Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Free fun reading for the primary classroom

It all started with my obsession of Oxfam second-hand bookshops, especially the one in Oxford, where I've been twice - I mean both to Oxford and to this bookshop - and both ventures had brought some great successes.

Oxfam Bookshop, St Giles, Oxford

My first noteworthy acquisition was the book called Hey World, Here I Am! by Jean Little, OUP and this wonderful collection of poems has been a big hit with my (pre)-teen classes ever since. See here an example lesson plan I wrote around one of the poems.
This summer's visit to the same bookshop  led to further accomplishments. Books that may very well be in the "nothing special" or "so, what" category for my native-speaker colleagues, especially for those, who have kids, but new and exciting to me and my kids. These are books from the Oxford Reading Tree Series, stories that have everything a good story needs for this age-group, ie 4-10, offering 
  • value for the kids, they can relate to the content easily
  • fun
  • opportunities to interact with the story-line, the characters
  • repetition of some useful chunks
  • authentic language
  • visual support, enough to be able to work out meaning from visuals
  • avoidance of story-line led purely by language  - ie built around certain grammatical structures or vocabulary
  • somewhat graded language for them to be able to analyse language and work out the meaning of some of the sentences, chunks or words
  • freedom to read and listen at the same time, doing this as many times they want (they control the pace of listening too)
  • plenty of opportunity to notice pronunciation features
  • great stories to read in general 
and soooo really help kids in the process of appreciating reading in English, with this providing excellent opportunities for natural language acquisition.

Anyway, further proof for how great these stories are is the reaction of my kids, who keep reading the printed ones I had bought in Oxford again and again,
  • first just by going through the pictures and telling me all about it, how funny it was and some of the characters they thought could be drawn with a bit more care :-). 
  • Then next day they picked them up again, read them silently on their own, looking at the pages more carefully, possibly trying to make sense of the sentences together with the pictures. 
  • And then for the third time, they asked me if I wanted to listen to them read out-loud. Now that made me a proud parent-teacher :-).
Seeing their enthusiasm I went onto the website recommended at the end of these books to find an amazing collection of free eBooks for different age-groups. Oh my oh my! Not only there were zillions of great stories, but they also had interactive activities that accompanied them. True, with some of these I did need to turn into a teacher-mummy, but the thing is that they would not come off it. They just read and listened story after story and did the games, which they found a lot of fun.

So here's how you can access them easily:

I really wish these books were explicitly made available for EFL teachers and learners too and we could make full use of them, not only if someone happens to stumble upon them.

Anyhow, I did become extremely excited about it and decided to share it with you. There are so many things you can do with these free eBooks in the primary EFL classroom! I should certainly do a workshop on it soon :), though I'm pretty sure you would have loads of ideas too. Have fun using them!


  1. Thank you so very much for the info in this post - I am mesmerized!

  2. Glad you like it. It would be great if you shared with us how you are planning to use it in your teaching :-)

    1. Dear Erika,

      Could you recommend free e-books available for secondary students (elementary - intermediate), too?

      Thank you

      Although I've just got to know about you by listening (almost by chance) to the Glasgow interview with you and then checked out your blog I'm already a fan of your enthusiasm and competence!
      I'd love to experiment with using new forms of teaching but the most and only available technology we have at our school is a laptop for four teachers and a screen plus wifi in the 'English classroom' where, on average, I have 1.5 classes a week with a class (the rest are held in normal classrooms i.e. boards, boardmarkers and CD players). If you have any suggestions what to try to make my students more interested and engaged , please let me know.

      All the best,

    2. Dear Anna,

      Thank you for dropping by and apologies for taking me so long to reply.

      Well, your problem is quite widespread. I'd say that is you have a laptop and a projector in a classroom, this is all you need. I would do a story together with the children in class. See an example of how you could do it in here:http://www.erikaosvath.com/2012/10/how-to-teach-reading-skills-to-children.html
      Then you could send the link of the same story their parents or of the page where they can choose a story for themselves to listen and read one at their own leisure at home. You will need to ask the parents to help children finding the page with the story they would like to read and listen. Next lesson, you could ask children who did read an online story to report to the group or to the rest of the class about the content of the story. I would not ask them for any language in case of free reading, especially up until a stage where (almost) all children have read at least one story.

      So, after listening and reading to a story online, next lesson you could rebuild it by allocating each group to draw the main scenes of it and reconstructing the sentences - as in process writing. This way you in the so called "normal classrooms" you are making a paper-copy of the same book, which is illustrated by the children and written by them. The text does not have to be identical as long as the same meaning is conveyed.

      So that's one idea, but I'm hoping to come up with more in later posts.

      All the best,


  3. Dear Erika,
    I have some passionate readers among my 12-year olds, and I am already planning for them to read an ebook of their choice (following my recommendations at times though...), evaluate it and the activities, then create a book trailer (they know and love Animoto) for the book recommending it (hopefully) to their classmates. Perhaps doing it collaboratively if two or three of them read the same ebook. Of course, as I have just discovered the amazing possibilities Glogster encompasses, I might move into that direction with them. My 12-year old students are something special, so many - girls and boys - curiously avid readers of all sorts of things! I will keep you posted, thank you for your interest! :-)

  4. Wow! Lots of great ideas Daniela. Keep them coming :-)
    I'm convinced that the children in your class are special, and I'm pretty sure you are the kind of teacher who makes them proud of it. They are really lucky to have you!

  5. Erika,

    OUP publishes the Reading Tree series for EFL as the "Story Tree". There are 7 levels, with 6-8 books per level, as a set. Each reader has a dedicated workbook; each set has a CD with narration & pronunciation exercises. there is also a parent's guide (not really much use!)

    I have been using these for years with my students; they love them, we find them very, very good for recycling & reinforcing other learning. Same characters are retained as Reading Tree - just so much more useful for the classroom/at home reading for learners.

    I've blogged about the Story Tree a lot http://lunainternational.blogspot.com/

    Ask your local OUP rep/office to send you a sample pack. And enjoy even more!

    best, jim

    1. Hi Jim,

      Sorry for taking so much time to reply.
      I was looking for the Story Tree you recommended, but didn't find any under this name. In Hungary we have graded storybook with workbook you described in the Classic Tale series. They are just as fun to use them, and their new e-book version feature also allows us to do a few "reading together" examples before kids actually do some free reading.

      Could you send the direct link to your post? I'm sure teachers would welcome more ideas on making use of readers, whether online or in printed version.




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