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Do-It-Yourself fairy tales

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You can buy graded readers, but why not try making your own to suit the specific needs of your class, writes Terry Phillips

It is not easy to find readers that actually teach reading.

But you don’t have to buy readers if you are prepared to do a bit of work yourself. In fact, as an experienced teacher of young learners whose first language is not English, you can probably produce better readers than you can buy from a market obsessed with repurposing readers produced for native-speaker children of the same age.

1 Choose a story with a strong narrative structure.
In other words, one with a plot line with a number of separate incidents which are clearly linked. Fables and fairy tales nearly always meet this criterion, for example:

Jack and the Beanstalk

Jack and his mother are very poor.
They have one goat.
Jack goes to the market.
He sells the goat.
He gets three beans.
He takes them home and gives them to his mother.
His mother throws them out the window …

2 Type the separate incidents on different pages.
Use a sans serif font like Calibri. Use simple syntactic structure – mainly S V C/O A. Put each sentence on a different line. Use narrative present because you don’t want the first encounter with a verb to be the simple past – Jack went / sold / got…

[page 1]
Jack and his mother are very poor.
They have one goat.
Jack goes to the market.

[page 2]
He sells the goat.
He gets three beans.
He takes them home.

3 Find a suitable illustration or set of illustrations for each page/ incident. Free clip art is fine but don’t break copyright.
Pre-teach the key vocabulary from the whole story. Remember that non-native adults must know 90 per cent of vocabulary in a text in order to guess the other 10 per cent.
For young learners, the percentage is probably higher. Type the words on flashcards in lower case. Teach the word, then flash it for children to learn to sight read it.

4 Show the first ‘page’ of the story. Use handouts or, even better, display on a smartboard. Read the sentences aloud.
Get the children to read along after one or two repetitions.

5 Check comprehension, focusing on truth value. Make statements, using language from the reader, to check understanding of the truth of the statement to elicit yes/no or a correction.
Ideally, make absurd statements; to make the children laugh – the greatest test of comprehension e.g. Jack sells his mother.
You can also usefully check reading and comprehension by showing the sentences with the final word missing.

Jack and his mother are very rich.
They have one dog.
Jack goes to the shop.
OR
Jack and his mother are very ….
They have one ….
Jack goes to the ….

You can give out the flashcards from the earlier activity – the children must find and hold up the correct word. Don’t ask comprehension questions e.g. Does Jack go to the market? because such questions pose challenges which are irrelevant to the purpose of class readers.

6 Check understanding of the whole narrative. Reading is all about prediction and hypothesis checking – being ahead of the text. Show the children two sentences and ask:

‘What is the next sentence in the story?’ The children read the two sentences, discuss and choose. Do not confirm or correct. Then show them the next page to check their predictions.

7 Get the children to retell the story with puppets or through role play. The children make hand puppets or masks of the characters in the story – and items, like the beanstalk. Children take it in turns to read sentences or pages from the story and the other children move the puppets or role play the story.

So, it’s as simple as that… If you have the time, you can create your own readers, or take a look at the Innova Graded Readers Series, which is published next month.


Terry Phillips is the business development director of Innova Press Ltd and the reteller of fables and fairy stories in the Innova Graded Readers series.