Young Learners Column - 5 Ways to Use Graded Readers

by Kylie Malinowska

I’ve just recently been asked to present a series of workshops on using graded readers in primary settings. I haven’t planned it all out, and I’m not sure yet what I will do as I have to admit I haven’t used graded readers for a long time. Years in fact.  I used to love using them and so did my students so I’m not sure exactly why I stopped? I think it was a combination of the school library running out of sets I hadn’t already used (because yep, I loved them that much) and perhaps feeling like they were somehow old fashioned and that I should keep up with the times and try using something new to motivate my learners. Like, (and I’m taking a deep breath in as I type this) technology. But there is something really special about holding a book in your hands and flipping through the pages. Tablets and computers are cool and all and useful for many things, but for me there is nothing quite like curling up with a real book, except for maybe that wonderful moment when either your learners are reading in English because they love reading or reading because they love learning English.  Call me old fashioned, but this year, this book lover is planning a trip back to the land of graded readers. If you’d also like to see more books in your learners’ hands, then this issue’s five in a flash is for you.

5 ways to use graded readers in your (primary) classroom

1. Read them aloud

Yes. You read that correctly. Reading aloud to the class. Now I know what you’re thinking, ‘come on Kylie, you said primary, not preschool’. But why stop the joy of being read to just because our learners can now read themselves? Think about all the reasons we read to pre-schoolers. I could quote numerous things to you about promoting oral language and concept development, helping students build a sense of story, supporting syntactic and vocabulary development, increasing a desire to read and motivation to learn English etc. but I’m sure you already know this, and let’s face it, one of the best reasons is because it’s enjoyable. Children of all ages can enjoy and learn from being read to, so why stop when they get to primary age? Huddle them in close, set a predictive task (for example guessing what the story might be about based on the cover, title or pictures) and off you go!

2. Rhymes and chants

When we use graded readers in the primary classroom, one of the things we hope to foster is the development of phonemic awareness. We can help further encourage this by taking key words from the text and together as and class, creating rhymes and chants. Poems, songs, jazz chants and raps would work equally well. Helping learners to notice the sounds of the words and how they link together helps promote literacy skills.

3. Mad libs

Mad libs are great for so many things. They give students a good giggle for a start, but also; personalise the text, make the story memorable, and help learners to increase their metacognitive awareness. What do I mean by using a mad lib with graded readers?

  • Copy an interesting or pivotal part of the story. Or write a summary of the story.
  • Remove some of the key words e.g. nouns, verbs, adjectives, numbers, names. And replace them with numbers. The size of the text and number of words you remove will depend on the age and level of the learners.
  • Give the learners a premade sheet or even some scrap paper and get them to write down their own words e.g. 1) A noun 2) a verb 3) a number 4) a name. You might want to brainstorm as a class before doing this to ensure they know what a noun, verb, adjective etc is. It’s better to give them this list to complete before they see the prepared gapped text as it will make the results more predictable and funnier.
  • Now give the learners the pre-prepared gapped (and numbered) text and ask them to fill in their words.
  • Learners may read their story to the class or hang them around the class for others to walk around and read. Either way they should get a good laugh.
  • For homework you could get learners to write in words that make sense or change verbs to the correct tense etc. or they might like to draw a picture to accompany their version of the story/ part of the story.

Whilst there is nothing there at the time of writing this article, I fully intend to prepare a mad lib to accompany a graded reader for the workshops I’ll be presenting, so if you’re interested, keep an eye on my blog from October 15 onwards.

4. ‘Real’ reading

As I mentioned earlier, curling up in bed with a good book can be a real pleasure. Extensive reading isn’t just something for higher level or older students. Younger students just need some more support. Consider spending the lesson time preparing students by pre-teaching the vocabulary, working on any important grammar or structures they might need for the story, setting the context, teaching them how to deduce meaning from context and reminding them that they don’t need to know every word to enjoy a story. Focus on fully preparing them to read without actually reading in in the lesson. Then tell learners their homework is to curl up on the sofa or bed and just read the story. No questions. No tasks. No need to worry if there are some words they don’t know. Follow up in the next lesson should be quite open with no right or wrong answers e.g. asking them their favourite character, where they read the book (sofa? Bed? Garden?).

5. Story of the month

More often than not primary level coursebooks have ongoing stories featured in each unit and characters which join learners on their journey throughout the year/book. Coursebook writers must be on to something, right? Why not have a graded reader of the month. At the beginning of each month the teacher can do something with the book e.g. read it together in class or prepare learners as above and set it for homework. Throughout each month, readers can be integrated into other classroom activities. E.g. vocabulary can be used for team names during games, characters can be used for example sentences when practicing language, learners can write to characters, do role pays involving characters, use contexts from the story etc. Providing not only variety each month but yet another way to reinforce language and provide opportunities for new contexts.

There are loads of resources online for pre-during and post reading tasks to use with graded readers and extensive support in the form of guidelines and tips and activities from numerous publishers. So what are you waiting for? Turn of those devices (even if just for a moment) and get your learners reading! Graded readers that is 😀

Author’s Bio: Kylie Malinowska is a teacher, trainer, presenter, writer, sleep- deprived mum of twins and coffee addict. She is the Young Learner Advisor and IH CYLT Coordinator for International House World Organisation and currently based in Prague where she also teaches and trains part-time for International House Prague and Akcent College.