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My favourite book

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Storybooks are a good way to approach topics and introduce vocabulary with young learners. I’ve detailed a few general tips to consider when using a storybook in class. I’ve then used an example of one of my favourite books ‘Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book’ and given ideas on how you could best exploit it with your young learners.

Jo Bertrand


Examples of vocabulary you could introduce:
book shop, library, ghosts, country, encyclopedia, fairy tales, thieves, front cover, page, characters, turn the page, once upon a time, scary, interesting, boring, funny, exciting


  • Incite children to read in both English and in their mother tongue
  • Introduce ‘book’ related vocabulary
  • Personalise the language and provide an opportunity for learners to talk about a subject that they are genuinely interested in

General tips
Before launching into any story spend a little time looking at the front cover picture and title. You’ll be surprised at the benefits of doing this. The children can guess the content of the story. This will not only help them brainstorm ideas about what they may be about to listen to, it will also arouse their interest. They will be drawn into listening to you once you begin reading.

Buying a book
You may not have the luxury of an extended budget from your school; you may have no budget at all. You may have a few storybooks in a school library or in a local bookshop. You will always have on-line bookshops with discounted books though and as a last resort, then why not invest in a couple of favourites of your own. You could always suggest it to your school as they may have only considered the use of text books and may be open to the use of real storybooks in class.

Choosing a book
With young learners the pictures are vital for capturing their interest. So, use the illustrations to guide you. If a book excites you and catches your interest then it is more likely to be a winner – if only because you will be more enthusiastic when you’re reading it. Then remember that repetition makes the language more accessible to language learners. The same applies to native speakers as well which is why classics like The Very Hungry Caterpillar or fairy tales like Goldilocks and the Three bears are so popular with children.

Listening to the story
Make sure everyone is listening before you begin. You should allocate a part of the room for telling stories. If you don’t have the luxury of moving tables, chairs or even children then have at least the ritual of clearing desks and so creating a change in the pace of the lesson. If you don’t have their undivided attention to begin with it will be a hard slog to get their attention while reading and you will spoil the experience for those who are trying to listen when you stop to tell others to listen.

Telling the story
Your voice and body language are vital to getting the message across. Practise in front of a mirror before ‘performing’ your story in front of the class. You need to be clear, find the right pace and know which words you will need to emphasize to help bring the story to life. It’s not good enough to just pick a book of the shelf at random as you walk into class.

Charlie Cook's Favourite Book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

  • You can spend a whole lesson just with the double spread of pictures of Charlie’s books on his bookshelf. Each book has a symbolic image that represents the genre e.g. a ghost for Out of this World, a collection of ghost stories. Or a pirate and ship for Shiver me Timbers or My First Encyclopedia with a series of objects labelled with the first letter. With this picture you could make a poster sized version for the whole class to see. You could Tippex out the titles leaving just the illustrations. The children could then predict what sort of books they are.
  • You could provide them with a few key words such as ‘ghosts’, ‘country’, ‘encyclopedia’, ‘fairy tales’ and ‘thieves’. They then have to match the key word to the book on the shelf.
  • They could then make up their own titles – you could allocate one book to one group if time is an issue, if not it could be interesting to compare the different titles the groups come up with.
    • Once they have the original titles and have a general idea of the content of each of the books you can move onto which one would they want to buy and why? Remember at this stage their choice is only based on part of the cover.
    • You can lead on from this to do a pre-reading class survey. You could photocopy miniatures of this page and they could cut and stick onto the survey poster the book cover they like the best. You can even come back to this activity post-reading and compare to see if opinions have changed.
    • This is an opportunity to teach them book related vocabulary such as book shop, library, front cover, page, characters, turn the page, Once upon a time, adjectives such as scary, interesting, boring, funny, exciting… You could tie in the adjectives when discussing their favourite book. Get them to match the adjective to the book cover. This way you can also check their understanding of the meaning of the words.
  • The front cover of the book, illustrated by Axel Scheffler, shows Charlie sitting, reading a book whilst surrounded by the characters in his favourite books. What’s particularly clever about this cover is that the book that Charlie is reading is in fact the very one you are going to read to the children. Once you have spent some time with the inside double-paged illustration you can then ask the children to match the individual characters to the books on the book shelf.

The illustrations
With storybooks the illustrations are the key to animating the text for the listener. For language learners they are all the more important as they can guide a learner to a better understanding of the language they are listening to.

  • Make sure before you begin to read that the seating is such that all the children can actually see the illustrations. You can slowly turn the book as you read from above. This takes practice.
  • You could photocopy the pages and do a sequencing activity whereby the children have to listen and put the pictures into the correct order. This could be done as a post-reading task too.
  • They could draw their own picture from the book they find the most interesting from Charlie’s collection. This could lead onto telling their partner which book it comes from and why it’s their favourite.

The text

  • Draw their attention to the title and the fact that it rhymes. You could try and think up other words which rhyme with book (hook, cook, look, took).
  • A listening task could be to write down all the words they hear at the end of a sentence that rhyme. They could do this on their own with the first listening and then put any words they have written down onto the board. Compare and find any that rhyme. They can listen again and see if they find any other words which rhyme with their word bank they had previously compiled.
  • The book itself includes an extended range of verbs in the past tense such as ‘curled up’, ‘read’, ‘found’, ‘cried’, ‘went’, ‘told’, ‘shook’, ‘jumped’, ‘built’, ‘chose’, ‘saw’, ‘waved’, ‘stole’, ‘caught’… This is just a selection. You could select a few from throughout the book and get the class to tell you which story they hear the verb in.
  • They could choose a story from the book and as a group write the continuation or end.
  • They can choose their favourite book at home and do a ‘show and tell’. This can actually make up a large proportion of your project. You can teach them language they need to express how they feel about a book they love with a few key adjectives. If you have a large class this could be done in groups. You could find out what sort of book they want to talk about and arrange the groups so that you have a selection of book types. You may find at this age that there are very similar tastes or a split with girls and boys. You could group together like-minded readers and together they decide why they all like that particular type of book. They could even try to write, as a group, a page long short story. This is obviously aimed at the older primary learners.
  • They could learn about different types (genres) of books and complete an updated version of the earlier class chart and see if they all still prefer the same genre of book as before.

The best part about this book is that each character in their individual stories is reading a book, so in essence one character is reading about the next until we eventually work our way back to Charlie. It’s the ghost who’s reading her favourite book… about a cosy armchair and a boy called Charlie Cook. So through this book you are promoting reading in both English and their first language. To quote from The Scotsman it’s 'a glorious celebration of books and reading' and in an English classroom the possibilities are endless.