"Graded readers (also known as easy readers) are books written at different levels of difficulty, usually on a scale of 1 to 6/7, where 1 is easiest and 6/7 is most difficult.(...) Hundreds of graded readers exist on a wide variety of topics and different levels of difficulty. Graded readers are normally divided into three main categories: Original texts, factual texts and simplified classics."
Topic/Subject area: Text types
Author: Ion Drew, University of Stavanger
Competence aims in K06
Graded Readers relates to the basic skill of ‘Being able to read’ in English in the K06 curriculum. They also relate to the following competence aims in ‘Language learning’, ‘Communication’ and ‘Culture, society and literature’.
After grade 7:
- Describe their own work in learning English (Language learning)
- Read and understand texts of varying lengths and in various genres (Communication)
- Use listening, speaking, readingg and writing strategies that are suitable for the purpose (Communication)
- Write texts that narrate, describe or give messages (Communication)
- Read and talk about English-language literature for children and young people from various media and genres, including prose and poetry (Culture, society and literature).
- Compare characters and content in a selection of children’s books written in English (Culture, society and literature).
- Express himself/herself creatively, inspired by English literature from various genres and media (Culture, society and literature).
After grade 10:
Describe and assess his/her own work in learning English (language learning)
Read and understand texts of different lengths and genres (Communication)
Understand spoken and written texts on a variety of topics (Communication)
Select listening, reading and writing strategies adapted to the purpose and situation (Communication)
Read and discuss a representative selection of literary texts from the genres poetry, short stories, novels, and drama from the English-speaking world (Culture, society and literature)
Prepare and discuss his/her own oral and written texts inspired by literature and art (Culture, society and literature)
Describe theme and composition in texts and visual expressions (Culture, society and literature)
What are Graded Readers?
Graded readers (also known as easy readers) are books written at different levels of difficulty, usually on a scale of 1 to 6/7, where 1 is easiest and 6/7 is most difficult. In some cases other levels are used. At the lower levels especially, the books are usually well-illustrated. Graded readers are produced by a number of publishers, including the leading publishers of English-language teaching materials, such as Oxford University Press, Cambridge, Longman (Pearson) (see Resources). They are also produced by some Norwegian publishers, for example Det Norske Samlaget and Damm Cappelen. Hundreds of graded readers exist on a wide variety of topics and different levels of difficulty.
Graded readers are normally divided into three main categories:
- Original texts, namely texts that have been written especially as a graded reader and in no other form.
- Factual texts, namely texts written as graded readers on topics such as The World Cup, The Titanic, New York, Solskjær and Marilyn Monroe.
- Simplified classics, namely works of literature, such as Oliver Twist, that have been simplified, yet contain the essence of the original plot and characters.
Day and Bamford (1998), in their book on extensive reading in the second language classroom, stress the importance of graded readers, which they term ‘language learner literature’, as a means of increasing reading fluency and motivation among second language learners. They point out that learners should not be confronted with too many unfamiliar words on any given page of a book, as this is likely to be demotivating. The language should be suited to the individual’s level, which is also an important Vygotskian principle with regard to language acquisition.
Using graded readers incorporates a number of teaching objectives, which may be summed up as follows:
- Promoting reading skills and reading fluency
- Increasing motivation and confidence in using English
- Providing differentiated reading material
- Stimulating reading pleasure through self-chosen texts
- Exposing pupils to different genres
- Acquiring the forms of language and vocabulary
- Using readers as a platform for oral and written activities
A number of publishers, including the following, produce easy readers. One may visit their websites to find out about the range of readers they offer:
Oxford University Press (OUP)
OUP have several series of graded readers. The following titles are examples from the series called Oxford Progressive English Readers:
Peter Pan (Starter)
Treasure Island (grade 1)
The Jungle Book (grade 2)
The Missing Scientist (grade 3)
A Night of Terror and Other Strange Tales (grade 4)
Kidnapped (grade 5)
Cambridge University Press (CUP) (http://www.cambridge.org/elt/catalogue/catalogue.asp?cid=5)
CUP also have different series of graded readers. The following titles are examples from the series called Cambridge Storybooks for young learners:
Looking for Dragons (level 1)
The Gingerbread Man (level 2)
The Flying Football (level 3)
Snow in the Kitchen (level 4)
The following examples are taken from the Penguin Readers series:
Billy and the Queen (Easystarts)
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (level 1)
The Amazon Rainforest (level 2)
The Beatles (level 3)
Cinderella Man (level 4)
British and American Short Stories (level 5)
Anna Karenina (level 6)
In Norway, Det Norske Samlaget has produced Read Me!, eight easy readers at three levels of difficulty, and primarily intended for grades 5 to 7. Read Me! comes as a complete package with a Teacher’s Guide (including a number of tasks for each book and common tasks for all the books), a sound recording of each book, and a website with additional tasks. (http://www.samlaget.no/reform06)
The titles are:
The Kind Lion
The Viking Family
The Old Man and the Sea
Solskjær: A Football legend
The Swan Knight
In addition, Damm Cappelen have produced Damm’s Galaxy, a series of easy readers on levels 1 to 6 for primary school. Each level has 6 to 16 books, which come in a handy box.
Some primary schools in Norway are using the Australian Wings series of books (Era publications), which have been written for learners of English as a mother tongue. The books comprise 290 titles over 26 levels. They are well-illustrated graded books with relatively little text on each page, especially at the lower levels. The association between pictures and text is important for helping pupils to understand and internalise language. (http://www.erapublications.com)
The Extensive Reading website (http://extensivereading.net) is a mine of information about extensive reading, including graded readers. It provides guidelines about starting extensive reading programmes, articles about extensive reading, and references to graded reading materials.
Another useful website is that of the ESL Graded Readers:
Drew and Sørheim’s (2009) book English Teaching Strategies ( 2nd edition) (Det Norske Samlaget) contains chapters on developing reading and writing skills and integrating oral and written language. There are sections on what pupils can read, individual and class reading, and an example of how a specific graded reader can be used during the process of reading.
Day and Bamford’s (1998) book Extensive Reading in the Second Language Classroom (Cambridge University Press) contains chapters on why it is important to read extensively in a foreign language, what kinds of materials are suitable for learners to read, a discussion of what comprises ‘authentic’ reading, and ideas about how to implement extensive reading programmes.
Finally, Bamford and Day’s (2004) book Extensive Reading Activities for Teaching Language (Cambridge) provides an overview of activities linked to extensive reading, for example activities that motivate and support reading, oral reading reports, drama and role play, written reading reports, creative writing, and developing awareness in reading.
Drew, I., Skjærpe I.H. and Strand Rangnes, B. 2009. Read Me! Oslo: Det Norske Samlaget.
Drew, I., and Skjærpe I.H. 2009. Read Me! Teacher’s Guide. Oslo: Det Norske Samlaget.
Elley, Warwick B. and Francis Mangubhai. 1983. ‘The impact of reading on second language learning.’ Reading Research Quarterly, X1X/1: 53-67.
Hafiz, F.M. and Tudor, I. 1989. ‘Extensive reading and the development of language skills.’ ELT Journal 43, 4 – 11.
Swaffer, J.K. 1985. ‘Reading authentic texts in a foreign language: a cognitive model.’ The Modern Language Journal, 69/1, 15-34.
The basic prerequisite for using graded readers in foreign language education is that a school has a good supply of them. Their cost is much lower than regular textbooks, which means that investing in, say, 100 different easy readers would probably not cost more than 5000 kroner. The investment would be an extremely good one!
Plan of lessons
Easy readers may be used in two basic ways: as a shared reading experience or as an individual reading experience.
The teacher chooses a suitable easy reader that he/she thinks will appeal to the class for reading aloud and goes through the following sequence, which is likely to take 2-4 lessons.
The teacher mentions the title, shows the picture on the front cover and reads out the blurb on the back. Pupils are encouraged to comment on what they think the book is about. What do they think will happen? Can they guess any words that will appear in the book? The teacher can write both predictions and words on the board.
After reading part of the book the teacher stops to check on the pupils’ predictions for what they thought would happen. Were their predictions correct? Does the book actually contain any of the vocabulary they predicted? Pupils are invited to make further predictions, which can once more be written on the board.
After the teacher has finished reading the book, a range of post-reading activities is possible as a follow-up. Oral activities could include role-plays or dramatisations of scenes from the book, or an interview with one of the characters. Written activities could include writing a different ending to the story, writing a letter to the author or describing one of the characters.
The teacher displays at least as many books as pupils in the class, preferably more. He/she can point out that the front picture, the blurb on the back and the Table of Contents give a good indication of what the book is about. The system of how books are graded should also be pointed out. Pupils should not be encouraged to read books in which there are too many unfamiliar words per page. However, there is no reason why they should not read books that are ‘too easy’, as long as pupils find them interesting. The teacher can comment on some of the books, and show examples of books at different levels of ability.
Each pupil chooses a book and reads it silently. When they finish a book they can choose a new one.
Debriefing and evaluation
There are many ways pupils can evaluate their experiences of reading graded readers. One is to write a log of each book they read, which can for example be used in the Dossier of the European Language Portfolio. Furthermore, logs can be read by teachers, who can respond to them in writing. Bamford and Day (2004) include a number of evaluative reading activities, for example activities that measure the impact of extensive reading on reading rates, activities that test language proficiency, and activities where pupils share new words they have learned. This book is highly recommended. Furthermore, the Teacher’s guide connected to the Read Me! series of graded readers also contains a number of evaluative reading activities (Drew and Skjærpe 2009). In the following example, pupils are asked to write a book report:
When did you read the book?
Write a few sentences about what the book is about.
Did you like the book?
Write a few sentences about why you liked it or didn’t like it.
What did the book make you think about?
How difficult was the book? very easy | okay | very difficult
Which new words did you learn?
Any other comments?
Follow up activities
A number of oral and written follow-up activities have already been mentioned under post-reading in the Shared reading section. However, even when reading individually, there are a number of ways pupils can follow-up their reading. For lower secondary pupils especially, the possibility exists for pupils to share their reading with each other. After pupils have read a book, they can form groups of three to four. Each pupil tells the others what they have been reading. Hopefully this will spark off dialogue between the members of the group. If, for example, a pupil talks about a crime story he/she has been reading, another pupil may be inspired to talk about a different crime story he/she has read, or seen in a film or TV programme. An open written activity is for pupils to write whatever the book inspires them to write. For example, if pupils read a book about London, they may want to write about a time they visited London or another big city. If they read an adventure story, they may want to write their own adventure story, and so on.
Bamford and Day’s (2004) book Extensive Reading Activities for Teaching Language contains numerous activities of different kinds that may be used as a follow-up to pupils reading individually. Some of these are different kinds of book reports or evaluations, while many others involve pupils interacting orally with each other.
The following example is called Reading partners (Bamford and Day 2004: 49-50):
Students are paired with a classmate with whom they can plan and discuss reading. The aim is to build pupils’ confidence and enjoyment of reading and discussion. There needs to be at least two copies of the same book available, which both pupils read. They discuss and share reactions to passages they have read. They give each other help with passages that are difficult to understand, and they share aims for how many pages to read for the next time.
Andy Barfield, who contributed the activity, writes the following (Bamford and Day 2004:50):
Having a reading partner helps consolidate the beginning weeks of an extensive reading course. It helps students have a close friend in the reading class and builds their confidence and shared enjoyment of reading. It also helps students motivate each other. Although students may not always reach the reading goals they set each week, the need to negotiate and discuss a common reading target for the week ahead helps students get comfortable with reading extensively.
Finally, a possible creative follow-up activity is for pupils to write their own picture book. The book could either be a factual one or a story. Pictures can easily be downloaded from the Internet, or cut out of magazines and brochures.
Graded readers provide the opportunity for pupils to read attractive books on subjects that interest them. They also address one of the major challenges that exists for language teachers today, namely providing differentiated reading material. The fundamental principle behind them is that they are written on different levels of difficulty. This does not make them less authentic than books written for native speakers. There is a place for both graded readers and such books, but some pupils need to progress ‘up the ladder’ before they are able to read Harry Potter or Roald Dahl in the original. The point is not for whom a book is written, but whether the reader finds the book engaging, and is thereby inspired to read more. As Swaffer (1985:17), cited in Day and Bamford (1998:60), puts it:
For purposes of the foreign language classroom, an authentic text…is one whose primary intent is to communicate meaning. In other words, such a text can be one which is written for native speakers of the language to be read by other native speakers (with the intent to inform, persuade, thank, etc.) or it may be a text intended for a language learner group. The relevant consideration here is not for whom it is written but that there has been an authentic communicative objective in mind.
The important issue is for pupils to read extensively, and graded readers play an important role in this respect, both because of their diverse range and their low costs. During my many years of experience as a teacher in lower secondary school, I always read aloud several easy readers to each class I had in English, and I always provided the pupils with a selection of different graded readers for them to read individually. These activities are the source of some of the best and most productive memories of my time as an English teacher. I am convinced that the pupils benefited enormously in terms of language development, self-confidence and motivation, which has also been corroborated in a number of studies in which graded readers have been used in book flood projects (e.g. Elley and Mangubhai 1983; Hafiz and Tudor 1989). Finally, although this guideline has primarily referred to graded readers in the teaching of English, the same principles apply to their use in other foreign languages.