News & insights

  • Extensive Reading and More with Graded Readers


    Graded readers (“GRs”), such as those that Pearson offers, are an excellent tool for students to use in a myriad of ways. Many teachers when thinking of graded readers, associate them with “extensive reading”. While that is naturally one of the major uses for GRs, there are many more that we will explore in this article.

    A brief overview of Extensive Reading

    Extensive reading is an excellent way, perhaps the best way, for students who are not in an English-speaking area to improve their overall language ability. Despite its name, extensive reading (“ER”) is *not* simply a way to improve one’s reading. It has been shown to improve all skills to some extent, with even listening showing significant improvement when students read a lot.

    While ER does improves students’ understanding of vocabulary, surprisingly its strength is not so much by adding new words to their vocabulary, but rather the way that it exposes learners to many more contexts of the words that they have already studied. It is this multiple exposure to the same words that allows them to develop a “feel” for how words are actually used in sentences.

    The same can be said about grammar. Rather than extending the learner’s grasp of difficult syntactic structures, ER allows them to become familiar with how the basic grammar of English is used, and probably *not* used, as well.

    Using Graded Readers

    Graded readers can be used in many ways. Of course, the most common way is for students to read books individually. This allows students to select books that are of interest to themselves, but perhaps not to the other students. This kind of reading is normally done outside of class time since it does not require a teacher and needs much more time than is possible during normal class hours.

    Class sets

    The most common meaning of “class set” is to have multiple copies of the same book so that everyone in the class can read the same story. Having all of the students read the same book, does have its advantages. You may have them all take the book home to read “extensively” but then in class, you can use the text for close reading to illustrate specific grammar points, vocabulary usage, or delve into the literary aspects of the story, guided by the activities you prepare, or take advantage of the activities provided in the text, such as those in the new Marvel series. You might even ask the students select their own activity from the “after you read” activities to share with the class.

    You may also make class sets of books that are all of the same level, such as a sufficient number of the Pearson English Readers“EasyStarts, ” so that everyone can select a different book, that can be read completely during class time.

    Reading Circles

    Students are formed into small groups of 4-6, and either assigned, or choose a book to read. Each student is assigned a specific role such as “leader,” “vocabulary master,” “character master,” “question maker,” “reporter” or “illustration commentator.” The students prepare individually and then in the next class, discuss what they have found with the others in their group. An extension of this activity would be for the reporter in each group to give a brief presentation to the entire class.


    I have had great success with the students doing brief presentations on their favorite book using a “carousel” approach. I put them into groups of 4 to 5. One student in each group shows his/her book to the class and describes the basic plot, their favorite character and something new that they learned from the text. After 3 minutes or so, the presenters rotate to the next group (in a circle) and repeat their talk, thus getting additional speaking practice based on their reading. After they are done, they return to their original group and the second person in the group does the same thing. You may have the students talk to a third or fourth group, but you need to allow sufficient time for every one in each group to have a set of turns. The students can use an evaluation sheet with a rubric with such items as “interest,” “degree of preparation,” “speaking without reading,” etc. that they can turn into you at the end of the class, or if they all have mobile devices, perhaps use that allows them to assess and comment on the other students' presentations based on a rubric that you devise.

    Keeping track of your students’ reading

    Charting your students’ progress, whether in number of books, pages or words allows the students to achieve more — either by challenging themselves or by competing with their classmates. You can track their reading by something as simple as a wall chart, or download a copy of the Google spreadsheet at and use it to create your own online progress report system that your students can access and fill in themselves.

    Perhaps the ultimate tool would be MReader, a free resource that allows students to take easy quizzes on the books that they have read and collect the covers of the books on their own personal home page. See the above website for further information.

    Getting more information

    See the Extensive Reading Foundation website, your one-stop site for more information on graded readers, how to implement ER with your class and many other topics relating to reading.

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  • How Two Teams Succeeded At The Pearson Sponsored D&AD New Blood Awards

    Every year, the D&AD design, advertising, and digital awards attempt to find brilliant creative minds who can solve real-world problems. Their New Blood Awards category, in which companies like Pearson set briefs that teams around the world respond to, is aimed at students and recent graduates. At the Pearson Conference on “The Future Of Learning” in Da Nang, Vietnam in February, two winning teams from India and Malaysia explained the skills they needed to come out on top.

    Responding To The Briefs

    In Hindi, jugnoo means “firefly”. Across the 19,000 Indian villages that have never had power, children hunt the insects and then store them in jars. The bioluminescent light the fireflies emit helps them to study through the night. So Pearson, one of the sponsors of the D&AD New Blood Awards—a competition that asks students and recent graduates to respond to real-world creative briefs—asked: How can we really put the light of knowledge into every child’s life?

    The most obvious solution is to install power lines, but progress on the promise to bring electricity to all the country’s citizens still has a long way to go to be fulfilled. The Indian team, who are five students from Mumbai University, took a different approach inspired by the glowing fireflies of rural India. “Our solution had to be more cost-effective than installing power grids,” Karan Lakhe says. Karan, along with the team’s other members—Bhuvan Bali, Yash Ambre, Gaurav Bumb, and Mihir Padia—hit upon their award-winning idea to print textbooks with the kind of luminous material already used in novelty glow-in-the-dark items like T-shirts.

    The team from Malaysia were attracted by a different Pearson brief: Design a product, service or campaign that will allow learning at scale. For the team’s two members, brothers Yap Yoong Ruey and Yap Yoong Jian, their solution was simple—to enable consumers to learn while they eat. “What if knowledge is made edible? Sounds unusual, but it’s refreshing, isn’t it? Imagine a learning company that helps people access knowledge with a universally accessible solution—food,” Ruey smiles. Their plan proposed to redefine global learning by embedding academic explainers into the packages of food and beverages. On a chocolate wrapper could be a bite-sized description of the civil rights movement; on a noodle cup an explanation of the causes and consequences of child labour.

    Success Came With Challenges

    For both teams, success in the competition was far from straightforward. “We are all from a similar background in media studies, and we all live in close proximity—which is how the team first formed. Once we had all settled upon the idea to print textbooks with special ink, it quickly became obvious that none of us had the scientific background to help us understand if that was even possible,” The Indian team’s Karan Lakhe says. “That was the toughest part of our journey. Many people around us were telling us that the idea wouldn’t work,” he adds. “To have a chance of success we needed advice from engineers, print experts, ink manufacturers, educators....”

    “The thought of abandoning the idea never crossed our minds,” Mihir Padia joins in. “We didn’t give up, but we knew it would only work if we could ensure the production costs were low.”

    For the Malaysian team there were different challenges. “This was actually my fourth attempt joining the competition and the first time my proposal was chosen,” Ruey says. “Coming up with creative ideas is easy, but finding the right one is hard. I tend to over-complicate things meaning there are too many steps involved in the consumer’s journey towards understanding my idea—thinking simply is very important as simplicity helps to convey the message clearly...but that’s easier said than done,” he shrugs.

    Entry into the D&AD New Blood Awards this time meant there was a steep learning curve for the team. “We learnt not to connect personally to solutions. It’s always better to maintain a distance that allows objective critical assessments of the ideas. If it doesn’t work, you just have to discard the idea and move on to another until you get the right one,” Ruey explains.

    Realising Award-Winning Ideas

    The Indian team’s textbooks charge up under sunlight. Then, at night, the phosphorescent ink emits five nits of light. To put that in perspective, one nit is roughly equivalent to the light provided by a single candle. Added to that, the ink only needs brief exposure to sunlight to charge up. “The idea has universal appeal. Many countries face the problem of restricted access to education in underdeveloped regions,” Karan Lakhe continues.

    “I would tell future entrants to the D&AD New Blood Awards that an idea doesn’t guarantee success, homework does. That’s how you discover whether your idea really can be done—talk to people, figure out the costs, then refine the idea until it perfectly satisfies the requirements of the brief,” he advises.

    In the Malaysian team’s solution, consumers access information printed on product packaging and a QR code accessible by mobile device reveals a deeper dive into the topic. “To succeed we had to step back from the problem. We looked closely at our everyday routines. What did we do when we woke up? Where were we going?” Ruey explains. “Creative ideas come from daily life. Observe your surroundings, and always be empathetic,” he recommends.

    With such refined responses to their creative briefs, how well did the teams’ education prepare them for this competition? “I felt well prepared—I am a graphic design major—but after university I’ve also had to learn things the hard way. Failure has helped shape who I am today,” Ruey says. “Personally, I would like to see creative thinking placed at the core of the curriculum,” he adds. “We were lucky too,” Karan says. “We had access to quality education. But, a more practical curriculum would help a lot of other youngsters who aspire to be innovators and change-makers in society. My school of the future? It wouldn’t have classrooms. I would want my students out in the real world, responding to real challenges,” he nods finally.

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