To mark the publication of the 100th Dominoes graded reader − The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling − the author Alex Raynham talks about the challenges of adapting such a classic title and gives some advice about classroom use.
When Rudyard Kipling wrote The Jungle Books (originally plural) in the mid-1890s, he was the most popular author in the English-speaking world, and his stories became an instant classic. The Jungle Books have stood the test of time, appealing to successive generations of readers and appearing in many print, movie, and theatrical adaptations. The characters of Mowgli, Baloo the bear, Bagheera the panther, Kaa the snake and Shere Khan the villainous tiger have become part of popular culture. No wonder then that Oxford University Press has produced so many different versions over the years!
How do you adapt a classic story?
The biggest challenge was how to adapt and simplify a story that has become such a well-known classic, whilst keeping it fresh and entertaining. The original Jungle Books are a diverse collection of stories over 300 pages long. In contrast, a Level 1 Dominoes cartoon-style reader has only 27 pages of story text and is about 3,000 words − so careful text selection was required. We decided to focus on the stories in The Jungle Books, which concern the adventures of Mowgli and his friends and exclude any stories unrelated to them. We then tried to focus on key events that moved the stories forward and contributed to our understanding of the main characters.
After that we made a detailed plan of each page of the story, deciding what artwork and text to include in each ‘frame’ on those pages. Each piece of text needed to be short enough to leave plenty of space for artwork, so the wording needed to be precise. Every sentence had to contribute to the overall story. In addition, each chapter needed to end with some kind of cliffhanger, motivating learners to read on and find out what happens next.
Staying true to Kipling’s vision
The original Jungle Books are witty, captivating and descriptively rich. Kipling sets the scene and paints the characters beautifully. So one big issue with the adaptation was how to stay true to the spirit of the original story when a Level 1 Dominoes reader only has A1 grammatical structures and a wordlist of just 400 headwords. One way to do this was to preserve Kipling’s ‘voice’ as much as possible. Using plenty of direct speech helps with this, and we’ve also kept some of Kipling’s original phrases: for example, ‘man cub’ − the way that Mowgli’s wolf family describe him as a child.
Why a comic strip?
A comic strip is ideal for many readers at A1 level − particularly titles which contain rich settings and many different characters, such as The Jungle Book. It helps to introduce new vocabulary, and descriptions of the characters and settings can be supported by the pictures, making them easier to visualise at this level. A comic strip also helps the teacher to use each chapter in a variety of ways in class. For example:
- Illustrations help the teacher to pre-teach vocabulary or reinforce it after reading.
- All or part of some speech bubbles can be blanked out, and learners can be asked to reconstruct or predict the dialogue.
- The teacher can photocopy a page of the story and cut up the pictures, then rearrange and scan them, asking learners to put them in order. This can be done on the IWB as a pre-reading prediction activity, or as a post-reading story review.
Supporting learners’ reading without breaking the flow
It’s probably true to say that the less we intervene, the more learners get out of extended reading. We need to motivate learners by giving them a sense of achievement through being able to read and understand an extended narrative pretty much on their own. But we also want to make sure that learners are actually understanding the story and getting the most out of it. So we’re playing the role of facilitator– encouraging students and giving them space, but also directing them to the resources contained in the books.
The meaning of above-level vocabulary is given on the page in Dominoes titles, allowing the learner to read on without getting stuck. For example, in The Jungle Book, we gloss the word ‘cub’ so that learners can understand ‘man cub’. It’s important to direct them to these Glossary words when needed without interrupting their reading by focussing too much on them.
Using activities to support learning
The Activities after every chapter can be used to facilitate class discussion about the story and recycle new vocabulary, but we should avoid the temptation to check that learners remember every detail. Using the ‘Guess What’ predictive activities in these sections is a good way to get learners thinking about the plot and what might happen next without the pressure to get any answers right.
End-of-book Grammar Check activities are designed to support learners when reading each particular title. For example, in The Jungle Book, one focus is irregular plurals nouns like ‘deer’, ‘buffalo’ and ‘teeth’! Using the Projects at the back will also help learners to relate what they’ve read to their experiences and the wider world. For example, in The Jungle Book, they’re asked to write a profile of one of four animals in the story, based on a model: Bengal tiger, wolf, black panther or brown bear.
It’s easy for students to get to the end of a graded reader, then forget about it. But in L1, we talk about good books that we’ve read with friends and think about them long after we’ve turned the last page. So it’s vital to try and reflect this both inside and outside the classroom.
Looking for something new to support your learners’ reading skills? Try these ready-to-use activities from our brand new graded reader!
Alex Raynham grew up in New Zealand and the UK before graduating from Oxford University. He was an ELT teacher in Italy and Turkey and later became an editor with Oxford University Press. Today he is a freelance author, editor and ELT teacher trainer based in Turkey. He has written over 20 ELT titles, including more than ten graded readers for Oxford University Press, and spoken at conferences throughout Turkey and abroad.