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Tips on choosing graded readers for teens and adults

July 21, 2020 by Nóra Wünsch-Nagy | 1 comments

During the holidays and the school term, we should always be ready to recommend books based on our students’ language needs, levels and interests. We doubt that you need to be convinced of the power of stories in language teaching. If you are interested in the benefits, check out our post ‘The Power of Stories’ and our resource book, Story-based Language Teaching.

Choose the right level

When a student’s language level is below B2, it is often advisable to recommend graded reading material. From B2 on, students can start reading original texts written for native speakers. Graded readers also provide reading support in the form of Before and After reading activities and glossaries as well as dossiers with historical and cultural information. To date, Helbling Readers are organized in two broad categories: Red and Blue Series.

The Red Series is aimed at teenagers at elementary to pre-intermediate (CEFR A1-A2) levels. In the Helbling Readers levels, there are Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 readers.

The Blue Series is designed for teenagers and young adults at pre-intermediate to intermediate (CEFR A2/B1-B1) levels. There are Level 4 and Level 5 readers.

Make sure that you know the CEFR level of your students because it can help you with choosing the right level. Remember that there might be differences between your students’ levels in terms of skills. Some students might be excellent speakers but they might need help with reading comprehension, and vice versa.

The grammar structures used in the readers are controlled based on CEFR indications. You can consult the language structures here.

Helbling Readers are carefully written or adapted with particular attention to lexis. We do not  follow prescribed word lists as we firmly believe that new words which are introduced within the lexical context of a story become accessible to readers, especially when used and reused throughout the text in meaningful chunks. Dracula, for example, would not be the same with long teeth instead of fangs.

We have a series of tests to help you check your students’ levels:

Finally, we think that reading just above or just below the students’ language level can be beneficial. Independent reading, or reading for pleasure, should always be a little below the students’ level while reading just above the level with a teacher’s guidance can be motivating.

Choose the right topic

After you have defined the right level, make sure that the students can choose from a variety of genres. In both the Red and Blue Series, there are Fiction titles, which are original stories written by well-known EFL authors, and Classics titles, which are the most famous stories from classic literature in the English-speaking world.

If you are unsure what a book is about we have provided broad topic categories for each book which you can see in the online catalogue.

Each reader is beautifully illustrated, and the visual world of the story matches the atmosphere of the story. The illustrations work along with the text to create layers of meaning and connection and allowing students to become immersed in their reading. For more on using illustrations in class and visual literacy, visit these blog articles:

Here is a quick selection which we hope will help you get your students started reading.


Dan, the Detective series by Richard MacAndrew

A great series of stories at three levels by award winning ELT author, Richard MacAndrew. These detective stories follow the adventures of British teenager Dan Parks, and his friend Sue Barrington as they solve a number of mysteries… all with the help of their beloved dogs, Dylan and Charlie.

Sherlock Holmes readers by Arthur Conan Doyle

Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes illustration by Agilulfo Russo in Sherlock Holmes and the Stolen Jewels. © Helbling Languages

Time Travel

Time Travel series by Martyn Hobbs

A gripping series of stories which follow the adventures of Liam and Rose as they travel through time facing a series of dangers, in the hope of returning to their own lives in the present.

The Time Capsule by Robert Campbell (Level 2 - CEFR A1/A2)

Jan makes a time capsule for her History project and buries it beside the apple tree in her garden. Then one night during a terrible storm something strange happens. Jan travels through time. Is she in the future? Or is she in the past?

Interactive reading

Maze Stories by Gavin Biggs

Three exciting new adventure mini-series in three levels where the reader can influence what the characters do and what happens to them by choosing what happens next in the story.

Maze Stories | The Secret Statues
Illustration from The Cat's Paw by Elisa Bellotti. © Helbling Languages


Graphic stories with comic strips

Graphic Stories: The Westbourne Kids by Martyn Hobbs, illustrated by Lorenzo Sabbatini, (Levels 1-3, CEFR A1-A2)

A lively series of 12 fully illustrated stories centred around a group of friends, allowing young readers to identify with both the characters and the stories. Each episode contributes to a larger story or theme, allowing the reader to see him/herself within a wider, more holistic context.


Classics with a focus on history

Red Series

Blue Series

Classic children’s fiction

Red Series

Sea adventures

Red Series

Classic adventures

Red Series

Modern adventures

Red Series

  • Next Door by Robert Campbell (Level 1 - CEFR A1)
  • Twins by Janet Olearski (Level 3 - CEFR A2)

Stories of love

Red Series

Blue Series

Jane Austen readers:

The Brontë Sisters:

Growing up

Red Series

Blue Series

The world of legends

Animals and nature

Red Series

Blue Series

Life and society in the 19th century

Red Series

Blue Series

Gothic and mystery

Blue Series


Life at the early 20th century

Blue Series

Political fiction

Blue Series

  • The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad (Level 4 - CEFR A2/B1)
  • A Single Shot by Scott Lauder and Walter McGregor (Level 5 - CEFR B1)
  • The Right Thing by Scott Lauder and Walter McGregor (Level 5 - CEFR B1)
  • Red Water by Antoinette Moses (Level 5 - CEFR B1)

Contemporary issues

Blue Series

Modern families

Blue Series

Blog Comments

Submitted by Gary John (not verified) on Mon, 09/21/2020 - 17:00
Reading is one of the most effective ways to help improve your English language skills. It can help to expand your vocabulary and expose you to different sentence structures, all while you enjoy some wonderful stories. Here are a few more recommended books:

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