The language is graded for vocabulary, complexity of grammar structures and also by the number of words. They are made to cater for all levels from beginners through to advanced.
Many schools use graded readers so find out if your school has some. They can be a great resource if you feel the need to do something a bit different and change the class dynamics.
Why use graded readers
For most language learners, reading a book in English would be a daunting task. They would find too many unknown words and be presented with language way beyond their level which would make understanding the book very difficult. If learners start with graded readers they won't have to stop and look up lots of unknown words in the dictionary. Research has shown that students who read in English improve in every area of language learning at a faster rate than students who don't read. Readers can be an excellent way to motivate your students and they should be a really enjoyable part of the course.
If you have access to class sets of readers they can be an excellent teaching resource. The idea is that every student in the class has a copy of the same reader. How students actually read the book depends on many factors including their age, motivation levels and class time available. If you do have time to make the reading part of the class there are many ways to go about it. Some classes like to read silently, others like to read aloud in small groups and some enjoy being read to by the teacher. However you go about it, be sensitive to the class and ask for their opinions. Reading should be seen as a pleasurable part of the course and not something to be endured. The great thing about reading a book together is that you suddenly have a whole set of characters and a story that everyone is familiar with to use as a basis for class activities.
If your school has a library or a collection of graded readers, you could bring a selection to the class. Students should choose their own book according to their personal preferences. If you have a large selection of books and students are keen to read why not start some sort of reading club? I have recently set up a ‘Bookworm project' with an off-site class and the library consists of a selection of readers which we keep in a shoe box. I rotate the selection on a weekly basis from the school library. Students have a bookmark each and on the front there's space for them to write the titles of the books they've read. On the back they record new words. In the class we have a ‘Bookworm chart' and each student has their own worm they move up the chart each time they finish a book. I've been really surprised at how keen the students have become at reading. One student has flown off the chart and I've had to make an extension as he's read 12 books already. As they finish a book they spend a few minutes telling me about it and I ask them a few simple questions.
Readers can be a starting point for hundreds of different types of project work. Here are a few tried and tested ideas to get you started.
Pre reading activities
Guess the story from the cover
Show the cover to the class and elicit as much vocabulary as you can. Students then guess the story and write short summaries of the imaginary plot. These could be kept until you have read the book to see which one was closest to the real story.
Jumbled chapter titles
Give strips of paper with the chapter titles on to students in pairs or groups. They decide the best order for the chapters and think about the possible story. Compare the answers with the other groups and then look in the book to see who was closest.
Find out about the author
Ask students what they know about the author. Ask students to write some questions about the author that they would like to know the answers too. Then use the internet to search for the answers to the questions. If you don't have access to the internet for the students try to print off some information yourself and have it stuck around the room for the students to skim read and try to find the answers. Try typing the name of the author and the title of the book into a search engine and select the most suitable site for the age group or level. You could also try the site www.biography.com which has over 250,000 concise and clear biographies.
Photocopy the pictures
If the reader has pictures or photos, enlarge these and use them to familiarise the students with the main characters. Students can read the introduction page or the back of the book to guess who is who.
Choose a suitable chapter or chapters that can be broken down into chunks to make a comic strip. Encourage students to be creative with the characters and give them examples of the type of language to put in the speech bubbles. This can also be done when you have finished reading the book.
In groups students select part of the book to make into a radio play. Students are assigned character roles and one is the narrator. Plays can be recorded and listened back to. Encourage students to really get into the roles of the character they are playing. For younger students the tapes of all groups could be listened to and students could vote on the best radio play. If you are into podcasting it would be great to publish their plays on the internet afterwards!
Students become journalists and report on part of the story. Choose a piece of action and students write it up as if it were to be published in a national or local paper. Focus on writing good headlines and prepare the articles in the format of a newspaper story.
If the reader you are using in class has a film version use this to spot the differences in the plot between the book and the film. Ask students whether they want to start with the book or the film. It may be better to start with the book so that students can create their own visual images of the characters. They can then compare their imagined characters with those in the film.
At an appropriate stage in the plot development, students write horoscopes for the characters predicting their future. From what they know so far about their personalities, which star sign do they think they are? At a later stage these can be used to compare against the real events of the book. Did the horoscope prediction come true?
In the characters' shoes
Students role-play an interview with one of the characters. Take a couple of the main characters ‘out' of the book and bring them into the classroom! Assign students the roles of the characters and the rest of the class prepare questions they would like to ask them. The students playing the roles of the characters must try to put themselves in the characters' shoes and give suitable answers. Time and support must be given by the teacher to both the interviewees and the interviewers in order to make this successful. Depending on the book you could imagine that the interviews are taking place in a police station, on a TV chat show or wherever seems appropriate.
Post reading activities
The most obvious post-reading task is a book review. Get students to give the book a star rating from one to five. Before doing this it would help to look at the style and language of book reviews. Have a look on the websites of the publishers of your reader. They have lots of simple book reviews that can be used as models for the students' work. For children's classes take a look at www.kidsreads.com for some ideas.
In teams students prepare questions about the book's plot and character's. Questions would be used in an inter-team quiz to see which group is the most knowledgeable. This may involve students re-reading parts of the book.
All the publishers of graded readers have materials on their websites to accompany the books. Check out the sites for some ready-made downloadable material.
Extensive reading. by Graham Stanley.
Reading aloud, by James Houltby.
Using Readers in the ESL, EFL Classroom, by Lindsay Clandfield with Jo Budden
Cambridge University Press.
Mary Glasgow Magazines.