Carol Read’s Six Favourite Picture Books

carolreadThe other day I realised that there was nothing on this site specifically for teachers of children. Since this is one of the growth areas of English language teaching I thought I’d better start adding some stuff. So here is first list in the Young Learners category. I was lucky enough to convince Carol Read to submit something. Carol is an educational consultant, teacher trainer and award-winning author. She has written many course books, supplementary materials and articles on teaching children.  Here she shares her favourite six picture books (you can see the cover and sometimes inside the book if you follow the links I’ve inserted, which take you to an outside site)

Many picture books are works of art which integrate text and illustrations in a myriad of creative, thought-provoking ways and develop a love of language and literature in children from an early age. In primary classrooms, picture books provide shared contexts for natural language development and engage children with issues which are real and significant to them. As well as developing the imagination, picture books allow for rich exposure to language and the active construction of meaning. Picture books also inspire children to use language because they want to, and allow everyone to participate successfully.

In more than 25 years of teaching, I’ve used many different picture books with children aged 3 – 12 and have a precious collection of well-thumbed favourites. In the 1980s, picture books closest to my heart included classics such as The Hungry Caterpillar (Eric Carle), Where’s Spot? (Eric Hill), Meg and Mog (Helen Nicoll & Jan Pienkowski) as well as more challenging titles such as Where the wild things are (Maurice Sendak) and Gorilla (Anthony Browne). I still love these books and have found it an almost impossible task to reduce my collection of favourites to a list of six. I’ve therefore decided to choose six picture books which i) I’ve used recently and ii) have produced the most enthusiastic responses in the groups of children that I’ve shared them with. They are in no particular order as follows:

1 Giraffes can’t dance  (Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees)

This picture book in rhyming verses tells of Gerald the giraffe’s anguish at being mocked by all the other animals for his lack of dancing skills at the Jungle Dance.

We follow Gerald’s touching learning journey from his loss of self-esteem to becoming the object of admiration of all the animals. In terms of significant issues, the story touches on believing in yourself and discovering your own personal strengths. Two features are the strong beat of the rhyming verses which makes the language highly memorable, and the expressive illustrations of Gerald both when he’s sad and as he entrances the animals with his elegant dancing at the end of the story.

2 I will not ever NEVER eat a tomato (Lauren Child)

In I will not ever NEVER eat a tomato Charlie plays a series of imaginative and amusing tricks on his little sister, Lola, who is a very fussy eater, to get her to eat her dinner. The story is predominantly told using direct speech from Charlie’s point of view. Charlie and Lola are drawn in bold lines with large eyes and expressive mouths that clearly convey their every feeling. Lauren Child also uses a combination of photos, collage and computer-generated backgrounds, as well as a variety of fonts and sizes in the text. These add to the appeal and humour and emphasise how Lola really hates eating vegetables. This story is ideal as part of a unit of work on food and, if children enjoy Charlie and Lola, there are many more stories in the series as well.

3 Mr Wolf’s week (Colin Hawkins)

The appeal of Mr Wolf’s week seems to lie in the fact that it is an ordinary, everyday story about the routine of a normal, inoffensive wolf, in contrast to the villainous character children associate with traditional stories, such as Little Red Riding Hood. For language classes, the story helpfully focusses on lexical sets typically found in children’s coursebooks: days of the week, weather, clothes and everyday actions. The charm of the story lies in the delightful pictures of Mr Wolf and the simplicity of the repeated language pattern for each day: Monday is … (weather). Mr Wolf puts on his … (clothes) and …. (what he does). This also makes it an ideal model for children’s own attempts at writing a story. The examples at the bottom of this post, Mr Rabbit’s week (Inés) and Mr Dog’s week (Guillermo) are by 7-year-old children in their second year of English.  

4 Something Else (Kathryn Cave & Chris Riddell)

Something Else is a moving story about differences, and the agony and isolation of being an outsider. Something Else wants to be like the other creatures but they won’t accept him. Then one day a strange creature comes to Something Else’s house and wants to be friends. Something Else almost rejects him but is reminded of his own experience just in time. Embedded in this beautifully illustrated and apparently simple story are themes of racism and intolerance. Whenever I share this story with children in upper primary, I never fail to be impressed by their mature response and ability to talk openly about issues that adults often shy away from. Something Else makes me think how often we underestimate children, and also that picture books should not only be for them.

5 Dear Zoo (Rod Campbell)

Dear Zoo is a classic ‘flap’ picture book that never fails to appeal to very young learners. If possible, it’s best to use the ‘big book’ version which makes it easy to see with large groups and more fun to open the ‘flaps’. The concept of writing to the zoo to ask for a pet is brilliantly simple, and the repetitive language pattern, combined with different size coloured boxes and animals on each double spread, engages the rapt attention of little ones, even those with the shortest concentration spans. As the different animals on each page get sent back to the zoo because they are not suitable, the animal on the last page of the story is ‘perfect’.

6 Lost and Found (Oliver Jeffers)

Lost and Found is a touching story about a penguin and the boy who helps him. Behind its apparent simplicity resonate themes of loneliness, friendship and the value of kindness. As the boy and the penguin set off to the South Pole, their tiny boat contrasts with the vastness of the blue and green-toned sea and the waves as big as mountains. Many children worry when the boy realises his mistake in leaving the penguin at the South Pole, and their reunion hug on the penultimate page needs no words. This is a picture book children will ask you to read again for sheer pleasure and, in my view, it’s best to let the magical words and illustrations speak for themselves.

What about your favourite picture books? It would be great to hear.




Published in: on March 15, 2009 at 8:02 pm  Comments (9)  
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Andrew Wright’s six things from sixty years

A few posts ago I talked about my favourite Five Minute Activities, the much-loved resource book by Penny Ur and Andrew Wright. I had the honour of receiving a comment from Andrew Wright himself on the blog, partly in response to all the praise for his work. I was going to ask him to write something for me when he came out and asked if he could! It was a great pleasure to say yes, and share with you here Andrew Wright’s six things from sixty years of language learning and teaching experience.

1 I have been working in the world of language teaching for fifty years.  It has given me an opportunity to be with people and to have an interesting time and to travel to many places: about forty countries.  Furthermore, my fifty years as a teacher’s resource book writer have coincided with what are probably the last fifty years of resource books.  I feel I am very lucky to have been working during this last half century.

Sixty years?  Well, before that I was learning French at school or rather wasn’t.  Lead by Dr MacGraw, we, myopically, crawled along sentences looking up the words we didn’t know until, blinking, we came to a full stop or the abyss at the end of a paragraph.

2 Some friends told me that I have collocated with stories in the last twenty years before that I collocated with games and before that with pictures.  Stories is the big one.  I have become a story fundamentalist.  I believe that our minds are storied from top to bottom so much so that the way we eat and drink, work and die are all partly determined by the stories we have heard and which have constructed our life maps.  CNN once said something like: ‘The stories CNN bring you today make the world in which you live in tomorrow. ‘  Journalists are so open about what they are doing.  Not the news but ‘the top stories today are…’.

Of course, stories are for children but in the last year or two I have bought nine books about the use of stories in business (Internet: Business stories!).  Given that stories are so central to who we are and words are a major component in the way we story experiences then it amazes me that stories are not the main road we all take in language teaching.

3 I have always been a conference goer. I have had the good fortune to work with many brains,  feverish with creativity.  The tsunami of technology in the last twenty years is wonderful. So exciting!  But all these leading edge people and technologies represent a minute part of the world of language teaching.  Millions of language teachers never go to conferences and their only development, if any, is through the books or internet materials they use.  My belief is that the vast number of language teachers manage to teach according to their inner agenda whatever books or current philosophy they use or refer to.  A teacher I observed, in class, took the topic of sharing information about recent experiences.  Sounds very healthy and communicative.  A student told him, ‘I swim across Lake Balaton and do butterfly.’  The teacher corrected him, ‘I swam across Lake Balaton doing butterfly.’  He didn’t make a single comment or gasp and raise his eyebrows when he heard that the student had swum across the biggest lake in Central Europe!

He appeared to be a ‘modern’ teacher but he was an old fashioned grammar point obsessed teacher.  Like millions of others he teaches as he was taught.

4 The West gives great value to research and I believe research has a valuable role to play.  However, in my fifty years in language teaching I have experienced changes of value, perception and behaviour in society having far more effect on language teaching than research.  I am a creature of my times and in the late sixties I was influenced by the demand for concern for the individual (rather than global answers) out of which came the notional functional description of language by David Wilkins.  I conceived and helped to write with David Betteridge and Nicolas Hawkes, the first topic based course ever published, as far as I know: ‘Kaleidoscope’.  Macmillan.  And then, ‘What Do You Think’ with Donn Byrne, with pictures juxtaposed and no words, designed to poke thinking.  At the same time I was trying to support teachers in moves away from the rule of the text book by writing resource books, like ‘Games for Language Learning’, ‘1000 Pictures for Teachers to Copy’ and later, ‘Storytelling with Children’ and ‘Five Minute Activities’ with Penny Ur.  None of these books are based on research but on the gut feeling of a surf boarder with his feet on the driving swell of social change.

5 For fifty years I have done my best to promote the teaching of verbal languages.  But now I want to protest!  Words cannot exist unless they are seen or heard. Words are manifested by the non verbal languages of voice and writing.  The language of the voice is SO important.  How many ways can you say, ‘Yes’.  Can you say, ‘thank you’, so it doesn’t mean thank you?  Of course you can.  And consider the difference in typeface used by Rolls Royce and MacDonalds.  It’s not an accident.  Non verbal languages of voice and typography manifest words but also add their own meanings which may be harmonious or disharmonious with the words they manifest.  Its a duet and often the non-verbal instrument of voice or typography is dominant.

And then, add in the many non verbal languages which do not manifest words but accompany them.  Its a blooming orchestra: graphic design, furniture and interior design, architecture, body, clothes, car, house, film, and so on!  The world leader’s frozen hand shake and smile for the photographs.  The mock Tudor black wood struts on a million suburban houses.  The John Lennon glasses.

Now that technology allows us to readily make use of these non verbal languages at a high technological level through video recording and editing programmes on the internet, surely it should become a central part of our teaching?  We would no longer be language teachers but communication teachers and in a very different sense.

6 I can’t retire.  I have never been able to separate my work from my personal life.  If we really believe that language teaching must be about more than learning a language then how can we separate our life from our work?  It would be a contradiction to do so.  Nevertheless, after fifty years of an unbroken production of books I have stopped working on ELT books.  It is wonderful to be able to spend more time on writing my life stories.  My theme is the individuality and the universality of all of us and the situations we are in.  It is my answer to MacDonalds.  I have a wonderful time listening to and sharing such stories with my students who, these days are mainly bankers and pharmaceutical engineers….well…people.

Forgive me please for not writing six useful things for the classroom.  I have spent my life trying to do just that.  This wandering and pondering on Lindsay’s six thing site is a little self-indulgence which I do hope you will respond to, with benign tolerance.

If you would like to see my stories then please visit:

If you would like to comment on my stories, then please do: as long as I hear tapping I will know I am still alive.

Published in: on October 31, 2010 at 8:50 am  Comments (11)  

Six communist textbooks to learn English

I’m excited about this post, it’s a little side project I’ve been doing while traveling. Inspired by Scott Thornbury‘s old collection of English language textbooks I wanted to collect a series of covers of old English textbooks from former communist countries. I’ve had the opportunity to visit many countries of the former Soviet Block and have lots of contacts who were kind enough to help me in my search. Here they are. six little pieces of history.

1. Starkov English Textbooks and Readers (Russia, 1980s)

This from my colleague at the British Council in Moscow, Olga Barnashova. She told me that when someone brought these in the other day everyone got really excited as they recognise their childhood. Check out the exercise too.

2. English 7 ( Georgia 1984)

This one courtesy of Scott Thornbury’s collection. A striking design, and another course that just goes by numbers (like Starkov above). I don’t know how high these courses go actually. Line from a dialogue in English 7 Hello Gia. I’ve got a fine picture of Lenin which, as Scott remarked dryly, makes a nice change from I’ve got a pen.

3. My English Book (Poland)

I quite like the retro image of the children on this book, as well as how the yellow ribbon in the girl’s hair is echoed in the yellow cover.

4 We learn English (Poland)

Great collectivist title. And such a minimalist cover design too. I would love to do a new version of this, but keep the same artist. This and My English Book both come courtesy of my Polish friend and fantatstic teacher trainer Grzegorz Spiewak.

5. English for the Small (Hungary)

My absolute FAVOURITE title for a child’s book to learn English. My good friend Tamas Lorincz sent me the cover and pages from this book. The insdie cover says “English for the small. Rhymes and games, for them all.” Priceless! It also has a great picture of Lenin on the inside page too. In fact this was all so good I’m including a few pages here.  Click on the image to see a bigger version of the scan – it’s worth it.

6 Armed Forces English Broadcast (Republic of China 1965)

This one is a little different from the others, but what a treat. Published by Republic of China Military Foreign Language school, I came across this one online. It was found by a travel blogger called Roy Berman outside the Taiwan National History Museum (Roy’s blog is called Mutantfrog Travelogue, a very original title for a blog!). I was especially fascinated by the table of contents. Unit 2… Cabbage Soup? Is that some kind of military term for food in the barracks? Curiouser and curiouser…

So, have any of my readers studied with one of these books? Does anyone have any other gems of old English textbooks they could share? And the big question… are contemporary books really that much better?

Published in: on June 21, 2010 at 9:52 am  Comments (20)  
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Six favourite coursebook or photocopiable lessons

I believe that all English teachers, even the most die-hard anti coursebook ones, have certain favourite lessons that they’ve taught from coursebooks or photocopiable material books. I would sometimes find myself eagerly hoping to get to the “good unit” or “good activity” in a book, one that almost always worked for me and that students enjoyed. I know lots of teachers feel the same way. I’d go as far as to say that a teacher who claims that “no coursebook or published lesson has ever worked for me” is perhaps not as fantastic a teacher as he/she believes.

There’s quite a lot of teasing and trashing of bad lessons or topics in published material. I wanted to celebrate six lessons that I’ve taught over the years that were written by people other than myself.

1. Reward Resource Pack: Poor Fabio.

Written by Sue Kay. Published by Heinemann/Macmillan

I taught with the Reward series after our university switched from Headway around 15 years ago in Mexico (there Reward was called Move Up). The book was fine, I got along with it well, but it was the resource pack that really became popular. I’ve seen copies of those photocopiables just about everywhere. I even slugged my own copies of them from America to Europe only to find a whole set at the school I worked at next. Poor Fabio is a picture story (to practice past tense, I think) starring Fabio, a skinny little guy who puts on a whole bunch of jumpers to make himself look bigger to go to the disco, whereupon he faints from the heat. Great stuff, and always got a laugh from my students.

2. Grapevine Video Lessons: A Day in the life of Dennis Cook

Written by Peter and Karen Viney. Published by Oxford University Press.

Right, well I can’t really say that I enjoyed teaching Grapevine the course, but I loved the videos. They had a great sense of humour and I really don’t think they’ve ever been matched. They are probably out of print now, shame. Dennis Cook was one of the main characters. A Day in the Life of Dennis Cook always, always got my students laughing when they discovered he actually busked (you, ahem, have to see it to understand). And Lambert and Stacey (a detective episode) always made me chuckle even though it was pretty silly. Peter Viney was always a genius at doing lots with very little language, and was a big influence on me. I remember bitterly fighting with another teacher over who got the television and VCR one class because I wanted to do that video. Maybe these would feel old-fashioned now, the style is very 1980s, but I would still use it.

3. English File 1. Watching You Watching Me lesson.

Written by Paul Seligson. Published by Oxford University Press.

I taught for two or three years with English File Elementary (the first edition) and loved it. It felt very different at the time (this was late nineties) and quite fresh. I wish I still had an old copy, I don’t anymore and I can’t remember which lesson this was. It was a lesson on the present continuous, based around the Rear Window film story. A man is sitting watching all his neighbours who are doing different things. It all fit together really well and felt completely original too. Never got tired of teaching that one. Can someone tell me what unit it was?

4. Straightforward Intermediate. Unit 3B Bedrooms

written by Philip Kerr. Published by Macmillan

OK, well I did work on the Straightforward series so I have a bias I ADMIT. But I didn’t write this level, and it’s this is a great lesson. I taught an intermediate group with it though earlier this year and we really enjoyed it. The lesson is 6 things you probably didn’t know about beds and bedrooms (instinctively I knew I would like it just for that title!) and it had some really curious information, as well as an interesting lexical set and good contextualised grammar practice. Plus the teacher’s book had some great suggestions for bringing it more alive. Great stuff.

5. New English File Pre Intermediate, Pessimist’s Phrase Book 3B

Written by Christina Latham-Koenig, published by Oxford University Press

This is another lesson I did in a standby class once to cover for a colleague. I thought it was a very clever way of doing will for predictions. You have to match the phrases to the pessimist’s response (e.g. I lent James some money yesterday. Pessimist response: He won’t pay you back.) The rest of the lesson is okay, but my students and I really enjoyed making other situations and pessimist responses.

6. It’s Magazines, The House

Written by Robert Campbell, published by It’s Magazines

A slightly more unusual choice here as this isn’t from a coursebook but it’s still a whole lesson (as opposed to an activity) so I put it in. I have had so much fun with this lesson, and have done it countless times. Students read about a house with a curse on it, that strikes at each subsequent owner of the house. They read about the first owner and how he met his sticky end, then they have picture prompts to help them create the stories of the subsequent owners, each of whom have a dark secret in their past which leads to their untimely demise. This is the perfect Halloween lesson, and you can see some interactive exercises connected to it here. It’s available in the book It’s Fantasy, which you learn more about here. After doing this lesson I basically went to Its and begged for a job with them. That was how I started getting into writing.

There you have it. I realise that I don’t have a proper spread of things by other publishers but going through my shelves these were the lessons that really jumped out at me. I also restricted myself to coursebook or photocopiable lessons, not teacher activity books (I’m going to a six favourite of those one day too, although that is a harder list for me because there are so many great teacher resource activity books). I also realise that I am showing my bias towards books used primarily in Europe and Mexico because that’s where I’ve taught. I know that there are some very good things being done in Asia (and very bad ones too) but I have not taught with those.

What about you? Remember this is about celebrating the ones you like, not making some comment about how they are all dreadful, loathsome, lack wow-factor, don’t meet learner needs, crush teacher creativity etc. etc. If you really want to do that, I happily suggest you go to this place.

Published in: on December 7, 2009 at 8:35 am  Comments (21)  
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Nick Bilbrough’s Six things to do with dialogues


Right, after the extremely active last post it’s back down to practical business here at Six Things. I’ve long wanted to do a six activity ideas using dialogues, ever since I read this book in fact. I had the chance to meet the author Nick Bilbrough at a conference last year, and he’s such a pleasant guy he agreed to do the post for me. Better really, as he is an expert on this. So here we are with Nick’s fiercely practical six things to do with a dialogue. Enjoy!

With good reason, dialogues have been used in language teaching for a very long time. What they offer is the chance for learners to freeze a few moments of speech and process it in greater depth than they may be able to when spoken language is only listened to. Here are six ways of working with dialogues in a language class.

Find and interpret them

With the internet we are now able to access masses of different kinds of dialogues (film scripts, plays, transcripts of authentic interaction etc). The extract below is from a site devoted to overheard snippets of people’s conversations.

Analyst: Look, you said you broke two bones in your e-mail, but you actually just broke your arm.
Boss: Yes, I broke my bone… now I have two bones!
Analyst: No! You have two pieces of one bone now. Bones are treated as a whole. You’re trying to get extra sympathy. If I break a pen in half, how many pens do I have?
Boss: Two!
Analyst: How are you my boss?

How about giving learners the homework task of trying to find the most interesting/funniest/silliest snippet they can on a site like this, and then bringing it to the next class for interpretation and discussion?

Reconstruct them

Even more noticing may happen if we get learners to reconstruct the dialogues that they encounter. Here’s a short dialogue where all the words have been jumbled up.





Small groups of learners get a set of these words on individual bits of card and have to create a dialogue by putting them into the right order. When they’ve done this they can test each other by turning over some of the words and asking the others in their group to remember what they are.

Chant them

An interesting and memorable way for students to perform a dialogue is for them to chant it. Here’s a dialogue which lends itself well to this technique. Half the class chant the lines on the left, and the others reply with the other half.

Where’ve you been?                           I’ve been to the zoo

What did you do there?                      I saw a kangaroo

Where’ve you been                             I’ve been to the shops?

What did you do there?                      I bought some lamb chops

Where’ve you been?                           I‘ve been to the station

What did you do there?                      I got some information

Where’ve you been?                           I’ve been to six schools

What did you do there?                      I broke all the rules

Memorise them

Chanting often leads to the class naturally learning the dialogue by heart. As long as the learners understand the dialogue, and it is not too long, we may also want to be more proactive about getting them to do this with the other dialogues that they encounter. It’s a great way of building up a repertoire of spoken chunks and expressions. Many of the techniques used by actors, like linking the lines to movements and emotions, and using a prompt who supplies a key word as a memory trigger, will help with this.

Create them

When learners write dialogues in pairs it’s a useful chance for them to refine their spoken language without the pressure of actually having to speak, and they can get support from their partners, dictionaries or the teacher more easily. They can write a dialogue to go with a picture, or to activate a particular area of language, or, with new text to speech technology like , they can even create their own films.

Engage in them

Of all the things I’ve done to try to learn different languages, my favourite, and the one I think I learn the most from, is having a conversation with someone who speaks that language better than I do. When I lived in Santiago, Chile, I got home one day and found a bucket of water in the lift. I turned to Luis, who worked on the door, and the following short dialogue took place.

Me: Hay algo en el ascensor

Luis: Ah si. Un balde?

Me: Si

Luis: Esta bien

As I went up in the lift I knew that I’d just learnt the word for bucket. This kind of learning happens a lot when speakers at different levels of ability talk to each other. As a teacher I try to provide plenty of opportunities for it in my classes.


Nick Bilbrough is the author of the Cambridge Handbook for teachers Dialogue Activities. I liked it so much I wrote a review in dialogue form for a magazine about it. You can read that review here.

Published in: on October 29, 2009 at 9:25 am  Comments (4)  
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