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The Thinking Train: Reading and Learning with Stories

October 27, 2015 by Nóra Wünsch-Nagy

We start developing a love of books and reading well before we are independent readers, and why should it be different when we are learning a second language? Our first reading experiences are either listening to a bedtime story or playing with a book, perhaps pretending to read it. Interaction with another person and interaction with the book itself are important steps in our relationship with books. Looking at the new graded reader series (5 levels from a to e), I thought of all the picture books, activity books and alphabet books I had as a child.

What is this new series? 

It is called The Thinking Train, a unique series of picture books which focus on the development of children’s thinking skills through the use of stories. These stories will encourage a love of reading and promote thoughtful interaction with books while developing children’s thinking skills. The activities, in carefully graded English, will automatically develop and practise their language skills, too.

Why is thinking important?

We often hear that thinking is the fifth skill all language learners should practise. When children are involved in thinking and also in talking about their thinking with others, they reach higher levels of achievement in the future as well as developing superior thinking skills.

Students will often invent dialogues, act them out, mime actions and use drama and role play to practise the new language. In a playful way, the stories will focus on the following thinking skills.

  1. making predictions
  2. sorting
  3. categorising
  4. sequencing
  5. matching
  6. making connections
  7. finding evidence
  8. cause and effect and problem solving
  9. solving puzzles
  10. inferring
  11. drawing conclusions
  12. comparing and contrasting
  13. observing similarities and differences
  14. understanding feelings and needs
  15. following instructions

Who are the authors and the illustrators?

The authors are Günter GerngrossHerbert Puchta and Gavin Biggs, authors of several internationally acclaimed English language materials, course and resource books. And the activities have been developed with Marion Williams, an expert in the field.

Some of the illustrators are Cristiano Lissoni, Stefano Misesti, Andrea Alemanno and Fransesca Assirelli.

Where are the stories set? What are their main themes?

The first five stories are about situations every young reader have experienced. The level 'a' story, At the zoo takes us to the zoo and teaches us about animals, the level 'b' reader, What are you doing, Daniel? is set in the home and follows the rhythms of family life. The level 'c' story, Roberto's backpack takes us to a Mexican village to see life in the countryside and the responsibility that entails. In A problem for Prince Percy, the level 'd' story, we travel in time to the Middle Ages to visit castles and meet kings, queens and princes. And in The jaguar and the cow we explore a nature reserve and a nearby village in Brazil while we read about an exciting investigation.

Interactive reading

Each reader offers Before and After Reading activities, a Make and Do project at the end of the book, and questions on each double page for the readers. The books can be read in one session, but the activities provide enough ideas and learning objectives for several hours of fun practice.

With interactive books the students will by reading, exploring, interacting and playing. The engaging and rich illustrations, the real-life dialogues and the fascinating settings make sure that your students read meaningful texts in context and start thinking about the ideas that have been presented.

Visual stories

These readers work on two interrelated levels, the verbal and the visual. When we explore the full-page illustrations, we go on a visual adventure into a whole new world. We do not only understand the meaning of the individual words, but we also create and attach stories to them, while contextualising each phrase we say and learn.

Take advantage of these illustrations and let the little readers get lost in them, using the books as if they were colourful picture books. You can tell the stories as they are in the book, but as you read the stories again and again, you can also modify, add to and change bits of the stories.

Blog resources

Would you like more materials for young learners? Here are some resource and course books to develop thinking and language skills.

For practical ideas and activities, visit our Blog posts about young readers and young learners:

Read our interviews with Cristiano Lissoni and Andrea Alemanno: