Publisher: Learning Unlimited 2014 and 2015
Lucky Lucky! by Dorothy Glynn
The Dog’s Dinner by Dorothy Glynn
Paul’s Coat by Dorothy Glynn
Second-hand Clothes by Dorothy Glynn
The Party by Ilham Sadi and Rose Ades
Peanuts and Pollen! by Ilham Sadi and Rose Ades
On the Bus by Foufou Savitzky
Priority Seats by Foufou Savitzky
Hampstead Heath by Dorothy Glynn
Why Not Visit Hampstead Heath? by Dorothy Glynn
Halima’s First ESOL Class by Nazma Shaheen and Tinhinane Cheloul
Sorry, I Don’t Speak English by Nazma Shaheen and Tinhinane Cheloul
No More Cake! by Lee Yoon Teng
What’s Wrong With Me? by Lee Yoon Teng
Don’t Worry, I’ll Help You! by Nicola Pieterse
She’s Got the X Factor! by Nicola Pieterse
Be Careful What You Say! by Enuma Madu
Mind Your Language! by Enuma Madu
Pink Pyjamas by Valona Renner-Thomas
New School Clothes by Valona Renner-Thomas
Although there are many readers available for learners of English, relatively few of these are suitable for ‘genuine’ beginners, and fewer still seem to address the issues and events which learners are likely to encounter in their daily lives. The Literacy for Active Citizenship series of readers seeks to remedy this by including ‘stories about funny, personal and less typical aspects of everyday life in the UK’. The readers have come out of a two-year project (Active Citizenship and English) led by Learning Unlimited, which aimed to help non-EU women living in the UK take an active part in national life and also develop their English skills and confidence. There are now 20 books in the series: 12 published in 2014 and another eight released this summer. They are aimed primarily at learners at Entry Level 1 and Entry Level 2 (A1 and A2 on the CEFR), and they are differentiated so that there is a version of the same story (with a different title) at each level.
A distinctive feature of the series is that the stories have been written and illustrated by learners and volunteers involved in the project, and this gives them personal dimension. For example, in Halima’s First ESOL Class (Entry 1), we hear about the feelings of excitement and worry a learner experiences on her first day at college, and the new friendship she makes. In the Entry 2 version (Sorry, I Don’t Speak English), there is additional vocabulary and a wider range of grammatical structures to stretch more confident learners. The Entry 2 story Peanuts and Pollen! tells us about Clara’s invitation to a party and includes references to peanut allergies and tongue twisters, as well as expressing the awkwardness felt by those new to the UK in social situations, at an appropriate level for the target audience. Other stories (On the Bus and Priority Seats) make reference to disability and the assumptions we make about people, while the new titles No More Cake! and What’s Wrong With Me? introduce issues around health and employment in an honest but reassuring way. Although some of the topics may sound a little ‘worthy’, they contain lots of humour, which I am sure learners will be able to relate to their own experiences. Most of the books are hand-illustrated and this fits the style of the stories themselves, making them seem more personal.
Each book has a list of key words, plus some questions and activities at the back. In addition, there are further downloadable activities available online extend the vocabulary from the books and give useful suggestions for additional activities. One aspect which I found especially positive was the focus on getting the reader to consider their own experiences and feelings. For example, for each text there are some straightforward comprehension questions, but also some which allow for personal responses, such as: ‘How did you feel when you went to your first ESOL class? Were you worried?’ Other activities include extending the stories by working on roleplays and matching tasks with pictures at Entry 1 and longer sentences at Entry 2.
In many cases, readers tend to be used for independent learning, but the extra resources give the option to make them an integral part of lessons and to use them as a stimulus or even a scaffold for learners to describe their own experiences. The fact that many of the books have been written by learners themselves is an effective way to demonstrate to students that they, too, can become more fluent and confident with their own English. Higher-level learners might even be keen to use them as a stimulus for writing longer personal narratives.
As with any set of books, I found some that I enjoyed more than others, and I am sure that learners would find the same. However, as a whole, they are a very welcome addition to the limited reading resources available for beginner ESOL learners and I would certainly recommend them.