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All The Lesson Ideas For Graded Readers You’ll Ever Need!

All The Lesson Ideas For Graded Readers You'll Ever Need: books fanned out in a geometric patternIn this blog, I have provided some lesson ideas as examples of how graded readers might be used in the classroom. There are four sections – ideas for reading the story, exploring the cultural/historical setting, discussing social themes, and additional tasks to be used as suggested follow-up activities or projects. All of these are for the purpose of sparking your creativity and to show how readings texts can be a springboard into many other interesting topics and activities.

A best-seller, and particular favourite of mine, is The Elephant Man, a fiction based on the true story of Joseph Merrick. In the story, Merrick struggles with a worsening physical deformity that gives him the name of the title. During his unique life, the reader sees the protagonist experience small glimmers of beauty and friendship, experiences that make his death all the more tragic.

While this reader has been carefully graded for A1 /A2 level students, it can also be used by higher levels to gain reading confidence, and the discussion points and suggested points below could be used to create stimulating lessons all the way up to C1 classes.

Lesson ideas for reading the story

Here are some lesson ideas for reading the text. One thing to keep in mind for students to be engaged is to make sure they all have access to the text (physical books each, e-books, or share the text on the board so everyone can see).

  • The teacher could read the text with students following.
  • Students could take turns to read sentences or paragraphs.
  • Students could read along with the included audiobook.
  • Each reader comes with pre-made activities in the back of the book to complete before and after reading certain chapters.
  • Why not ask students to predict what happens next? Get them to look at the illustrations in the book – does this elicit any new predictions?
  • Direct speech offers students the opportunity to ‘act’ as they read aloud. Why not get them to stand up and act out certain scenes with the book to consolidate comprehension, or without the text to check comprehension? The teacher could ‘pause’ or ‘rewind’ scenes to give other students the opportunity to play various characters.

Discussing the culture/historical setting

Readers can present opportunities to dig deeper into history and various cultures. The Elephant Man takes place in Victorian England (1837-1901). The following could be considered, and contrasted with the present day and the students’ own countries’ histories:

  • The standard of living – Child labour, workhouses, the introduction of free education for children under the age of ten in 1870, the industrial revolution, population boom, the divide between the ‘upper’ and ‘lower’ classes, lack of women’s rights, the London Underground (built 1863-1884) and the introduction of welfare.
  • Fashion and entertainment – Top hats worn by the wealthy, bowler hats worn by the middle and lower classes, etiquette, “freak shows”, parlour music, fiction (Charles Dickens, H.G. Wells, C.S. Lewes), art (the accuracy of classicism, emotion over reason captured in romanticism, light and colour in impressionism, and the new technology of photography)
  • The Monarchy – Queen Victoria, imperialism and colonialism.
  • Religion – The power of the protestant Anglican Church vs. Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859) questioning the foundations of religious belief.
  • Medicine – Improvement in microscopes, the introduction of antiseptics as an alternative to amputation, realising Cholera was caused by contaminated water and subsequently boiling water before drinking. Superstitious beliefs pervading, such as the common belief that a person’s own spiritual or moral failing could cause disease or physical deformity.

Lesson ideas with social themes

Readers can provide a great launchpad for looking at various themes in context. Below is a list of themes with suggestions for possible questions to provoke classroom discussion. The teacher could ask students individually to answer or ask a question and then put students in pairs or small groups to discuss (better for sensitive topics). Additionally, students could be divided into groups and given different questions to talk about, and then present their Q&As back to the whole group for a bigger class debate. Students could even be encouraged to write their own questions on the topic for discussion using the questions below as examples to get them thinking…


Merrick’s disability hinders his ability to perform many everyday tasks that able people often take for granted.

  • How are the attitudes towards disability different from today?
  • Do you know anyone with a physical or mental disability? What is their life like? Are there any similarities with Merrick’s life?
  • Why do you think people laughed at Merrick? Would people laugh at him today?
  • What would you do or say if you met ‘The Elephant Man’?
  • What would you do if you were him?
  • Do you think Merrick wanted to die when he did? Why / Why not?
  • How can we help people with disabilities to have a good quality of life?
  • Have you ever watched the Paralympic Games?

Alienation and Loneliness

Merrick lives an isolated existence. He dreams of living an even more isolated existence to spare others from looking at him.

  • In what ways are we divided by the culture we live in?
  • What are possible solutions to loneliness and feelings of alienation?


Merrick is often referred to as ‘ugly’, yet he can make beautiful things with his hands. A ‘beautiful young woman’ visits Merrick in hospital but her humanity is much greater than her beauty. She is able to look past Merrick’s deformity and see the beauty of his soul.

  • Why do people often value external beauty more than internal beauty?
  • How important is internal and external beauty to you?

MORE lesson ideas!

Why not consider doing the following as extra tasks or setting them for homework:

  • Research Project. Look into life in Victorian England. Report back.
  • Write a diary from the perspective of a one-handed person. Perform a task using only one hand, e.g. tying shoelaces/getting dressed. How does it feel to have limitations?
  • Interview someone with a disability. Show your questions to your teacher beforehand.
  • Find, follow and listen to disabled people on social media. Make notes to feedback in class.
  • Watch The Elephant Man (1980, PG) film, directed by David Lynch, starring Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Frederick Treves. Or The 1900 House (1999), a documentary series following a modern family who volunteer to spend three months in a restored Victorian house and live the life of the middle class of 1900.


Give your students access to hundreds of top-quality readers!

Oxford Reading Club

Or, join the Oxford Teachers’ Club to access our exclusive focus paper ‘Using Graded Readers for Extensive Reading’!


Oxford Reading Club

This resource material was researched and written by Tom Veryzer for Oxford University Press.

Tom Veryzer has had a diverse teaching career in the TEFL industry spanning almost a decade, specialising in teaching English to young learners. In 2018 he presented an interactive workshop at IATEFL entitled ‘Student Engagement: Top Tips for Classroom Management’. His other ‘parallel life’ as a clown has seen him travel internationally in order to bring ’emergency happiness’ to refugee children. He also performs to family audiences in theatres around the UK, teaches comedy in schools and festivals, and leads workshops on ‘happiness’ for all ages. More info can be found at his website www.tomveryzer.com


How To Turn Reading Into A Habit

A selection of Oxford University Press graded readersHow useful is extensive reading?

My best student ever was called Anne. I taught her for about three years. She was a very enthusiastic student, though she rarely did what I set as homework. She did read books though. A lot of them. About two books a week in fact. Anna took her Cambridge Proficiency exams at the age of 14. She got an ‘A’. Anna is now an English Language teacher herself. Make no mistake – extensive reading works. Continue reading


5 Fresh Games For Teaching English – Using Dice!

5 Fresh Games For Teaching English - Using Dice!Do you use dice in your English classes? I love using dice to create games for teaching English, as there are so many things you can do with them. You don’t even have to have two of them, one die can be enough. I love the look on the students’ faces when they are waiting to see what number they get. This tension creates a commitment to learning, as games help students to take an active role in their learning processes by creating situations where they have the chance to use the language effectively in a meaningful context. Also, playing games is fun and who doesn’t love to have fun? Continue reading

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Teaching English And Teaching Values: The Debate | IATEFL 2021

Teaching English And Teaching Values – Are They Opposite?Recently, there has certainly been lively discussion, and sometimes polarised opinions, over issues of crucial importance to individuals, societies and the planet. Aspects such as identity, nationalism, religion, sexual orientation, ethnic differences, the origin of life, environmental protection and climate change are all contested areas. Teachers, like other people, often have strong views on these issues; in their classrooms they have a platform to express these views and a more or less captive audience. Continue reading


Extensive reading for engaging learners beyond the textbook

Scott Roy Douglas has worked with high school, university, and adult English language learners around the world.  He is a co-author of Q: Skills for Success Second Edition, and the author of Academic Inquiry: Writing for Post-secondary Success.  He is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Education on the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus. 


Today Scott joins us on the blog to explain how extensive reading could be beneficial to your students.

Supporting Classroom English Language Teaching and Learning with Extensive Reading

A program of extensive reading can be a powerful complement to English language teaching and learning.  This blog post explores what extensive reading is, how it can benefit students, what challenges there may be, and how it supports and enhances courses like Q: Skills for Success Second Edition.

What is extensive reading?

Rather than closely reading a single challenging text in class, extensive reading involves students engaging in large amounts of reading at levels that match what they are able to understand easily without using a dictionary or extra help.  Typically, students read at least one or two books a week from a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction choices.  Students read these books on their own either in their free time or during class, usually at a pace that might be a bit faster than usual for the classroom.  The goal is to go beyond thinking of reading as a task, towards developing a habit of reading for pleasure.  The key is to remember that extensive reading materials shouldn’t be too difficult or challenging for students.  As a rule of thumb, students should choose books with less than four or five new vocabulary words on a page.

What are the benefits of extensive reading?

A lot of research has been done examining the benefits of extensive reading.  It seems that the more students read, the better readers they become.  In fact, students who engage in a program of extensive reading often increase their reading rates and their overall reading fluency.  They can also improve their reading comprehension.  It appears that part of this improvement might be down to the development of new vocabulary knowledge.  Students can learn new vocabulary incidentally through the extensive reading process as well as deepen the vocabulary knowledge they already have by seeing the words they know in a wide variety of contexts.  However, the benefits are not just limited to reading and vocabulary.  There even seems to be a positive effect on students’ grammar and writing skills, performance on standardized tests, motivation, and attitude towards reading.

The challenges of extensive reading

While extensive reading programs can provide a rich source of comprehensible input that supports students’ English language learning goals, it can also present a number of challenges.  Students who have not taken part in extensive reading programs before might not be used to reading easier texts outside of class and may not immediately see the value in reading interesting and accessible books as homework.  In fact, because some students may equate learning English with challenging reading texts, intensive teacher support, and dictionary work, they might choose texts that are too difficult.  Poor reading choices can lead to a less than enjoyable experience, thus defeating the purpose of extensive reading.  In addition, extensive reading programs don’t always align with what is being covered in class, and students might not see the connections between what is happening in class and what they are reading in their free time.  Thus, in order to be successful, the extensive reading process needs to be thoughtfully supported in class, with students having access to level-appropriate reading choices and guidance from the teacher.

How can teachers enrich the extensive reading process?

Teachers can facilitate the extensive reading process by engaging in a wide variety of activities to support and enrich the experience.  For example, you might help students find appropriate books, check in on what they think about the readings, explore how they feel about the characters, and keep track of what is being read.  Examples and resources to support these types of activities can be found on the Oxford Graded Readers Teaching Resources page.

One activity your students can do is keep an extensive reading journal.  As a framework for their journal entries, you can ask students to write three short paragraphs for each book they read.  In the first paragraph, students can ask themselves what the book is about and write a quick summary in their own words.  In the second paragraph, they can connect what they read to the topic of the textbook unit they are currently studying, or as in Q: Skills for Success Second Edition, the corresponding unit question.  Students can explore the information in the book that helps them answer the unit question, and possibly include a quote that connects to the unit question as well.  Finally, students can write what they think about the book in their third paragraph.  In this paragraph, they can record their opinions, their favourite parts, and whether the book relates to their own experiences.  Thus, students will have a personal and meaningful account of each book they read.  You can read students’ journals from time to time to see how they are doing, and the journal entries can also be used as a strong basis for classroom discussions related to the books students are reading.

How can extensive reading complement Q: Skills for Success?

Each unit of Q: Skills for Success Second Edition has now been aligned to an Oxford Graded Reader based on the appropriate topic and level of language proficiency.  Starting in August 2017, the first chapters of the recommended graded readers can downloaded for free from iQ Online.  These graded readers come from a wide range of genres, all drawn from the Oxford Bookworms Library.

In the Q: Skills for Success series, each unit is centred on an essential question such as “Why is global cooperation important?” or “What happens when a language disappears?”  These questions touch on universal themes, encourage curiosity and discussion, and prepare students to engage with learning. All of the activities and skills presented in each unit support students finding answers to the unit questions.  The graded readers now provide another avenue of support for students answering the unit questions, while the unit questions prime students to fully engage with the aligned extensive reading choices.

To find out more about the new timesaving and practical resources being added to iQ Online, including Graded Reader chapters and new video content, visit https://elt.oup.com/feature/global/beyond-four-walls.


Further Reading on Extensive Reading

Beglar, D., Hunt, A., & Kite, Y. (2012). The effect of pleasure reading on Japanese University EFL learners’ reading rates. Language Learning, 62, 665–703.

Day, R. & Bamford, J. (2002). Top ten principles for teaching extensive reading. Reading in a foreign language, 14(2), 136-141.

Horst, M. (2005). Learning L2 vocabulary through extensive reading: A measurement study. Canadian Modern Language Review, 61(3), 355-382.

Jeon, E.Y. & Day, R.R. (2016). The effectiveness of ER on reading proficiency: A meta-analysis. Reading in a Foreign Language, 28(2), 246-265.

Krashen, S. (2007). Extensive reading in English as a foreign language by adolescents and young adults: A meta-analysis. International Journal of Foreign Language Teaching, 3(2), 23-29.

Mikami, A. (2016). Students’ attitudes toward extensive reading in the Japanese EFL context. TESOL Journal, 0(0), 1-18.

Nation, P. (2015). Principles guiding vocabulary learning through extensive reading. Reading in a Foreign Language, 27(1), 136-145.

Robb, T. N., & Kano, M. (2013). Effective extensive reading outside the classroom: A large scale experiment. Reading in a Foreign Language, 25, 234–247.

Storey, C, Gibson, K., & Williamson, R. (2006). Can extensive reading boost TOEIC scores? In K. Bradford-Watts, C. Ikeguchi, & M. Swanson (Eds.), JALT 2005 conference proceedings, 1004-1018. Tokyo, Japan: JALT.

Waring, R. & Takaki, M. (2003). At what rate do learners learn and retain new vocabulary from reading a graded reader? Reading in a Foreign language, 15, 130-163.