Oxford Read and Discover Series

by Hazel Geatches, OUP - Reviewed by Jennifer Hillhouse, IH Torres Vedras

A lot of my childhood was spent in the local library, sitting on the floor with a stack of books, working my way with increasing speed through everything I could find.  Very little has changed, I am and forever hope to be a voracious reader.  As a VYL and YL teacher I have spent a lot of time thinking about how to encourage my learners to develop the same passion and fascination for reading that I have myself.  More than ‘just’ helping children to improve their literacy skills, I want my learners to genuinely enjoy what they read – I want them to love it. As such, I was interested to see what the Oxford Read and Discover series of graded readers had to offer.

Edited by Hazel Geatches, this non-fiction series is suitable for children aged six and older.  There are six levels and a wide range of topics which have been grouped into three main areas: science and technology, the natural world and art and social studies. They are designed to be used for both cross-curricular work and CLIL, to help children develop not only their reading skills, but also their writing, listening, speaking and critical thinking skills, not to mention developing their knowledge and understanding of the world at the same time.

In addition to the text itself, each Reader includes activity pages for each chapter, as well as project ideas to extend the topic further.  Activities include mind maps, gap fills, wordsearches, charts, crosswords, cryptic codes to decipher and many many more.  Levels 1 to 4 have a picture dictionary at the back whilst levels 5 and 6 have a glossary with simple definitions.  There is an Audio CD available with both American and British English, and if there wasn’t enough in the Reader itself, there is also an Activity Book with additional practice and consolidation activities.  There is a comprehensive online Teacher’s Handbook packed full of useful ideas and suggestions as to how the Readers can be used in a variety of ways.  It includes a very useful Contents Summary for all levels, detailing grammar, topics and curriculum areas covered in each Reader.  Many of the Readers refer to different places all around the world.  The Handbook provides a blank photocopiable world map so learners can find the places that are mentioned.  I really liked the idea that children could also use their map to record the information that they’ve learnt about different places and that this in turn could form the basis for posters, displays and presentations.

Each Reader is divided into chapters with clear headings.  The text is accompanied by diagrams and fact boxes, as well as gorgeous photos and illustrations.  In Amazing Minibeasts (Level 3), I learnt what the differences were between Arthropods, Mollusks and Annelids.  Fact boxes told me that crickets have ears on their front legs, as well as how many wasps I could find in a wasp’s nest. A lifetime of loving The Very Hungry Caterpillar meant I was already au fait with the Life Cycle of a Butterfly, but I liked the diagram.  I won’t say anything about the illustrations, except to strongly recommend that if, like me, you happen to be terrified of spiders, then it might be wise to avoid the wolf spider on page 18.  Thorax, abdomen and exoskeleton are not usually found in a standard EFL YL Body Parts unit, but they are exactly the type of words that any child who likes insects will love learning and being able to read and say.

Readers are great when you’re working with an individual student.  Working with a class, you can choose one Reader for the whole group, or you can encourage and allow your students to read independently, in class and at home.  However, this can be really challenging to incorporate into an already packed syllabus.  If you’re lucky, then your school will have a lovely library and this series would be an excellent addition for younger learners.  However, you may not be working in a school which has those kinds of resources and parents may not be able to afford to buy Readers on top of coursebooks and activity books.

In conclusion therefore, this series of Readers is full of potential.  As well as developing their skills, learners will hopefully also ‘Discover’ a passion for reading, as well as learning more and more about the world they live in.  There’s something for everyone, especially if, like many children, you are fascinated by animals and science.  I’m now contemplating a minibeast homework hunt.  If they promise not to bring in a spider, we could even build a zoo.