Saturday, December 14, 2019

Great Reading Materials for Low Level English Students- Graded Readers - What Every ESL / EAL Teacher Should Know


This little known genre of literature is an amazing tool for learning a language (not just English- they exist in many languages) that I believe all EAL/EAL /TESOL/TEFL teachers should know about.

As I mentioned in Post 1 of my recent blog post series, I have become a huge fan of Graded Readers, especially those geared to middle school age students (Grade 6-8) (roughly age 10-14 years old).


Because after using them to teach English in many courses, both in International Schools and private language learning centers and as a tutor, I have seen how effective they are for teaching English.

Graded Readers provide a springboard into the language and an easy, engaging and memorable way to develop language skills in all areas (vocabulary building, reading comprehension and inferencing skills, listening, speaking, writing competencies).

I often hear ' oh, you mean 'leveled readers', but in fact I believe that Graded Readers have a few significant differences. Levelled readers are also very useful and good, but are usually geared to young, elementary age native language speakers, while you can find Graded Readers for all ages of learners.

Graded Readers are simplified versions of classic or popular stories that have widespread appeal. They are satisfying to read since they are a 'whole story' and not a made up one to reinforce a grammar point or sentence pattern. The Stories chosen usually resonate well with a wide range of people of a particular age. A good story is powerful.

There are Graded Readers for all ages and levels of language learners (not just learners of English; this genre of Graded Reader can be found for many languages around the globe).

This means that a tween or teen with low levels of English (or an adult) can find stories to read that will interest them, published in attractive books with illustrations appropriate for older learners.

No student in Grade 6-8 wants to read (or be seen reading ) a book for a Grade 2 kid, even if that is their actual language level. Graded Readers provide students who are reluctant or have low English levels a chance to participate equitably in class, or school wide reading events (read-ins or readathons), and improve their language skills at their own pace.

They are excellent ways to differentiate in the classroom since all students can read a book on the same topic or title;  the more advanced students can read the original version of a story (or a Graded Reader at a higher level) and lower level students have a chance to understand the story and learn significantly too, using a lower level reader (e.g. Sherlock Holmes stories, Anne of Green Gables, or The Secret Garden, or Shakespeare's MacBeth or Romeo and Juliette).

My favorite for teaching, either classroom teaching or tutoring, are Blackcat Cedeb, a company based in Italy.

The 'extras' that come with Graded Readers can really make a difference in a lesson. The ready made play scripts, the audio recordings with actors speaking in different accents with a few extra sound effects work well to mezmerize the students and engage them in the stories. The ready made tests (exit tests and end of story quizzes) make lesson planning very easy.

The 'Dossiers' (non-fiction articles) in every Graded Reader are excellent for supplementary lesson material and discussion topics and the style of questions and tasks prepare the students well for international tests that require making inferences from pictures and images as well as typical reading comprehension test questions. The writing tasks are also in line with the kind of short writing required on many international tests (e.g. Checkpoint exams, preparing for writing using different text types for Summative in IB schools).

Rob Waring has compiled very useful lists and charts for comparing and finding out about the 33+ publishers that make Graded Readers for different age learners. - this is his chat for Teen and adult Graded Readers at all levels of learning.
Thank you Rob! I have found his charts and lists invaluable for finding new series of Graded Readers.

 The Graded Readers that I like best are the Green Apple and Reading and Training and Drama imprints published by Blackcat-Cideb (an Italian company). They are beautifully designed and work equally well for classroom teaching or independent study. Some are a bit better than others, so that is why I only listed my top pics on the Part 1 post, not their entire catalog!

But take a look at the breadth and depth of Graded Readers that Blackcat-Cedeb has on offer, and decide for yourself!

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Top Picks for Engaging Reading Materialsl for Middle School Age Students with Low Levels of English- Part 1

After a long hiatus while I had a child (he is 6 and a half years old now!), settled into teaching (this time in China) I'm back on the blogging scene!

Part one of a Multi- Post Series of Articles:

Engaging Reading Materials for Middle School Age Students with Low Levels of English

This post is a cumulative review of the best sources of reading materials for middle school age students  (Grade 6 to 8) with low levels of English that I have found over the last 10 years of teaching in Chile and China.

Evaluation criteria

  1. Engaging Stories - stories that have proven to be interesting to boys and girls of this age (age 10 to 14)
  2. Language Appropriate - for those with an ability that falls in the range on the CEFR scale of high A1 to A2 level students  (info on CEFR- Common European Framework for Reference for Languages at; or look at Shannon Kennedy's simplified explanation here ); or, to look at it another way, language suitable for students with Lexile score of between 250 and 800 
  3. Well designed books in terms of being useful for teaching (vocabulary learning activities and guided reading questions at the beginning and end of chapters, activities for developing listening, speaking, writing, grammar competencies as well as building reading comprehension skills; inclusion of non-fiction author bios and articles on topics related to the story or historic era).
  4. Appealing illustrations -  appealing to Grade 6-8 students
  5. Not too long (appropriate length for different levels of learners, not full length novels)


High A1- Low A2

“The Red Circle” Sherlock Holmes -Graded Reader (Cideb- Blackcat); ISBN 978-88-530-09500

Poems byShel Silverstein(A Light in the Attic); ISBN 9780061905858

Creation mythsfrom around the world

o  Leeming, David Adams; Leeming, Margaret Adams (1994). Encyclopedia of Creation Myths (2nd ed.). ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-0-87436-739-3.
o  Leeming, David Adams; Leeming, Margaret Adams (2009). A Dictionary of Creation Myths (Oxford Reference Online ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-510275-8.
(Wikipedia has a good list based on these sources)
“StoryCentral 5” & 6 MacMillan Press -graphic novel style reader, student book, workbook, teacher book ; series ISBN 978-0-230-45198-8

High A2
    William Shakespeare: Scenes from the life of the World’s Greatest Writer by Mick Manning (Graphic novel) ISBN 978-184-780-7595

 “The Call of the Wild” Cideb- Blackcat Green Apple series Step 2)978-88-7754-859-7
King Arthur and his Knights” Cideb- Blackcat Green Apple series Step 2)
Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn” Cideb- Blackcat Green Apple series Step 2)

Greek Myths
Jason and the Argonauts” (Cideb Blackcat Green Apple) (G6)
 “The Classics: Greek Myths Stories of Sun, Stone and Sea”) by Sally Pomme Clayton and Jane Ray (Grade 6 )  See also: Mr. Donn’s Myths – myths and legends told in casual, easy English (informal register) (Grade 6- 7)

Legends of the British Isles” Cideb- Blackcat Green Apple series Step 2) 978-88-530-0618-9

Robin Hood“ Cideb- Blackcat Green Apple series Step 2)

“BlackHeart” Cideb- Blackcat Green Apple series Step 2)

     Romeo and Juliet” (Grade 7+) Cideb- Blackcat Green Apple series Step 2)
      Macbeth”- (graphic novel style) (Grade 7-8) Cideb- Blackcat Drama series Step 2)

      High A2 Novels and Non-Fiction

Books by Michael Morpurgo:
The Island Tales
(includes“The Wreck of the Zanzibar” – short story; 
Why the Whales Came”  -novella) – lovely, MYP appropriate sketch illustrations in this particular book ISBN 978-1-4052-67-95-3 – **warning some of the covers for this book 
are too ‘little kiddish’ and lack illustrations; middle schoolers will turn up their noses at them)

Butterfly Lion” by Michael Morgurgo-short novel (125 pages);has detailed sketch illustrations amidst the text ISBN 9780006751038

Sci-Fi Story by Katerine Paterson-“The Last Dog” (Grade 7)  science fiction short story- has many scientific words but the plot is fairly easy to understand- free pdf workbook
that has nice illustrations and guided questions and vocabulary pull-outs

NON-FICTION RESOURCES-  A1- A2 (and higher +)

“The Rabbit Proof Fence” (High A2)by Doris Pilkington Garimara (Oxford Bookworms Graded Reader) ISBN 9780194791441

Dossiers in all of the Graded Readers (non-fiction background articles and author bios) 

Articles in (Grade 1 + articles and so A1 +)

Articles with lessons- (Level 1 and Level 2 articles, and so, A1+) (paid subscription- has differentiated articles -Lexile 250-940; and so, suitable for A2+)

More Related to this Topic

Graded Reader Publisher Lists (by target age group, by genre) and Comparisons- fabulous compilations of by Rob Waring (there are a number of Teen and Adult series of graded readers)

** a local Guangzhou distributer of Cideb-Blackcat Readers is 4kidsbooks DOTorg, in Guangzhou, China

Stay Tuned for an upcoming post on Reading Resources that have proven to engage B1 - C2 level learners (Intermedite, high intermediate to 'bridge" level, near native English speaker level students in Middle School)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Good Pronunciation Symbol Chart With Audio and Animation For Teaching English Sounds

I started teaching a pronunciation and intonation workshop at the local public library and quickly discovered I needed some pronunciation symbols to help teach my students what each symbol sounded like. It is so difficult for ESL students to know how to say the different vowels and vowel combinations in our vast assortment of words.

It was hard to find what I really wanted since pronunciation symbol charts don't really cut it on their own.

A chart with symbols and sample words doesn't really help someone who has never heard, or cannot remember how to say the sample word in English. The symbols used in a lot of dictionaries (phonetic symbols, rather than phonemic symbols) often confuse my students since they don't know how to pronounce the vowels in the first place from one word to the next. And the American versus British variations on pronunciation, which are depicted using different vowel phonetic symbols ( sounds in speech)  is simply too much to add on top of this.

This is why I like to stick to the international symbols. These translate well to the sounds that occur in all languages in the world, functioning like a rosetta stone.

And so my hunt for pronunciation symbol charts with audio clips began. Below are my suggestions for the best ones I have found to date.


- the international sound symbols shown in a chart that was nicely laid out, and easy to read

- example words in English and possibly another language to help learners remember the sound
in a word context

- audio clips of how to say the sound

- instructions (preferably animated images) about how to make the sound- including descriptions of showing how to position your tongue and lips and mouth to make the sounds


 1. English Cafe / University of Iowa

Pronunciation tool embedded on this site ( University of Iowa webtool) 

English Cafe homepage

This chart on this page shows the consonant and vowel symbols- the international symbols and a sample word below.

Scroll down to see a tool that shows you - visually, with animation - how to say the sounds.
(animated model showing a cross section of a person’s mouth when making the sounds, so you can see the way to position the tongue and lips in real time).

Don't let the scary linguist terms on the menu bar scare you off. 

Just click on the pink menu tabs (any word),  and then click on a symbol in the main part of the page below and watch what happens; you will quickly figure it all out.

How To Use This Site/ Tool in Detail:

1. Scroll over a word (fricative, liquid, nasal, etc).
2. Click on a symbol ( the thing between the /slashes /) that shows up in the white space to the bottom left below.
3. Watch the animations of the mouth and the video clip of the woman saying the sound.
4. click on each example word to hear it pronounced

Since the tool uses the proper names of the phonemic sounds ( fricative, nasal, dipthongs, monothongs, etc) it would be intimidating, but since it the diagram and letters look like something you can click on, and they are , it is fairly easy to navigate. It would be best to use it 'live' in class to show people how to use it.