Readers for secondary
Black Cat is a big name in the world of ELT readers and they have several series of readers. Their Reading and Training series is aimed at adolescents and adults. These look and feel fantastic, and are great for students preparing for PET or KET, as they include exam-style exercises.
At the lower end we looked at The Fisherman and His Soul by Oscar Wilde. The illustrations in the book are stunning, and it comes with an enhanced CD that includes an audio version of the book and interactive exercises that were fun to do. The book is full of surprises. Would you expect to find a whole section devoted to Aestheticism the cult of beauty in your average reader?
Black Cats choice of titles is interesting. At a slightly higher level, we looked at Jack the Ripper and The Merchant of Venice. Here the level is judged as preFirst Certificate and the tasks are challenging as a result. The higher level justifies the choice of Shakespeare, and Jack the Ripper might just be morbid enough to appeal to teens, though both choices seem to be aimed at an older audience.
The glossary is on the page with the text, which is a great help and makes reading much easier than looking up words at the back of the book. There are lots of exercises, including listening exercises, throughout the books. There are also some Internet projects that use sites you can access from the Black Cat website.
Reading & Training Discovery is a new series of readers from Black Cat/Vicens Vives. They have all the features of the graded readers in their Reading and Training collection but with a factual rather than a literary focus.
Graded grammatically and lexically, the series is designed for teenagers, young adults and adults who, through reading about subjects of interest, can improve their English and broaden their knowledge at the same time. As with other Black Cat readers, they include dossiers, Trinity exam-style activities and internet projects.
Black Cat also publishes an Easyread series of non-fiction readers that includes The Story of Football and The Story of Popular Music. The Green Apple series includes adapted classics, original stories and non-fiction readers. Each book starts with information about the author and his/her times, activities for before and after reading a chapter, cross-curricular dossiers and Internet projects. New titles include Just So Stories, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and The Treasure of Franchard.
Helbling Readers are divided into two series. The Red Series (levels 1-3) is aimed at young teenagers. It includes a selection of adapted classics and original fiction to get students reading from beginner level. The Blue Series (levels 4-5) is designed for teenagers and young adults. These readers are adapted classics and original fiction.
All the readers are in full colour and include attractive illustrations and graphics. Colour is implemented particularly well in the easy-to-use glossary that appears on the page. Books in the Blue Series also include personalised activities throughout the story, which is a nice idea. There's audio on CD that can also be downloaded from the Helbling website. The site is worth a visit as it's extremely user-friendly and informative.
We took a look at Tales of Mystery, which manages to cram in three classic Edgar Allan Poe stories into its 108 pages. As the introduction to the book explains, these are examples of short stories in the Gothic tradition, exploring the dark side of human nature and experience: death, ghosts, alienation, depression, madness and desolate settings. Ideal for teenagers!
While some publishers opt to include as many categories as possible, the Cambridge English Readers specialise in one particular area: original fiction. It's not a bad idea when you consider how many types of fiction are out there: thrillers, ghost stories, science fiction, horror, comedy, short stories, romance, adventure .... It's also reassuring to know that all the books in the collection have been written specifically for English learners and aren't adaptations.
The collection has been graded into seven levels, from starter to advanced. The books start with some information about the characters and setting. There's no glossary or exercises in the book itself, but there are photocopiable worksheets and lesson plans for every title available at the website, where there's also a test to find the right level for your students, sample chapters and author interviews. All the titles have audio and are available as e-books.
Cambridge Discovery Readers is a series of original fiction, adapted fiction and fact books especially written for teenagers. Each title is available in either British or American English and comes with a CD-ROM that contains vocabulary games and complete audio recordings. Free online resources include competitions, teaching tips and articles, worksheets and lesson plans, sample chapters, and audio clips.
According to Heinle Cengage, its Footprint Reading Library is "the first non-fiction reading series for English language learners to present real-world stories in three formats: print, audio and video." The video material is from National Geographic, so you know the kind of themes to expect. The stories are grouped into five areas: incredible animals, fascinating places, remarkable people, exciting activities and amazing science.
The interesting thing about this series of readers is its focus on the language of various online and print formats including newspapers, magazines, journals and websites. This is all about reading and using the language to learn more about the world and to look at information in different formats such as photo captions, charts, tables and graphs.
The titles we looked at were Taiko Master and Puffin Rescue (pre-intermediate/A2) and One Boy's Journey (intermediate/B1). The titles are set up to work like this: first students read the book. There are pre- and post-reading tasks and lots of background information for the theme of the book. After becoming familiar with the text, students are encouraged to listen to the audio recording. Once they have read and listened to the book, they're ready to watch the video that inspired the reader. Some of the language in the video is different from the actual reader, but optional subtitles can aid comprehension of the authentic reports and interviews.
There are currently 100 readers divided into eight levels. It sounds like a lot of material, but these are quite short readers (around 24 pages); the videos are short as well, so they're very accessible for teachers and students. The books are in full colour with good visuals. There's a teaching guide for each level that includes lesson plans and worksheets for both the reader and the video.
The first thing you notice about the Macmillan Readers is that they look like real books. In many ways, a reader that is black-and-white and mainly text-based is as close to an authentic reading experience as your students will get. There are some great titles on offer and, as we've come to expect from Macmillan, there's very good online backup, including an extremely informative guide called Using Graded Readers in the Classroom. There's even a separate site designed to help students improve their essay writing skills, write about works of literature, practise listening skills and improve their creative writing techniques.
The Macmillan Readers are graded in six levels from starter to upper-intermediate. The new titles we looked at were Around the World in Eighty Days (starter), White Fang (elementary), I Robot (pre-intermediate), Touching the Void (intermediate) and Middlemarch (upper-intermediate).
The shorter starter titles are in colour, and Around the World in Eighty Days is retold by our old friends Maria José Lobo and Pepita Subirà, so we know we're in safe hands. The higher-level readers start with notes about the author and the story, as well as the people and places in the story. The actual story is followed by activities to help understanding, exercises and a glossary. Rather than cramming as many words as possible into the glossary, difficult words and phrases are explained in the story or illustrated in the pictures. There are titles in British and American English, and differences in the American English versions are explained in the glossary.
Attractive covers, good use of illustrations and the huge range of titles available in the series make this a great collection for a class library. Some titles come with CDs, while others have accompanying audio you can download.
Teenage students who are looking for TV and film tie-ins will probably find what theyre looking for in the readers published by Scholastic/ Mary Glasgow. They specialise in contemporary film and TV adaptations targeted at teenagers. Titles include Billy Elliot, Batman Begins, a photo story version of the hit TV series Malcolm in the Middle, and various Buffy the Vampire Slayer stories for different levels. By using well-known modern stories taken from movies and TV shows, younger students are likely to be more familiar with and motivated by these titles. Students may already know the stories if they have seen the film or series, which might help. Also, because the pictures are stills from the movies and series, they look great.
We have a soft spot for the Scholastic readers because our editor once wrote one. Apart from that, they also look fantastic, making great use of colour visuals. All the readers start by looking at the settings and characters. After the story there are a series of fact files and self-study activities, plus a list of new words. Most readers come with an audio recording.
These books instantly appealed to us, possibly because theyre created by a company that publishes magazines for teenagers and have a topical feel to them. Its obvious from the titles and themes that the publishers know what young people are interested in and want to read. The books are colourful and designed well. They also have a nice feel to them, and are printed on good-quality paper.
Pearson Longman's Penguin Readers also include a lot of film and TV titles. The series has recently been updated with a new look and lots of new titles. The titles we were sent included The Pearl Girl (easystarts), Kylie Minogue (level 1), Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (level 3) and Tears of the Giraffe (level 4). From Kylie to Botswana's first female private detective, there's lots to choose from.
The first reader we opened was the Kylie Minogue profile, which is one of the Penguin Active Reading titles. All of the books in this series come with a CD-ROM that includes interactive exercises and the audio recording. It was refreshing to open a reader about Kylie that didn't avoid tackling certain issues. In fact, it starts from the point in her life when she discovered she had cancer. All the books look very good, feel good and are definitely worth checking out.
Finally, there's the Oxford Bookworms Library New Edition. It sounds impressive and the catalogue looks impressive, boasting "stunning new covers ... new world stories ... fully updated fact files ... updated tests ... updated teacher's CD-ROM (all the material you need on one CD)" and much more!
The Oxford readers come in seven levels. A rather neat table shows how Oxford teachers can use certain readers in conjunction with their coursebooks. The new fact files are non-fiction books that cover topics such as Rainforests (stage 2), Information Technology (stage 3) and The History of the English Language (stage 4). World Stories is a new collection of short stories from around the world.
Apart from the Bookworms collection, Oxford also publishes Dominoes. This four-level series is for younger beginner to pre-intermediate level students who need a little more in the way of motivation. We were really impressed by the titles we saw. They are all visually interesting, colourful and easy to use, with the glossary words in bold in the text and the definitions on the same page. Activities are used to break up the stories, and there are project pages that are real projects and not just token activities. On the audio side, the CDs sounded very professional and were fun to listen to.
Fans of Wallace and Gromit will be happy to know there's even a reader based on A Close Shave. As you'd expect, the visuals and activities are excellent. There's even a specially adapted version of the film available separately.