July 11, 2019
by Nora Nagy

Moon Landing 50: “One small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind”

The moon has sparked our imagination since the beginning of time, inspiring poets, philosophers, scientists, explorers and engineers to meditate on and study it in detail. This month, Helbling Readers Blog goes on a trip to the Moon to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing on 20th July 1969. Although the actual mission was carried out by three American astronauts, Neil Armstrong, Edwin E. Aldrin Jr. and Michael Collins, we often refer to the first Moon landing as an achievement for humankind. This idea is reinforced by Neil Armstrong’s famous words, “That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.” (Armstrong and Aldrin actually walked on the moon while Michael Collins waited for them in the spacecraft orbiting the Moon.)

We believe that the Moon and this landmark anniversary can inspire adventurous lessons in the language classroom, and motivate students to carry out small research projects and start reading stories. In this first part of four blog articles, we have collected some resources, books and films to that you can use in class throughout the next year.

Illustration by Vanessa Lovegrove from Paul learns to plan, written by Herbert Puchta and Gavin Biggs for The Thinking Train series. © Helbling Languages

Basic Moon vocabulary

Let’s begin with the origin of the word. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word comes from the Old English mōna, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch maan and German Mond, also to month, from an Indo-European root shared by Latin mensis and Greek mēn ‘month’, and also Latin metiri ‘to measure’ (the moon being used to measure time).

Here are some other important words and phrases related to the moon.

  • lunar
  • eclipse
  • lunar landscape
  • orbit
  • satellite / natural satellite
  • solar system
  • galaxy
  • moonwalker
  • new moon
  • full moon
  • blue moon
  • tide

For more advanced learners, you can introduce words such as:

  • celestial object
  • heavenly body
  • to wax/to wane

Interestingly the term lunatic meaning mad person, orginally meant someone who suffered from temporary insanity depending on the changes of the moon (from the Latin, luna) ,and is now used to describe someone of unsound mind. Lunatic can also be used as an adjective.

Fun phrases

Understanding the origin of the world can lead students to the understanding of phrases related to the moon, such as ‘many moons ago’ and ‘once in a blue moon’.

Other fun expressions with the ‘moon’ are ‘over the moon’ and ‘wish for the moon’.

Learning about the Moon

The Moon provides great research project materials for CLIL lessons. Students interested in Physics, Biology and Chemistry can focus on a scientific aspect, others who are interested in engineering can find information about spacecrafts. Students who are more interested in History, Art, Film, Music and Literature can focus on the historical aspects of Moon exploration and its artistic representations. It is also a good idea to discuss with students the difference between our Moon and the many other (over 190!) moons in our solar system.

Study the NASA website

Invite students to study the rich materials on the NASA Moon webpage. If you scroll down on this page, you will find a short text written in child-friendly language for young learners, which you can use for elementary level learners.

As a general introduction, ask students to study the webpage and find answers to the following questions.

  1. How big is the Moon?
  2. What is its sized compared to the Earth?
  3. How far is it from the Earth right now? Remember, it keeps changing!
  4. Why do we see only one side of the Moon?
  5. Can we breathe on the Moon?
  6. If we travel to the Moon, will we see the footprints of the moonwalkers?
  7. How many human visitors have been to the Moon?
  8. How many people have walked on the Moon?
  9. How many robots have been sent to the Moon?
  10. How was the Moon formed?
  11. How does the Moon help Earth to become more liveable?
  12. How does the Moon create a rhythm on Earth?

Then, ask the students to find more information on the webpage and present their own findings.

The Moon in literature

Three classics

The Moon is a constant source of inspiration for scientists and engineers but also for dreamers, poets, writers and explorers. One of the first stories about the Moon was written in the 2nd century by Lucian, and we can read about it also in Ludovico Ariosto’s epic poem L’Orlando Furioso (1516) by Dante. Somnium, or ‘The Dream’ (1634) written by Kepler is often referred to as one of the first works of science-fiction.

Three early 20th-century classics

Turning to the 20th century, we can find many literary works which feature the Moon, for example The First Man in the Moon (1901) by H.G. Wells, Doctor Dolittle in the Moon (1928) by Hugh Lofting, and Roverandom (1925) by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Three children’s books

We have selected three children’s books which explore the Moon in some way. There are dozens of other magical stories which take us to the Moon, and we are sure that there are many others written in different languages. Goodnight Moon (1947) is a classic written by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Clement Hurd. The Moon Jumpers (1959) was written by Janice May Udry and illustrated by Maurice Sendak. Finally, The Way Back Home (2008) is a charming story by author/illustrator Oliver Jeffers.

The Moon and the Moon landing in films

We also recommend some excellent films about the Moon and the Moon landing. Just to relax, or as a source for classroom activities, we recommend them for teachers and students alike.

The Moon in songs

The Moon has been the subject of and inspiration for numerous songs. Ask your students to create a Moon-themed playlist on their favourite music streaming site. You can play the songs in class or use them as background music for other tasks throughout the year

The next article in our series will tell you more about the Helbling Reader, Moony Goes on Holiday written by Dilys Ross and illustrated by Mario Onnis.

For more ideas and resources, visit one of our previous posts about the Moon exploration:

July 9, 2019
by Nora Nagy

Looking together: word and image interplay in picture books

Picture books are rich resources for language development as well as visual literacy development, regardless of the age of your students. In a previous post we discussed some of the key elements of visual storytelling. Now we turn to the written text and its relationship with the images in the books. Please note, in this post we are focussing on the written text in contrast to the running commentary, oral storytelling or labelling that can also accompany the reading of picture books.

Three layers of text

The picture books in The Thinking Train series have three layers of text. The first one is a narrative, which tells us about what is happening and creates a context for the action: ‘It’s Friday. Charlie’s in the playground with the other children’. In this double page from The bully below, the narrative layer sets the context. The narrative layer may differ in each book, sometimes telling us more about the sequence of events or the feelings of the characters.

The second layer of text is the speech bubbles, which has a communicative function and makes the text more realistic and interactive. It also serves as a model for practising speech for the readers/pupils.

The third layer is the text present in the small orange activity box. On this page below the box says ‘Speak. Are the children happy about Lisa’s party?’ which directs pupils’ attention to specific details, here making them think about the feelings which are not described in the text. The questions in these activity boxes often highlight aspects of the story which can only be understood through a detailed understanding of the images and their relation to the text. This requires slow looking and discussion in the classroom, which leads to excellent learning opportunities plus the development of higher order thinking skills. Let’s turn to two possible ways the image and these texts can interact.

Double page from the reader The bully written by Herbert Puchta and Günter Gerngross. Illustrated by Lorenzo Sabbatini. © Helbling Languages

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July 3, 2019
by Nora Nagy

Holiday reads for teachers

Now that the summer holidays have arrived for most teachers in the northern hemisphere, we asked some of our authors and teachers to share their holiday reading plans with us. After a year full of course books, lesson plans and our students’ writing assignments and projects, it’s time to spend some time on inspirational and relaxing reading, or simply something very different from our usual academic routine.

If you have a good book you think other teachers would be interested in reading, don’t hesitate to it with us!


Janet Borsbey and Ruth Swan

Jane and Ruth adapted Rudyard Kipling’s Kim for the Helbling Reader edition.

“A brilliant read – truly inspirational and full of amazing insights.”

  • Circe (2018) by Madeline Miller

“Completely ‘unputdownable’ until you’ve got to the end and a bit of a weepy too!”

Paul Davenport

Paul is the author the Helbling Readers Princess on the Run and Stubs Grows Up

“Her writing is witty, humorous, fast-paced and realistic, a delight to read – if you don’t mind the grisly details about corpses!”

Robert Campbell

Robert is the author of three Helbling Readers: The Time Capsule, Next Door and The Green Room. He is also co-author of our brand new course book Studio.
“For a good summer read, I’d recommend Sally Rooney’s debut novel ‘Conversations with Friends’ or her most recent novel, ‘Normal People’, which won the Costa Book Award and was named Waterstone’s Book of the Year. Sally Rooney is an Irish writer and her writing is perfect for holiday reading. Also, if you haven’t already read Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, do so now before the film comes out in the autumn.”

Martyn Hobbs

Martyn is the author of the Helbling Readers Graphic Stories Fiction series ‘Westbourne Kids’, which consists of eight engaging titles. He is also co-author of the courses Sure, For Real Plus and For Real with Julia Starr Keddle.

  • Orlando (1928) by Virginia Woolf
  • Twelfth Night & The Tempest by William Shakespeare
  • Anything by Iris Murdoch – for example The Good Apprentice (1985)


Cristina Toledano

Cristina is a teacher in Brazil, who organizes fascinating literature-inspired projects for her students. Read our interview with her here.

Margit Oblak

Margit is a teacher in Austria, and she organizes reading projects to inspire her students to read more. Read our interview with her about her reading events here.

  • A Million Steps (2013) by Kurt Koontz
  • Ich wollte auch mal weg ……. auf den Jakobsweg (2016) by Bruno Schneider

June 25, 2019
by Nora Nagy

Hooked on stories: Interview with Amy Sutton

We have all met inspiring storytellers who can hold the attention of their audience and make listening to a story an exciting and memorable event. They may be family members, or teachers or professional storytellers. One such storyteller is Amy Sutton. You can listen to some of her stories in our resource book for teachers, Story-based Language Teaching written by Jeremy Harmer and Herbert Puchta.

Amy graduated from the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in 2012 and has since worked in Theatre In Education tours across the South, won an Argus Angel in the Brighton Fringe 2013, and led summer workshops at Wakehurst Place Kew Gardens. She is a published and performed playwright. Amy has founded the Bard & Troubadour company with her partner, Joshua Crisp. They create shows for children transforming the world of fairy tales into theatrical events and introducing children to the magical world of the theatre. Currently she lives in Brighton and works on various performances across Southern England.

Read more about Bard & Troubadour on their Facebook page, and then read our interview with Amy about storytelling. She has shared lots of great ideas about the world of storytelling. Then, watch a storytelling session in which she tells the story ‘The Wiseman’.

Amy Sutton

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June 20, 2019
by Nora Nagy

Looking together: visual storytelling in The Thinking Train stories

How do the visual elements in our picture book series, The Thinking Train influence reading experience and meaning-making? Each story in the now 20-book series is fully illustrated; both the images and the words engage the readers, and the interplay of word and image bring the stories together. In our previous post we looked at how these stories support language and thinking development, now we focus on the visual elements in the books. We show you some reading and viewing strategies that will help you open up the meaning potential of the stories even more.

The physical reality of picture books

One of the most important aspects of a picture book is its physical presence. When children are watching films on television, in the cinema or on a tablet/laptop, they have no control over the speed of the story. The focus points are decided for them, and because of the quick changes on screen, the time they have to observe details is also out of their control. With a picture book, they decide the pace and the direction of the experience, stopping to take in a spread or flicking back to look for details on a previous page.

The reading path

When children are reading a picture book, they can decide if they want to start by browsing the book or if they want to follow the conventional reading path in Western culture, and read the book from left to right. Once they start reading the story from beginning to end, they will see double pages with full-page illustrations and a font called ‘leggimi!’, which is easy to read. When readers engage in reading these pages, they have more choice as the reading pathway is not necessarily linear and sequential as in comic books or textual narratives.

So what influences our interaction with these picture book pages? We will look at some simple characteristic of visual narratives to help you interact with these stories more consciously and help your students interacting with them. In this analytical viewing process we turn to the semiotic approach (Kress & van Leeuwen, 1996; Jewitt and Oyama, 1990) to inform our points of exploration.

What’s going on in the picture?

When we look at a double-page, we can quickly establish the theme of the scene. The first thing we notice are the people in the picture, or in other words, the participants. These participants will be in some kind of interaction with each other, and the space around and between them will shape our understanding of their environment. In each double page, you will see that there is some kind of connection between the participants and some kind of relationship between the different parts of the environment, which is expressed through colours, lines or shapes.

→ Viewing tip: Before you start reading the story, spend some time observing the scene and ask students some questions:

  • How many people are there?
  • Are they talking to each other?
  • Are they friends?
  • Where are they?

Double page from the reader “A problem for Prince Percy” written by Herbert Puchta and Günter Gerngross. Illustrated by Andrea Alemanno. © Helbling Languages

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