The Extensive Reading Foundation is a not-for-profit charitable organisation that promotes extensive reading across the globe. Every year they organise the Language Learner Literature Award for graded readers published in the previous year. In 2013 in the Adolescent and Adult: Intermediate category The Green Room written by Robert Campbell and published by Helbling Languages won this award.
Here is a judge’s comment on the book:
‘This is story about adolescents’ conflicts and growing up process. What makes it special is the clever way in which the author interweaves the main plot with the plot of the play-within-the story. This is a well-constructed narrative with a cleverly written plot that develops exploring parallels with Shakespeare’s work.’
We talked to Robert about the book, teaching and the theatre. After the interview you will find a classroom project, worksheets and other lesson ideas you can try with your students.
Helbling Readers Blog (HRB): Hello Robert, first of all, congratulations on winning the ERF Language Learner Literature Award with The Green Room.
Robert Campbell: Thanks. It was a really nice surprise.
HRB: This is the third story you’ve written for Helbling Readers. Would you tell us a little about this story?
Robert: Yes, of course. The Green Room is about four teenagers who spend the summer at a theatre school called ‘The Green Room’. It’s about how we often wish we could be other people, especially when we’re young. Two of the main characters in the story have secrets and spend a lot of the story pretending to be people they’re not. So there are a lot of misunderstandings. And, of course, acting is all about becoming other people. It’s a fun story that touches on some issues that I think are relevant today.
HRB: I understand that you are a theatre person and you also play and write music. Where did you get the idea for this story?
Robert: When I was a teenager I wanted to be an actor and joined the National Youth Theatre which is a famous summer school for young people in London. So the theatre school in The Green Room is based on the NYT although the main characters aren’t based on anyone I know.
HRB: The story nicely introduces us to the whole world of the theatre. Where do you feel more comfortable, behind the scenes or on stage?
Robert: After my time at the NYT, I soon discovered that acting wasn’t for me but I started writing music for the theatre which I found very rewarding. I worked with a lot of writers, directors and actors, and learned a lot. I still love singing and playing the guitar. So as long as I’ve got a guitar in my hands, I feel very at home on the stage.
HRB: Learning a foreign language is a bit like acting. Can you a recommend any drama techniques teachers can use in the classroom?
Robert: I think as teachers we automatically use a lot of drama techniques in the classroom. Every time we ask students to role-play a scene or read a conversation from a course book, we’re asking them to use acting skills. And, of course, the teacher spends a lot of time acting. I remember when I was being interviewed for my first teaching course, I was asked to mime ‘a banana’. That’s when I realised how useful my time at the National Youth Theatre was going to be in the classroom!
HRB: Can you give us any tips on writing a reader?
Robert: If you want to write original fiction then the most important thing is the initial idea. Once you’ve got the idea, you can think about how to construct the story and develop the characters. You always need to remember which level you’re writing for and make sure you can tell your story with the language you have available. It’s tempting to get carried away but I enjoy the challenge of finding ways to express things in a way the reader can understand.
If you don’t want to write fiction, there are other avenues to explore. Factual readers seem to be becoming more popular and then there’s adapting existing works of fiction. I’d like to try that one day.
HRB: Finally, you always come up with exciting ideas for graded readers. What is the next story you would like to write?
Robert: I’ve spent the last few years writing an international secondary course which is being published next year and I haven’t had much time for writing readers. So I’m really looking forward to writing some new readers for Helbling in 2014. I’ve got an idea that I’m very excited about but I’ll have to see if it works before I can tell you about it. One thing is having an idea for a reader in your mind but it’s another thing trying to make it work on the page. Watch this space!
HRB: Thank you for the interview!
Robert: Thank you, Nora. It’s been fun. I’d also like to say thanks to Maria Cleary, the series editor; to Valentina Russello who did the fantastic illustrations for The Green Room; and to Lucia and everyone at Helbling. You’re a great team!