: green, red and black from six of our favourite novels. Let’s add some colour to blue January!

Here’s a tip: Remind your students to watch out for colours when they are reading a novel, listening to a story or watching a film. What do the colours in the story stand for? Do they have any special meaning? Do the readers share the same perception of the colours? Share a dictionary of symbols with them where they can check the historical and cultural references of different colours. Here are two of our favourite reference books:

  • Cirlot, Juan E. A Dictionary of Symbols. New York: Philosophical Library, 1962.
  • Ferber, Michael. A Dictionary of Literary Symbols. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

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Green is a transitional colour which links dark and light colours. In the colour wheel it is a secondary colour, created by mixing the primary colours blue and yellow. Green is the colour of nature, earth, growth and life. It also stands for progress, think of the term giving a project ‘the green light’ and is the sacred colour of Islam, representing respect.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

There is a fun research with interesting charts on the blog ‘Scientific Gems’. You will see that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is on of the children’s novels which has the highest number of references to the colour green. The article mentions that it has plot-related reasons.

What can these be?

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Although the novel is packed with important colour references (gold, blue, white and red are some of the most significant ones), the green light at the end of the novel is probably the most memorable example.

What does it symbolise?


Red, like most colours, is a diverse, ambiguous colour. It is associated with passion and love yet also with danger and anger. Red signifies strong emotions and excites our feelings. In China red is associated with luck and joy and is used as a portent of good fortune during New Year celebrations.

Jane Eyre by Emily Brontë

In this novel Jane often talks about being sent to the red room.

How does she feel about this room?

Red Water by Antoinette Moses

This is an original story written for pre-intermediate level language learners. It has an exciting plot, in which two teen hackers Tricia and Daniel discover that a local company could be involved in a sinister plot to trade carbon, they suddenly find that their lives are in danger.

What do you think ‘red’ means in the title?


Black is a strong colour, often associated with the supernatural, decay and death. For this reason, it is a popular colour in Gothic literature, for example in the stories of Edgar Allan Poe or Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Technically black is the total lack of colour and is traditionally the colour worn by people in mourning.

The Masque of the Red Death in the volume ‘Tales of Mystery’ by Edgar Allan Poe

Although in the title of story you can read the colour ‘red’, which is also significant, the colour ‘black’ appears several times in the story.

As you are reading the short story, find objects it describes.

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

In this dark story you will find more almost 150 words which signify darkness and the lack of clarity, as we learn from the paper by Michael Stubbs which offers a corpus stylistics analysis of the novel.

As you are reading the novel, find examples of words which mean darkness and the lack of clarity.


How many of these colour questions can you answer?

  1. What does ‘darkness’ mean in the title Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad?
  2. Why is the league ‘red-headed’ in Sherlock Holmes story The Red-Headed League by Arthur Conan Doyle?
  3. Why does Anne Shirley live in ‘Green Gables’ in Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery?
  4. Can you name three novels in the Helbling Readers series which have a colour and an animal in their titles?
  5. What colour are Peter Pan’s clothes?
  6. What does the colour ‘green’ refer to in the story The Green Room written by Robert Campbell?

Check out this space and our Facebook page to find the answers to these questions.


  • Kroll, Judith F, and A M. B. Groot. Handbook of Bilingualism: Psycholinguistic Approaches. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.
  • Stubbs, Michael. “Conrad in the Computer: Examples of Quantitative Stylistic Methods.” Language and Literature. 14.1 (2005): 5-24.

January 10, 2017
by Nora Nagy

Inspiring teachers: a reading project from Turkey

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

We would like to share real examples from real teachers to show how small ideas can make great learning projects. When they share their techniques and experiences, we realise that no matter how diverse our world is, our students are interested in similar questions and enjoy doing similar creative tasks.

This month we talk to Manolya Eker, a language teacher at the Adana Gundogdu College, Turkey. When we saw her project built around the Helbling Young Reader Lost on the Coast (written by Rick Sampedro and illustrated by Cristiano Lissoni), we thought it was an excellent example of motivating creativity and reading in the language classroom. Manolya talks about her teaching practices and techniques, and shares great ideas on building projects based on the school curriculum. Continue Reading →

January 5, 2017
by Nora Nagy

Four classic authors to read in January

January is full of great author birthdays, both classic and contemporary. The best way to celebrate our favourite authors is reading their works, and this month we have four classic authors to celebrate in the Helbling Readers Catalogue. These readers are perfect for teens and adults alike, and we recommend them from elementary (Alice in Wonderland) up  to intermediate (CEFR A2 to B1+).

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Jack London: 12 January 1876

Read White Fang and The Call of the Wild. Both stories have been adapted for language learners by David A. Hill, with illustrations by Stefano Fabbri.

We have project ideas for your classroom discussions.

Edgar Allan Poe: 19 January 1809

Read three short stories in our volume of Poe’s classics in Tales of Mystery adapted by Janet Olearski with illustrations by Giuseppe Palumbo.

Use this lesson plan which can be built on the illustrations of the tales:

Virginia Woolf: 25 January 1882

Read To the Lighthouse adapted by Elspeth Rawstron with the illustrations of Francesca Protopapa.

We have a lesson dedicated to Virginia Woolf:

Lewis Carroll: 27 January 1832

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is an all-time favourite of younger and older readers. The Helbling edition was adapted by Jennifer Gascoigne and illustrated by Roberto Tomei.

Choose one of these fascinating projects for your classes:

January 3, 2017
by Nora Nagy

New Reading Habits for a New Year

Book recommendations in SURE Intermediate written by Julia Keddle and Martyn Hobbs. © Helbling Languages

Book recommendations in SURE Intermediate written by Julia Keddle and Martyn Hobbs. © Helbling Languages

2017, a new year with a new beginning and lots of new plans, including plans for reading of course! It is a good time of the year to motivate our students to read more in both English and their first language. Encouraging them by giving some guidance can lead to a more successful and enjoyable reading year. What practices can we follow to get our student to pick up more books and read other texts than their course books?

Here are three very simple approaches to planning your classroom reading in the new year. We believe that letting your students pick from a list of different genres is motivating and gives your students greater ownership of their reading. Letting them choose from a recommended list for the whole class can make it more like a classroom experience plus you can organise book discussions every or every second month.

Here’s a simple tip: let your students choose a short story,  poem, play,  graphic novel, graded reader, original fiction or non-fiction book for every month, but also pick at least one book to read as a class from now until the end of the term. If all goes well, they will have read twelve books of their own choice and at least three books in the classroom reading group by the end of 2017.

The choice of themes you can introduce is endless and setting or finding relevant themes can feel challenging for that very reason. We recommend our general reading planner which gives you an overview of available genres and themes. It also helps you visualise your goals. Use this as a guideline, changing and introducing themes of your own.

Reading planner

1 Read around your course book.

You know your course book and the general interest of your students. Have a look at your contents page to see what topics you are going to cover, and then have a look at our readers catalogue to see which books  fit best with these themes.

2 Read around themes.

Collect twelve interest groups or hobbies with your students, and find themes which match them. For example, you can have themes such as sports, space, nature, animals, detectives, adventure and travel. Then check our catalogue to see what is available for these themes.

You can focus on famous classics and select a few titles to read as a class. The list above is from SURE, the Helbling course book for teen learners.

3 Read around the months.

Each month on our blog we will be reading a book and exploring a theme together. Join us and read with us throughout the year, sharing your thoughts and experiences.

For example, in January we’re reading Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll as we celebrate the author’s birthday at the end of the month. And during January we will be exploring the theme of colours in various stories and language activities.



December 30, 2016
by Nora Nagy

Your 10 Favourite Blog Posts of 2016

As we are wrapping up the year, it’s always nice to look back and see which blog posts you liked the most in 2016. We revisit some of your favourite articles, interviews and lesson plans to inspire you to read and use them again in the new year. We can’t wait to share more great resources in the new year, and we are really looking forward to meeting new people in our interview series. Many thanks for being with us in 2016, and see you in 2017!

1 Six Activities for English Language Day

English Language Day at the United Nations is celebrated on 23 April, the date traditionally observed as the birthday of William Shakespeare (1564). This day is also the day of of Shakespeare’s death (1616), and Saint George’s Day, which is the National Day of England.

Take a break from your usual routine, take a different perspective on the language, and dedicate a fun lesson to learn about the English language. If you think your students are up to some role-play and drama, dedicate a lesson to Shakespeare and drama. For ideas, visit the Green Room, our drama resource collection. We offer six activities to help you get your students to do some research.

2 Hooked on Books: Alan Pulverness on bringing literature into the language class

In this series of interviews we talk to teachers, ELT writers, visual artists and researchers about the importance of using literature in the language classroom. Together they have over a hundred years of experience in teaching and writing so they can definitely give us plenty of advice and insight into the best practices. We talk about the importance and transformation of literary texts in education, we ask for genre and title recommendations as well as personal stories.

In January we talked to Alan Pulverness, Assistant Academic Director at NILE and Course Leader for the NILE TEFL Delta Modules. He is the author of Reading Matters, The Helbling Guide to Using Graded Readers.

3 International Women’s Day Projects and Books Lists

How much do your students know about International Women’s Day? How do they celebrate it? Do they think women should be celebrated? What do they think about gender equality?

Celebrating International Women’s Day (IWD) is probably best done by discussing important issues and learning about inspirational women who fought for women’s rights and inspirational people today who are still fighting for gender equality. Explore these topics with your classes and then choose a classic novel by a female author to celebrate women in March.

4 Transformation Stories and Activities for Your Teen Classes

With the growing number of performances related to Shakespeare this year, it is easy to come across A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Watching this play in my local theatre recently I inevitably started thinking about transformations in literature. I soon realized that many of my favourite literary works are actually transformation stories. Can you name some of your favourite transformation stories? What do the human beings, animals and plants turn into? Why does this transformation happen? Are there any other works which use the same myths? You can read our recommended list of books and language activities which will help your students think, talk, write about transformations in English.

5 Three Transformation Stories and Three Activities for Young Learners

Younger children too are equally fascinated by change and mutation so we recommend three stories with transformations which your young learners will enjoy reading.

6 The Wind in the Willows – enjoy “messing about in boats” this March!

If you have read this children’s classic by Kenneth Grahame, we do not need to convince you to read it with your students. If you have not yet experienced this charming story, you will only need to take a look at its characters to fall in love with them immediately. Kenneth Grahame was born on March 1st in 1859, so let’s celebrate his birthday by reading this classic tale together. Let’s explore this story and take a look at its origins, characters and variety of adaptations, including Andrea Alemanno‘s enchanting illustrations for the Helbling Reader adaptation of the story.

7 Ten Fun Bookish Things to Do on April 23rd, World Book Day

What do you feel when you are surrounded by books? Excitement? Curiosity? A sense of adventure? On April 23rd take a trip to your favourite book place: a bookshop, a library, or your bookshelf in your own home. On this day we can celebrate both paper and digital books. Although for many of us the physical, paper book is still the ‘real thing’, digital books are gaining more and more appreciation and popularity. At the same time, we are still enchanted by the aesthetic and physical aspects of the paper book: the design, the shape, the paper quality, the smell of the pages. Let’s share our love of books then!

8 Find inspiration in writing in a foreign language

How do you feel when you write in English? How does writing in a foreign language change your sense of identity and perspective on the world around you? Many well-known authors have decided over the years to write in a language other than their mother tongue. One of the most recent examples is Jhumpa Lahiri (The Interpreter of MaladiesThe Namesake), an award-winning American author of Indian origin, who has recently published her first novel in Italian. Lahiri’s decision to write in Italian was based on personal choice and the desire for experimentation. Other authors have had numerous other reasons, often political and historical, but one thing is sure: they all created a distinctive style and found inspiration in this strange and challenging  linguistic place.

9 Hooked on Books: Piergiorgio Trevisan on bringing literature into the language classroom

In April we talked to Piergiorgio Trevisan, who has a PhD in linguistics and literature from the University of Udine (Italy). He has taught and written in the area of text analysis, including literary and multimodal texts. In 2014 he obtained a Marie Curie Grant from the European Commission in order to study reading difficulties and their correlation to visual attention. He has recently returned from the University of Sydney, Faculty of Education and Social Work where he worked as a visiting researcher.

10 Hooked on Books: Chris Lima on bringing literature into the language class

In May we talked to Chris Lima. Chris is one of the most active figures in ELT and Literature programs, being a lecturer, researcher and teacher educator as well as the  IATEFL Literature, Media and Cultural Studies SIG Coordinator, the ELT Online Reading Group Project Coordinator and Member of the Advisory Board at Extensive Reading Foundation.